After serving thirty years in a mission organization and truly struggling to “find my place” as an artist, it has been a delight to finally watch God release artists in international mission. I was immediately told upon conversion to Christ that “Christians don’t dance.” Naturally, I wanted to submit to what was “right.” Eighteen years later God released me back into dance. After truly crucifying my ungodly idolatry of the dance, I was able to use my God given gift to direct people to the giver of the gift rather than for self-glorification.
I delight to observe how smoothly the language of dance reaches across cultures and language barriers. What was once a serious “effort” to share the love of God with others, is now a total pleasure and delight as we merely enjoy our God given gift to connect to the world. It takes years to learn languages for most people. But dance is a language of its own and anyone can “read” it. The fear of causing offense in another culture is also eradicated when you merely relax and communicate a story of love or addiction, how to be free, or what it is to forgive.
Three incidents stick beautifully in my heart and mind from my experience in using dance in an international mission context:
1. In India, I worked sharing “Dance Therapy” with under-age girls rescued from the sex trade. As one of the girls glided around the room with an invisible partner (Jesus), she was taught true relationship, healthy submission, and safe intimacy with God, She commented that the more she heard about him the more she wanted to. Another girl, upon being encouraged to “Be still” and listen for his voice, was amazed to clearly hear the “Good Shepherd” who encouraged her to “stay awake, listen and learn.”
2. In a Muslim culture, while teaching men to worship God in movement, it was a joy to hear one man say, “As I move I find I want to learn more about this God of love, rather than the angry Allah I grew up fearing. If you call this ‘spiritual movement’ and not dance, you will have the whole mosque coming!”
3. Finally, in a city known as the satanic center of Europe, we “listened ” to the Good Shepherd, and danced on strategic places to break strongholds that He led us to. The national believers were aware of the spiritual history of their land and advised us accordingly. After our visit there, a specific area characterized by great dissension and financial pressure for believers changed dramatically, and a School of Mission and Art commences there this month.
As a dancer, I am thrilled as I study the Old Testament and find how God uses dancers in “worship and warfare” simultaneously (Psalm 149) and how the dancers and worshipers were often sent ahead of the army of Israel to ensure victory in the spiritual realm as well as the physical realm we live in (Isaiah 30:31-32). In many cultures now, ballet can be an especially powerful tool to connect strangers who are in conflict. Communist countries of “yester year” are just one example of aggression being deterred as soon as dance was introduced into volatile situations. Time and again I have experienced a “bridge of understanding and harmony” suddenly appearing between all parties concerned.
In this extremely “Visual” age of technology, we experience more and more the request from all ages, but especially those under 40 to “Show me, not just tell me!” I have had many people tell me that visual worship/communication takes them to a deeper place, where head and heart are truly connected. I believe this to be true also as we communicate visually in mission, but so many seem fearful to allow themselves to ‘feel’ or have their senses tastefully assaulted, even though Hollywood can be far from tasteful and often tolerated. A.W. Tozer suggests this picture of modern culture for me when he writes in “Whatever happened to worship?”
Well, that word ‘feel’ crept in here and I know that you may have an instant reaction against it. In fact I have had people tell me very dogmatically that they would never allow ‘feeling’ to have any part in their spiritual life and experience. I reply, “Too bad for you!” I say that because I have voiced a very real definition of what I believe true worship to be: worship is to feel in the heart. In the Christian faith, we should be able to use the word ‘feel’ boldly and without apology. What worse thing could be said of us as the Christian church if it could be said that we are a feelingless people? (83)
Dance is one very significant means of showing us how to “feel.” It connects out heads and hearts by expressing God’s wonderful gifts through movement of the human body. It can be a powerful tool in missional contexts as it connects the physical and spiritual, teaching us how to feel and truly hear the word of God in our hearts. One final story suggests this point:
I was working as an interpreter for the deaf in England, and as I signed and danced in worship, a man in his forties broke down in tears and said he had just “Heard music for the first time in his life.” I didn’t understand how until he explained that when he saw his sign language AND dance rhythm together, he “heard” with his eyes!” Wow! But we need not be deaf for this to happen. I believe everyone can “truly hear” with their eyes when they see dance in worship.
A native of England, Linda was a professional dancer when she came to the Lord, at a time when dance was not acceptable in Christian circles. Linda did not dance a step for 18 years, then after 15 years in Operation Mobilization (OM), and the wreck of OM’s ship Logos, she suffered post traumatic and postpartum depression, and was encouraged to “dance out your depression” by her Pastor. After 25 years of missionary life, her passion is to pass on all God has taught her since returning to dance, particularly about the“heart” of the worship dancer. She hasn’t looked back since! She is now the director of the OM Arts ministry, Dancelink, and the director of Compass Dance Academy.