Ooh ooh, see that girl, watch that scene, dig it the Dancing Queen!
When I was a teen, every girl I knew liked to sing that song, and the last time I heard Abba at a Karaoke bar, it was the one that all the ladies of a certain age got up to sing and dance to. We all wanted to be that girl, the one who could be a teaser one moment and gone the next. It was all innocent fun, and we didn’t really know what we were doing, but did like moving to the beat of the tambourine. When we got the chance, we imagined we were the best dancer in the place.
We were probably a bit like Herod’s daughter, dancing without really knowing what we were doing or the ramifications of our actions. That one thing can lead to another, and what might seem like innocent fun can lead to unexpected consequences, like someone’s head delivered on a plate. Dangerous, stark and ugly.
Dancing is a powerful thing. It brings out the best and the worst in people. David’s first wife Micah, destroyed her marriage with David by her scathing comment about his dancing. And I’m not sure that David’s dancing was completely above board either. Bringing the ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem was an act of political consolidation of power for the new young king, doing his part to show his loyalty and respect to the God of his people. But David danced first and foremost out of joy and love and honor to his God. He wasn’t thinking about what other people might think, or what he should have been wearing or if he was getting the steps right. He just danced.
All too often we are suspicious of art and artists. My daughter has heard all her life that an arts degree is a great piece of paper useful for taking people’s orders in restaurants, because art doesn’t pay. Music and art teachers are the first to be downsized whenever education cutbacks are announced, and creativity is seen as something only famous actors or painters or singers can do. Us average people have to put meals on our tables and make sure the electrical bills get paid, something that artists can’t do.
Kids are different. It is fascinating watching children paint, like the preschoolers we had at the church. They just do it, they don’t ask ‘what’s it good for?” or “Who will buy this piece of art?” They do it because it is fascinating and for a moment they forget where they are in the joy of moving color around and watching it swirl and mix.
But asking grown-ups to paint or dance or sing and we get all defensive, think about the groceries that we need to shop for, the laundry that needs folding, the weeding that has to be done or anything else that we can use as a reason to avoid putting color on paper. We’ve become too worried about what the neighbors like Micah might think. It must have a purpose, and if it doesn’t have one, then it’s a waste of time.
And no wonder. Art, done wrong, can lead to violence and death, something we saw when the Charlie Hebdo magazine was attacked by extremists. Dance can be done to manipulate someone, as what happened when Salome danced for her step father at his birthday banquet.
That’s the message I heard at an Alliance Church once. They seemed very nice and friendly people, the theology wasn’t terribly different than what I expected, but they did talk about dance. In their tradition, it was not allowed. Like the Mennonites, they believed that dance was profoundly sinful because of its’ sexual content. So, by banning dancing, they hoped to discourage young dancing queens from exploring the dangers of living passionately and artistically.
I couldn’t join such a church. To me there is something profoundly beautiful and creative and vulnerable about dancing, and if David could do it without the Ark smiting him like it smote others who stepped out of line, then it was okay and even holy.
Intentionality is crucial. When dance is done to manipulate people for individual gain, then we are no better than Herold and Salome, and we can get mixed up in sordid things that degrade the souls of the dancers and the watchers just as Herod was degraded by his unhealthily fascination by his step-daughter. When dance is done in joy for what God has done or is doing, or as a call to action or justice then it can be a stirring healing moment. It can bring out the best in us and the worst in us, but it’s up to us to ask ourselves deeply searching questions about why we do it.
I used to take beginner bellydancing classes. At first it was to improve my fitness levels, then I had my first recital. The steps were basic and the choreography was not too complex, but getting up on the stage in front of other dance students was so hard that half our class dropped out. And yet, stepping out of my comfort zone was truly a way of honoring God as my creator who gifted me with my two feet and my love of rhythm. When we explore our playfulness, we can learn to be more confident and honest about who we are. In this day where so many Herods rule the world without regard to the prophets who speak truth to power, we need people who are brave, creative, intentional and theologically able to see the Herods as desperate people clutching at power, certain that it is the only road to their own private peace. Maybe if they gave themselves a chance to be playful instead of pompous, God’s beloved community would be more evident in the world. Dancing for God is the most counter revolutionary thing we can do. David’s dance reminded him that God was in charge. Maybe if Herod had danced in vulnerability like David, history would have been a very different thing.