Theology of Dance 101
While the majority of our instruction is dance we see our primary mission as teaching the Theology of the Body, intentional discipleship and evangalization. This section is designed to give a basic overview of what what we teach in terms of theology and relationships.
Theology is not simple, it's complex and interrelated. That's why theologians are often hard to understand- they keep coming back by neccesity to previous information, but in a new way. It's also why it's difficult to learn it from a book or to put Theology into a book form. Books progress in a linear fashion, and theology is multidimensional. For that reason we don't teach chapter by chapter out of text book. Instead we teach a theological framework that allows students to organize the material they learn. Each lesson we review material and learn how to incorporate new material. This empowers students to connect all the theology in their lives and to apply it to loving God and loving neighbor.
The Theology of the Body
Scripture tells us that we are made male and female in the image and likeness of God, that the body is good, that God took on human flesh and that by his death on a cross redeemed the body and all creation. The Christian Faith, despite what some may say, finds the human being, spirit and body, to be sacred and holy, the crown of creation.
The Theology of the Body means that we can study and understand who is God using the analogy of spousal love; in simpler language we can talk about God using romance. The term Theology of the Body was given to us by St. John Paul II, but this tradition is thousands of years old and has been used by writers such as Augustine, John of the Cross and C.S. Lewis.
C.S. Lewis and the Theology of Dance
And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or to speak more strictly, they [politics and factories] are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations…in them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety…such artifices are necessary: but because they are artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety; namely, courtship. We cannot tamper or shuffle so much. With the Church we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge.
CS Lewis, Priestesses in the Church?
That's a question we get asked a lot. Why don't we teach theology of cooking, or hiking, or baseball? It has to do with dance's intimate relationship to courtship. C.S. Lewis noted that partner (aka ballroom dance) is a stylization of courtship. That means it is a form of art that depicts courtship, which in turn is the expression of being male and female in the image and likeness of God.
When John of the Cross (who provided much of the inspiration for John Paul II's the Theology of the Body) wanted to explain union with God he would write a love poem and then write hundreds of pages applying the poem, stanza by stanza, line by line, to the spiritual life. If you take a love poem and put it to music you have a love song. If you have a man and woman interpret that song you have partner dance. It should be immediately apparent that partner dance provides an amazingly rich tapestry to mediate on, far richer than any love poem. To properly meditate upon dance it helps immensely to have some skill in it.
The other reason we teach dance is to repair the rupture between the body and the spirit. One of the key ideas of the Theology of the Body is that when man fell from God's grace into original sin there was a corresposnding rupture between the body and the spirit; that before the fall the body perfectly expressed the spirit, but after the fall it lost that ability. When we dance we find that our bodies regain a certain ability to express our spirit; that the rupture is repaired and the body becomes more 'theological" and a better teacher of theology.
The Four Meanings of Our Bodies
Scripture tells us that we are made male and female in the image and likeness of God, which means that our bodies make visible that which is invisible, the spiritual and divine. That means that the body, as male and female, has many meanings. In Theology of Dance we focus on what we consider the four primary meanings.
Throughout scripture God's love for his chosen people (in the Old Testament Israel, in the New Testament the Church) is compared to a marriage. This imagery has proved popular with mystics and doctors of the church, who have used it to describe the relationship of the Trinity and the personal relationship with Christ.
God is love because he is a community of three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, who love each other perfectly. Every act of love is a sign that comes from and points back to God.
When you look at a man's body and you look at a woman's body it becomes obvious that they were made to go together sexually. Stamped into the bodies of men and women is a physical reciprocity that tells us we are made to give and receive the gift of each other. Together with the psychological dimension of the sexes we can see how the lead-follow-spirit relationship is central to romance and courtship.
Many of the rules of love we find in romance (and dance) have strong analogous rules in relationships such as business, teaching and law. In addition, every act of love, regardless of the relationship, consists of one who offers the gift, one who responds to the gift, and the spirit in which the giving takes place. Thus every act of love is an image of the Trinity.
We are constantly working on updating this website, with the goal of creating a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to teach theology through dance at their church, school or ministry. Here are some projects we are working on:
TOD the Book
Matt's written most of the content for a book on Theology of Dance. It's in the process of being edited
Do you want to teach the TOD 101 on this page? We have posters you can use! Please contact us for more detail.
TOD 101 Posters
Along with the Curriculum we'll also have videos (around 10 minutes each) for each class.
