Monday, October 27, 2003
Peace, all. I have to admit I didn't blink when I saw the leaked "reports" of the Vatican's new liturgical document. Just too much to be believed, even in our current ecclesiastical climate. At the risk of getting sucked into a grand debate on girl altar servers, clapping, and Communion from the cup, I want to zero in on just liturgical dance, maybe leaving the rest for another day. Not being a dancer (my sister does that here: http://www.dance22.org) let me lay my cards on the table. I admire dance as an artform. Growing up with a dancer in the family (even a sister) engenders an appreciation for it. I have friends who are active in various folk dancing groups. I find group dancing most enjoyable and wholesome. And I don't have much bad to say about secular dancing ... but then again I don't frequent MTV's Bump and Grind events. I prefer ballroom dancing and jazz. What's least likely to come out of Rome is a ban on liturgical dancing. Not only is this not how Romans operate, but it would just be silly and ineffective. Just ask the pope's liturgist. I can imagine a restating of curial opinion that dance suggestive of the "profane" would not be appropriate for Mass. What then are the circumstances for an authentic expression of dance in the liturgy? 1. Dance should be regarded like music is. If the primary liturgical singer is the assembly, just connect the dancing dots from there. 2. Classical dance, like conservatory music, can be art for the skilled performers, and it usually is. I can envision some role for these in liturgy, but not a primary place. 3. I've seen solo (or group) dance performance done well. I've seen it done less well just for its own sake. Like music, a dance performance inserted for its own sake in the liturgy is a bad idea. And I see far more inappropriate performance music in liturgy than inappropriate dance. But this doesn't mean music must be banned. 4. Dance belongs in the liturgy, and the best people to determine this are in the parish. Such a determination needs to be made with sensitivity and a sense of ministry. People will occasionally fail to make good judgments in this regard. And poor experiences of liturgical dance may continue. But that is no reason to ban dance in churches. Thinking about music, it just doesn't follow. Better for all would be to encourage dancers and raise the bar on our expectations, applying it across the board to all art forms.