Highlighting the Church Year with Dance

We are a church relishing in the resurrection. I like to think that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection did not simply hurry off to tell this exciting news, but that they danced. “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (Matt. 28:9). How could they have kept still?

People tend to associate liturgical dance with girls in angelic white dresses. But like other art forms, dance can be used to highlight any of the liturgical seasons. Liturgical dance is functional—that is, it functions within the liturgy of worship. Done well, liturgical dance can help the congregation see glimpses of the Creator or visualize a Scripture passage, a song, or a poem. It can be homiletic, prophetic, prayerful, meditative, reflective, or celebratory.

The dance outlined below is one example of how movement can paint a greater picture of God’s kingdom, and of how dance functions within the dialogue of worship.

The dance is choreographed for a very simple chorus from the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “Come, People of the Risen King.” Since it’s not complicated, it’s a great way to involve children in worship, but it does require coaching by someone skilled in dance. Stage presence, posture, body alignment, and the like are important elements of confident leadership through movement.

I used this piece two years in a row as part of a larger Easter drama that functioned as a call to worship and celebration on Easter morning. Don’t be afraid to use all of the space in your sanctuary, including the center aisle.

I taught the children the choreography in stages. First I had them do the movements while standing in place without flags. Then we worked on the movement with flags (see sidebar). Once the dancers had the movement down with the flags, I had them march to the beat while doing the movements.

Movements for the Children

Right arm with flag reaches overhead (rejoice)

Left arm reaches overhead (rejoice)

Wave arms above head to the beat eight times (let ev’ry tongue rejoice)

Hold hands in and bunch flag into chest (one heart)

“Explode” the flag and left arm overhead (one voice)

Wave hands over head again eight times to the beat (O Church of Christ, rejoice!)

In the worship service the children processed from the back of the sanctuary up the central aisle during the first chorus while doing the movements. During the singing of the second stanza they crouched in place and then jumped up at the start of the second chorus and did the movements again. For the third chorus the group split into two (with the older ones as leaders) and processed back out down the side aisles, doing the movements again. As the music faded and transitioned, they kept waving and celebrating with their flags.

Flags

We used brightly colored flags made from a wooden dowel attached to a fishing swivel (which you can purchase at sporting goods stores). The flags themselves were made of lightweight satin with small rings attached to allow the use of different color combinations based on the liturgical season. We adjusted the length of the flags as needed, shortening some so the smaller children didn’t trip on the flags while trying to move.

A group of women stood in front, leading similar movements as those being done by the children, but without the flags. I also choreographed movements for them during the second and third stanzas (see sidebar). This group of women helped keep the children together and confident, and got more people involved in an intergenerational dance group.

Movements for the Women

Enter from the side aisles on the second stanza doing simple arm movements: right arm reaches front, left arm reaches front, then “push” twice with the palms up and forward diagonally two times; repeat whole sequence four times (Come, those whose joy is morning sun, and those weeping through the night; Come, those who tell of battles won, and those struggling in the fight).

Bring hands to heart, face congregation (for his perfect love)

Open arms to side (will never change)

Bring hands slowly together straight in front, inviting congregation (and his mercies never cease)

Lift arms up, parallel above head and continue to walk toward congregation (but follow us through all our days)

Stop walking forward and slowly open arms and slowly drop them to sides (with the certain hope of peace)

Repeat same chorus as children. To simplify things, repeat the same movements in place for the third chorus.

This was a great service of celebration, and all the children looked forward to this joyous time on Easter morning. The Lord calls us all to him—he is risen! So we should come, clasp his feet . . . and dance in worship to the risen Christ.

Easter dance "Come People of the Risen King." See the video here.

 

Julia K. Start Fletcher is a dance instructor for training and collegiate programs in West Michigan.