A list of materials that a person can read to get a better understanding of the Theology of the Body. Everything from the Bible and JPII's talks on the TOB to doctors of the Church to novels, love poems and song lyrics.
Finding good music for dancing can be hard. We are currently putting together lists of music on Spotify that you can pull up and play without worrying about lyrics.
Imagine that these are four floors of a building. Each floor is going to have the same general "layout" or be analogous. The better we understand one meaning the better we understand all meanings.
These meanings correspond to the four meanings of scripture: the moral (love your neighbor) literal (love your spouse), anagogical (love God) and allegorical (God is Love.)
Dance is a way we love our neighbor, it is very much like loving one's spouse. In fact it's right on the border!
The Three Parts of the Dance
The Music provides the spirit of the dance and unites the couple. The music is the spirit to both the leader and the follower- they share the one spirit equally and completely.
The Music (the Spirit) provides the how of the dance . How fast or slow, smooth or rhythm, is determined by the music.
Music and Musicians symbolize the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity and in the marriage of Christ to the Church
In dance the natural role of the woman is the follower. To be a follower you need:
1) A leader. A follower is only a follower if you follow the leader.
2) The ability to express yourself to the leader.
3)The ability to understand the plan (the pattern)
In dance the natural role of the man is leader. To be a leader you need:
1) A follower: A leader is only a leader if he leads a follower.
2) The ability to understand the follower: Before you lead anything you need to listen to the woman's body to know what you are supposed to lead and how you are going to lead it.
3) A plan (the pattern) The goal of the pattern in to make the follower feel comfortable and look good.
4) The ability to communicate the plan.
The Leader symbolizes the Father in the Holy Trinity and Christ in the marriage of Christ and the Church.
Lead-follow is like creating a picture. The leader draws the lines and the follower colors and shades the picture in.
4) The ability to bring the plan to it's fulfillment. Good following does not mean being a puppet. It requires the full act of the will
The Follower symbolizes the Son in the Holy Trinity and the Church in the marriage of Christ and the Church
The Four Qualities of the Dance
The rules of dance were not just made up by a bunch of people; they are neither arbitrary nor invented. Instead they are based on truth and grounded in reality. The rules of dance are based on how we think and on how our body works; in short they show us how God made us to relate to each other.
When something good is used or ordered in the way God intended. Beauty grabs our attention by it's goodness and excellence. The human body is by nature good, but we can hide that goodness by ordering or holding our body the wrong way. In dance we learn to style ourselves in a way that highlights and fully expresses our natural beauty while at the same time aking away any poses that hide our bodies goodness.
When the couple is in Harmony with the Music. Music is a collection of sounds that is a harmonius meeting of order and spontaneity. Music engages the mind and moves the emotions; it follows the laws of mathematics and yet move the depths of our soul in profound and varied ways. The different dances are made to fit a particular kind of music, with specific patterns, poses, timings, and stylings that create a visual element that complements and corresponds to the music. Good dancers can match their dance to the beat, melodies, harmonies and dynamics of the music, presenting and complementing them. When the music is fast the couple moves fast. When the music moves slow the couple moves slow. When the music gets loud the couple gets big. When it gets quiet the couple becomes small. More: The Three Levels of Music
The absence of stress and the abundance of blessing. Dancing is a language that is experienced and expressed through the body. That means it is physically comfortable. Good dancing is based upon respect for the other person's body. That means doing our part of the dance ourselves and trusting our partner to do the other half. We are responsible for moving, balancing and stopping ourselves. Women will often under follow, and the man will have to add force and balance. Other times she will try to do the man's part, usually because she is trying to be nice. If men are guilty it's usually by over leading, using a frame that is too stiff and pushing the woman around.
To desire good for someone else for their sake and their sake alone. In English we use love to describe many things, but in this case we are talking about agape or charity- to love one's neighbor as one self. True love can never be directed to the self; instead love focuses on the other, wanting their good regardless of the cost to yourself. This love is in the heart, at the center of the person, and to be expressed it must be shown through action. In dance this love for the partner is shown through the other three qualities. All the other qualities flow from the fundamental quality of love.
The Two Paths of Blessing
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
Do you ever wonder how that works? If each person defers to the other, nothing could ever be accomplished. "Let's do what you want" the first person says. "No, let's do what you want" the second person says. it would go on forever! It must mean something different, and it's something that happens in dance.
