INVOLVING CHILDREN IN DANCE
MAKING THE POINT!
"Miss, we just want to say we really enjoyed your workshops. Thanks."
Those words made my heart leap for joy, because they were spoken by two
unlikely 11 year old boys who had been "put" in my dance workshops at a
special day of diverse teaching to celebrate the end of their primary
education - held in Wells Cathedral and culminating in a Service of Blessing
The boys were not "church kids", and they had been reluctant participants!
However, the fun they had with "high energy praise" - line dancing to "I'm
Special", and using flags to "Marching in the Light of God" - made them seek
me out later in the day with honest thanks.
I am convinced that much spiritual worth and enjoyment of worship is to be
had from dance with children.
IS DANCE BIBLICAL?
Many of us were brought up to believe that dance, if not downright sinful, is at least undesirable in our churches or fellowships. Certainly, few of us were encouraged to think that it could have something valid to contribute to our worship of God. That view is slowly changing, and so we need to understand biblical principles that have perhaps been neglected.
When St. Paul was exhorting the early Church to be filled with the Holy Spirit and how the word of God should dwell richly in their hearts, he did not advocate sermons, seminars and lectures! What he did encourage was "singing and making melody in your hearts, speaking to one another with psalms and spiritual songs" (my paraphrase of Ephesians 5. 18, 19 and Colossians 3.16). The books of the Old Testament were of course the Scriptures of the New Testament Church, proclaimed by Paul in 2 Timothy 3.16 to be "God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". I believe Paul particularly referred to the Psalms in his exhortation because many of them were given to King David and his musicians as a direct prophetic outpouring of the Holy Spirit as to HOW GOD WANTS TO BE WORSHIPPED.
We read in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13, 15 and 16 that at the time of the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, David instituted instructions for worship which included:-
No such instructions had been included in the teaching of Moses.
Every time there was a revival in Israel, they returned to this "Davidic"
praise (as witness the days of Solomon, Joash, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel
Dance was also very much part of New Testament worship - at least 11 Greek words or phrases describe or touch on the subject. Over time, their meaning has been confused in the translation. For example:- "agalliao" (which means to jump for joy, to leap or spring up), translated into English in King James' day, when there was no dance in the Church, became "exceeding joy" - a diminution of its full meaning. See Luke 1.14, 44, 47; Matthew 5.12; John 5.35, 8.56; Acts 2.26, etc.. I believe that the evidence is overwhelming that spiritual dance is an Old Testament and New Testament form of worship, fully acceptable and pleasing to God.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO CHILDREN'S WORSHIP?
Children naturally love to move, and need to move. They may not be inhibited by the "British reserve" or by church tradition! Through a study of child development we find that children learn through active involvement. In general terms, up to the age of 7 the tendency is for children to believe what they are taught and not to think about meaning. During junior or middle school years the child thinks in concrete terms, with abstract thought developing after the age of 12. So this gives a wonderful opportunity for simple direct dance (and drama) to be used to teach truths and to develop a sense of worship.
THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM
In both Key Stages 1 and 2 of the Schools' National Curriculum in the UK, dance is seen as a way to develop:-
If we graft these thoughts on to our Christian faith we can see the
possibility for the development of self-worth, and confidence in the Lord.
Children can be shown ways of expressing joy, praise, fear, sadness, sorrow,
anger at the sin around us, and other emotions.
Perhaps through dance we will help children express and channel their
emotions in a right way, and give them positive assistance towards
developing into adults who have a natural ability to express their joy and
release in the Holy Spirit.
WHAT THE CHILDREN SAY
I asked some children I teach to tell me what the dance meant to them. Some of the comments I received were:-
"Gave me more confidence"
"I've made lots of friends"
"It's helped me in loads of ways"
"I've had experiences I wouldn't have had"
"The words of the songs really make me think"
"It's helpful and it encourages us"
"Doing the show is really exciting" (from a 12 year old who appeared in "Hopes & Dreams").
I also spoke to Carol Connolly, the director of a thriving children's and young people's dance group "Shadows". She says "It has been a great blessing to me to use movement and dance in worship. But so much more than this is the privilege to be working with children and young people as part of this ministry." Another well-established children's and youth dance group called "Crown Jewels" serves North London. They have an exciting programme concentrating on outreach. For my part the highlight has been to watch the children's enjoyment and their growth in the understanding of Deuteronomy 6.5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
HOW TO ORGANISE DANCE
If after prayer and consultation with your leaders, you decide that a move into creative praise and worship is acceptable and desirable, then some decisions have to be made:-
Choreographed expressive dances
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