Shall We Dance?
Photo taken by JV Villanueva
“Let them praise His name with dancing.”
— Psalms 149:3
Praise dancing has always been part of the Filipino culture, wherein folk dances started out as spiritual endeavors to communicate with pagan gods, to thank or plead to them. Hence, such spiritual dances were affiliated with events like harvests, weddings, births, and funerals.
In 1521, Queen Juana (formerly Hara Amihan), wife of Rajah Humabon, was said by historians to have immediately danced with joy, bearing the image of the child Jesus (upon receiving the holy image when she was baptised into the Roman Catholic Church). The other natives were noted to have followed her example and this moment in history was regarded as the first Sinulog
. Consequently, the natives ceased to praise dance to pagan gods, and instead, began to do so to the Santo Niño, the Holy Child Jesus.
Similarly, other primitive peoples throughout the world expressed their religious sentiments through rhythmic movements; the spoken word becomes a chant and the gesture of going or walking toward the divinity transforms itself into a dance step.
Such is the case of the Israelites
, when in the synagogue their prayer is accompanied by a continuous movement that evokes the dogmatic tradition: “When you pray, do so with all your heart, and all your bones.”
For some religious mystics, dancing was an expression of the fullness of their love of God. St. Theresa of Avila’s prayer, for example, includes: “…May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.” While the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, when he represented paradise, it was as a dance executed by angels and saints.
Although spiritual dance is not traditionally part of the celebration of the Liturgy, it should not be frowned upon or considered a distraction. The Holy See
has addressed the matter of dance and “stressed the proper distinction between permitting indigenous cultural traditions and introducing innovations into the celebration of the Liturgy.”
Participation in praise dance should not also be an embarrassment. It is, after all, a reflection of the soul.
David G. Bonagura Jr., an Adjunct Professor of Theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY, wrote in his article “Real Liturgical Dance” posted by TheCatholicThing.org
: “Liturgical dance properly understood is not an abuse in the Mass, but its highest and most beautiful expression. When every liturgical movement and gesture is directed toward worshiping God, the Mass becomes the most solemn and profound dance this side of paradise.”