People often say that communication is like a two way street, but it's really not. That is, the way leaders and followers communicate to each other is very different, because they have different needs and desires in their relationship. These needs and desires are made to be complimentary, but only will be complimentary if we understand the correct way to communicate; and that means understanding that in lead/follow relationships that communication is more like two very different kinds of paths.
In a dance it looks as of the man is doing all the talking and the woman is only listening. If he leads her left she goes left. If he leads her right she goes right. If he leads a spin, she spins, Basically, in a dance the man tells the woman what to do, and she does it right away and she likes it! If you wonder why a woman likes to dance, it's because in the dance the man pays attention to everything she says and does. The man understands her and gives her what she wants without her ever needing to ask. We are made to believe that a man is oppressive if he wants the woman to follow everything he leads. We are made to believe a woman is nagging if she wants a man to listen to everything she says. But in the beginning it was not so. Their desires fit together flawlessly.
To make this dynamic work requires that the man listen to the woman in a different way. He can feel her body through the connection and know how her muscles are aligned and where her weight is; this information tells him what she is ready to do. In dancing with her he knows what her ability is. He can also see how beautiful she is as she moves through the pattern, and he can tell that she is happy from the smile on her face. So even as he talks and she listens on one path of communication, she talks and he listens on another.
These communications do not merely convey information but also blessing- the goodness of each other person. When done right these blessings meet the desires of the leader and the follower. In dance (and romance) men desire to measure up to the woman's expectations, while the woman desires to know that she is beautiful. A man must lead not to satisfy his own selfish pleasure but to create space in which the woman feels safe and can show off her beauty. In following the lead the woman and in finding joy in doing so she lets the man know that he has met or exceeded her expectations.
Thus two paths of blessing. The path from the lead to the follow is "concise and direct." Through this path the lead communicates the what, when and where of the relationship. This gift "draws the lines" of the relationship. The path from the follow to the lead is "wide and flowing" like a river. The follow speaks through her entire being. This gift "colors and shades" the expression of the relationship.
These same paths apply to all lead follow relationships; Christ leads his church in a way that is subordinate to each other, and a husband leads his wife in a way that is subordinate to one another, and both have the same dynamic as the leader and follower in the dance.
The 5 Rules of Good Connection
Dance has a language, and like all languages it has rules for communication. It's these rules that allow us to share blessing. But dance is different from spoken languages in a very important aspect. Spoken language is what CS Lewis called a social artifice- its rules are arbitrary- the sounds used to convey a thought will be different depending on a language. The thought "I want you to spin three times to the left at 64 beats per minute " sounds very different in English than it does in Spanish. But the language of dance is not arbitary; it's the language of the body and there is only one way communicate to the follower that you want her spin that way, and it's based on the mechanics of our body. The language of dance is based on our biology and our psychology and even our spirituality.
Rule 1: Never use your Thumbs
Using your Thumbs makes dancing boring, uncomfortable and dangerous!
When you don't use thumbs, the dance can't happen unless both leader and follower freely choose, each and every moment, with their entire being to be in the dance.
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, and blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. God does not force his kingship on us. Only by letting go of all ownership and giving ourselves to God, are we able to truly receive him fully
Rule 2: Keep it Clean & Clear
Clean: Don't put frivolous and meaningless information into the connection.
Clear: Do use good frame so you and your partner can communicate.
In order to communicate with God, one must stop adding meaning distractions, and create a spiritual frame that God can speak through. It's true God could speak without us removing distractions or creating frame, but he wills that we do so as part if our gift to him.
Rule 3: Leaders Initiate, Followers Respond
Followers: Don't do the leaders part. Wait for the lead- do not commit to the follow until the leader commit to the lead!
Leaders: Provide and actual lead!
Faith without works is dead. We are supposed to follow God, and yet so many times we don't choose to follow, or else we start to follow with out waiting for God to finish the lead, because we are scared or selfish. God is not going to drag us through the pattern. If we have faith in God then we will act on that faith, and the works we do are the fruit of our faith.
Rule 4: Small Leads, Big Follows
The lead should be about 5% of total energy in the pattern . 95% of the energy must come from the follower. This allows the follower to express herself.
On Mt. Horeb, when God spoke to Elijah, his voice was not in the fire, the earthquake or the wind, but in the still small voice. But it was only when Elijah heard the small voice that real change came to Israel. God's lead is small because it allows us the freedom to love more fully!