The History of Liturgical Dance

Biblical History 

The history of liturgical dance begins in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t mention much about dance. But, it does mention dances of celebration during two important historical events. The first event was the crossing of the Red Sea. Miriam, prophetess and sister of Moses brought together several women in song and in praise after the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20, 21). The second event occurs when David brings back the arc of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). Both major events showed the significance of praise dancing in rejoicing and thankfulness for what the Lord has done, even for your triumphs.

African American History

From Biblical times to the 19th century, an emergence of dancing during Christian worship services began to spring up. Praise dancing began during slavery from the traditions of West Indian dances called ring shouts. Although the word shout is used, it does not denote actual yelling. The shouting is used to describe the ecstatic dancing in the ring shouts. The participants would gather in a circle during worship services to sing praises, pray, and dance. Each person would have their turn doing either one. Sometimes ring shouts would be performed with drums, bugles, flags and banners.
The liturgical dance traditions of the 19th century leads into the more complete and choreographed dances done during church services today.  Famed choreographer Alvin Ailey even used elements of liturgical dance in the piece called “Revelations.” He used billows, flags (they were tethered), and streamers in the dance.

The days are gone when there were no long skirts or dresses or loose fitting garments for modesty. Today dancewear companies are taking advantage of the liturgical dance genre by offering more praise garments that are beautifully decorated and modest.

Most denominational, interdenominational, and nondenominational churches have liturgical dance ministries. Dance studios are offering liturgical dance classes to build skillful dance ministries. Race isn't a factor anymore. The demand for liturgical dance is great among Latin, Caucasian, and Asian raises. Though the number is small, there are liturgical dance companies that are gaining momentum. The arts are coming back to the church.  

© 2012 Katina Davenport all rights reserved