Dancing Before the Lord

Sometimes our praise can't be contained in words

Liturgical dance is quite new to many Christians in the Reformed/ Presbyterian tradition. We are often unsure of its place in our worship. And we have many practical questions about who dances, what form the dance takes, and what clothing the dancers wear.

In an attempt to explore some of those questions RW talked to Ruby Langdon, director of dance in the Meadowvale Community Church. We asked her to provide some guidelines that would help other congregations integrate dance into their liturgy, involving children in a very concrete way in leading worship.

Q. Why do you have liturgical dance in your services?

A. God created us body and soul to praise him. He gave us the ability to move, to walk, to jump, to clap, and to wave. He also gave us rhythm—something the psalmist clearly recognized: "Praise the Lord with dancing" (Ps.149:3).

Dance is a very concrete way—especially for children—of thanking God for these gifts. Children have a strong desire to run free, to be creative, to laugh, to play, to rejoice in the full sense of the word. For them (and for many adults) dance expresses feelings that cannot be verbalized. These expressions should be part of worship.

Jesus tells us, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 1 tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15). Children can teach us the simple faith and the carefree joy that God wants in all of us—what better place to learn it than in the sanctuary of God?

When I see the girls who dance with me creating song and movement on their own, I know the Spirit is at work in them. I also know that their dance is not just for themselves but for the whole body of believers. For dance that is inspired by the word of God has power!

Q. When do you use dance in worship? Every Sunday or just for special occasions?

A. Dance should neither accompany every song nor be part of every worship service.

Some songs do not move us to dance. Forcing ourselves to dance to such songs just for the sake of dancing is neither appropriate nor right.

Our team usually dances while the whole congregation sings and instrumentalists play. Dancers should be part of a celebration team that also includes worship leaders, singers, and instrumentalists. Dance, like playing an instrument or singing, can be inspired by God. We must keep him in the center of our liturgical dancing.

As with other members of the celebration team, preparation and/or rehearsal time is essential for dancers. At Community CRC our dancers meet every Thursday from 5:00-7:00 p.m. to rehearse a number for the coming Sunday or to work on new numbers. From 7:30—10:00 we join in practice with other members of the celebration team to prepare thoroughly for Sunday worship. And each Sunday morning before we dance, wejoin with other members of the team in pre-service prayer.

We take dance very seriously at Community CRC.

Q. Who dances? What's a good starting age for liturgical dancing?

A. Presently I am working with seven girls, ranging in age from eight to thirteen. These are the children God has led to me and all I am able to handle on my own.

My prayer is to eventually begin work with a younger group of dancers as well. In our congregation we have many eager children two years old and up who are willing and able to learn simple dances. Often we will find a few children dancing together in a circle or waving flags. It thrills me to see their eagerness!

Ideally a dance team should have no age restrictions. Both the very young and the very old— and all those in between—can praise God through movement.

Q. How do you organize and direct a group of dancers?

A. When creating a dance, I try to use the ideas of each group member. I begin by playing a song through several times and letting each dancer put his or her own movements to it. Then we come together and attempt to form a group dance.

The important thing in teaching dance is to help the dancers begin to see or feel what is inside of themselves and learn to put it into motion. The dance should speak to those dancing as well as those watching.

God has given each of us a very unique style of dance, and it is important that we use that style. We can learn from each other, but we should not be clones of each other. We each have our own talents and must develop them.

On page 24 I offer ideas for movement to the first stanza of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." It's up to you and your dancers to create motions for the rest of the hymn!

Q. What do the children wear?

A. Our group has special dance outfits—modest, loose fitting, and free flowing. These dancers are preparing to minister to the Lord. Just as the high priest dressed in special garments to go into the presence of the Lord, our dancers put on their costumes before leading the congregation in worship. The costumes take the congregation's attention off the individual and help them focus on the dance.

Colors. Our costumes come in six different colors, symbolizing biblical themes and church seasons:

■ WHITE—symbolizes holiness, purity, being set free and clean. (Christmas, Easter, baptism)

■ BLUE—symbolizes deity; the high priest wore blue robes to enter the Holy of Holies. (Advent)

■ PURPLE—symbolizes royalty; Jesus was given a purple robe before he was crucified and called king of the Jews (Lent)

■ RED—symbolizes the shed blood of Christ. In the Old Testament a red heifer was sacrificed as a ceremony of cleansing. (Palm Sunday, Pentecost)

■ YELLOW—symbolizes the precious, festive gold used in the temple. (Christmas, Easter)

■ GREEN—symbolizes new growth, new birth. (Pentecost Season)

Design. The basic costume design is as follows:

The Body Suit
—high neck with elastic
—-3/4-length sleeves
—wide, loose fitting

—elastic waist (to fit many sizes)
—full, ankle-length skirt

—elastic waist
—stretchy and close-fitting
—ankle-length to allow free movement of feet

-to wrap around waist

Note: Patterns and/or dance outfits are available from "Yarnit." For a free brochure, write

Ruby Langdon
1 Roxaline St.
Weston, ON M9P 2Y6

For Further Reading

Deitering, Carolyn. The Liturgy as Dance and the Liturgical Dancer. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Co.

Roberts, Debbie. Rejoice, A Biblical Study of the Dance. Revival Press.

A Dance for Joy

A year ago on Easter Sunday I worshiped at the Community CRC of Meadow-vale, Ontario. As the organ introduced the opening hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, "five or six girls spread out in a line across the front of the worship center and faced the congregation. Each carried a banner—a long, narrow, colorful streamer attached to a three-foot pole.

As the congregation started to sing the hymn, the girls waved their streamers from left to right in a long synchronized arc. Then on the "Alleluia" they held the streamers high and twirled in a circle. They repeated those motions throughout the song—waving and twirling, waving and twirling.

Color and motion seemed to fill the front of the church that morning. Many of the little children in the congregation waved their arms in tandem with the dancers. The children became, in effect, the song directors and worship leaders. Their faces shone with the joy of celebration and participation that lifted the hearts and voices of everyone there.

This past Easter Sunday I sang that hymn again…as I have so many times before. And it was joyful. But in my mind's eye I could still see those children joyfully announcing the resurrection of their Lord by waving the good news to everyone who could see.

—Emily Brink

Ruby Langdon directs the dance group at Community Christian Reformed Church, Meadowvale, Ontario.


Reformed Worship 12 © June 1989, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.