Music and Dance in Worship
— My Experience
By Helena Froehlich, with Wendy Morrell
I will start with my personal experience. When I was a young girl, there was a family service in our church in France about once a month. That meant that children would not attend their regular Sunday school classes but would participate in the whole service with their families. I loved listening to the words, especially the reading from the scriptures and the sermon. Sometimes my attention would drift away, and I would observe people in the congregation. So many were bent a little forward, head down, and they looked a little sad, and I was wondering how they could breathe fully in this position and how we could bring some more joy here.
Well, one of my favorite parts of the service was hearing the music from the organ. I would often close my eyes and listen, and I loved to sing the hymns, where we would all get up, breathe and sing from the top of our lungs. Oh, how I loved to be surrounded by the congregation singing, adding my voice to this ocean of sound!
I thought there must also be an additional way to worship; that way became dance for me. Since I can remember, I have been passionate about spirituality, asking why we are here and how we can be in God's embrace. At the age of five, I saw an illustration in a children's book with a dancer on a horse, and in the depth of my being, I thought that's what I wanted to be, a dancer. And yes, I became a professional dancer and teacher and have danced for four decades on stages and in churches and spiritual events in France, Germany, and the USA. When we dance, something flows through the congregation and us. It feels like a flow of loving energy, making it easier to dance and pour into the congregation. Maybe this is a taste of what I sought in my childhood, being in God's embrace.
Creating meaningful dances has been a constant source of joy and gratitude in my life. Congregations with children and adults alike have been touched by the experience of watching our dances, expressing spiritual stories and themes with emotion, beauty, harmony, and sometimes humor, using several music and dance styles. And sometimes, we have invited congregations to participate in simple gestures from their pews, illustrating hymns or dancing in the aisles or where space allowed, bringing them into the dance experience and creating a wonderful sense of community.
So now, one could ask - why have music and dance in services?
Jesus said: "the kingdom of God is within you" excerpt from Luke 17, verses 20 and 21: "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
So the question could be, how can we experience God within and amongst ourselves?
One way is to be fully absorbed in life's experience with a loving heart, a playful mind, and a vibrant body, allowing us to open up and experience the magnitude of God's presence. In services, music and dance are wonderfully conducive to an experience that can open to the Divine for the congregations, musicians, and dancers.
Music brings harmonies of carefully arranged sounds which can help congregations feel a sense of harmony and well-being within themselves. But, it is important to remember to sing and play and not take ourselves too seriously all the time. I once asked a musician after a quartet concert how he felt, and he joyfully answered, “It was like four boys playing in the sandbox,” and the joy was communicative.
For dance and music, when we are well-trained and fully absorbed in the dance, life flows through us, and we can transmit this experience to audiences. It is a great vehicle to feel alive, with an energetic body, loving heart, and playful mind filled with the grace of God. Dancing can bring a variety of expressions in a service and a fresh image for a beloved hymn or bible story. And the whole congregation can be uplifted with music and dance.
When we listen to music and watch dance, there is a part of the mind that can relax and let go of mundane thoughts so that we can dive into the experience of listening and seeing. Being receptive, we can empty ourselves to open up to higher frequencies of spiritual vibrations. We can release the thinking mind and bring our brain to frequencies conducive to a meditative state, receptive to God's presence.
When in nature, we can tune in to God's Creation, open up, and breathe a little deeper. Similarly, in worship, congregations are inspired by listening to the scriptures and the word of God, and music and dance can bring a wonderful and diverse experience of Divine blessing and community. ■
— Helena Froehlich
I expect these thoughtful words by Sacred Dance Guild member and presenter Helena Froehlich will be echoed by many in our SDG village! Like Helena – I, too, discovered that movement and dance were how I experienced a dancing dialogue with the mystery that is God! I discovered the Sacred Dance Guild in 1994 and was amazed to find that I wasn't alone. I found my "tribe" and have been basking in that discovery for almost 40 years!
To me, dance in our traditional worship services is one more way to animate the word of God – to experience the words of hymns or the sounds of music by giving our body – our temple – to be danced by God. Both those dancing and those witnessing are part of the covenant and share the expansion of understanding.
I have also discovered that worship happens everywhere and often comes unannounced and unexpectedly! So in the quietness of nature and the busyness of life, we can "dance" as we move and embrace all the ways that we embody the Divine, the Great Mystery of our interconnected lives.
We invite ALL of you to join us in celebrating the 65th anniversary of our unique organization – check our website for events and activities. Also, in this special year, we invite ALL to submit 65-second videos responding to "THIS IS SACRED DANCE" so we can share the creative and innovative ways people envisage that statement! We'll post these videos monthly beginning in April 2023 and continue until March 2024. See details at Sacred Dance Experience Videos - Sacred Dance Guild ■
— Wendy Morrell
Helena Froehlich is the artistic director of CreationDance, and part of the faculty at the Boston Ballet School. She received her dance training in ballet and modern with Maître Jean Garcia and Gunilla Lervick, as well as training in jazz, flamenco, tap, and African dance. Froehlich has performed and choreographed with several companies and was a faculty member at the Princeton Ballet School before coming to Boston.
Wendy Morrell is a resident of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and is in her 10th year as President of the Sacred Dance Guild. She is the artistic director of dance choirs in Ottawa churches, coordinates dance offerings at many local community events, and creates and leads workshops on dance as a sacred art both online and in person.
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