By Alice Horner
Dancing is a longstanding part of culture. Through every decade, new styles of dancing emerge. Yet more often than not, the church watches from afar.
We Christians reserve dancing for the privacy of our own homes, or for the occasional wedding. Mesmerized by Dancing With the Stars, we tap our foot to the radio or sing in the shower, but come time for church, we hide that away.
Church and dancing were never frequent bedfellows. One of the biggest culture shocks I received after moving to the South was the Southern Baptist wedding experience. I arrived to the reception, ready to kick off my heels. The only dancers who joined me were under the age of 9. It was not a time for adults to let their hair down.
I'm used to the discomfort now, with people telling me they have no skill or rhythm. I myself am an alum of the sitter club. I used to sit at the table while everyone else shook what their mama gave them in high school.
Back then you had two choices: sit it out, or join in to the oversexualized cha-cha. I knew I looked more like a fool sitting still than getting up and moving it. Yet I felt like that kind of dancing went against some sort of moral code. After a few years I realized that wasn't dancing, not the kind you enjoy anyway.
These days dancing is my way to wear and spread joy. Yet ever since I became a seminary student, I've noticed my calling and passion colliding with each other, with both sides misunderstanding each other.
Lots of Christians I've met have an uneasy relationship with dance. But this isn't just about shyness or bad knees. Because dancing is portrayed in such a sexually explicit manner in high school gyms and in the raunchy music videos, many place dance in the sin category.
Fast forward to Miley Cyrus and we are faced with a one-sided idea of dancing. Children and teenagers view pop stars on TV and aren't sure what to make of it. The older crowd scratches their heads at VMAs performances (or don't watch them). We face a world filled with sexuality, and a church terrified of it.
By defining dancing in such a limited way, Christians ignore a vital part of our humanity and allow our culture to define it for us. Culture and church are feeding us two extremes, and most days we choose which one to listen to.
What does this say about our ability to wear joy?
When Beyonce performed at the Super Bowl, criticisms from Christians flooded the Internet, claiming her performance was too racy. Beyonce's performance radiated confidence, power and self-esteem and empowered me. Here at the ultimate event of male athleticism was a female giving it all she had, and wowing the world.
And the world responded, with a vast majority of Christians threatened by her, interpreting the dance as primarily an expression of sexuality, not joy.
Remember the scene from the 2000 film Chicken Run? The chickens hear a jazzy beat for the first time, and the music gets into their bones. They can't help it. Soon the whole room is swing dancing and having a ball. Countless movies have pivotal scenes where a character learns to let go and dance. Hugh Grant in Love Actually suddenly busts a move to the Pointer Sisters to blow off some steam.
Napoleon Dynamite wows us with his routine. Young Frankenstein makes us laugh with “Puttin' on the Ritz.” And Audrey Hepburn's dance routine from Funny Face was such a hit that it eventually was used in Gap commercials. And you want to dance along with them.
Dancing is a natural human expression of happiness. In the Bible, dance is a celebratory act. In Exodus 15, Miriam takes a tambourine and dances because the Lord is victorious. In 1 Samuel 18, the women of Israel come out and dance when David returns from defeating the Philistines. And there's ample more evidence showing dance as a significant, cultural and yes, holy act.
Faith helps us to be the best person we can be. Dance is a way to express happiness and boost our confidence. Two alarmingly similar ideas, yet they live separate lives. Can't we change that?
This article is adapted from a version published on ABP on October 22, 2013 and is used by permission.
Alice Horner is a student at the McAfee School of Theology and works as the children's ministry intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.