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The problem with praise dancing

January 11th, 2012 10:00 PM

Arlene Jones

 

A couple of weeks ago I did a column where I questioned the origins of "praise dancing." Growing up in the '60s and '70s, I never heard of it. But when black people started having their own beauty pageants and contestants didn't have a true talent, then they would do an interpretive dance.

 

That same interpretive dance has now made its way into a lot of churches under the guise of "Praise Dancing." I must admit I am not a fan of praise dancing. For me it equates to those who weren't talented enough to make the cheerleading squad, so they became members of the pom-pon team. Both cheer at the game. But while one is deserving of your attention, the other can happen or not happen and many won't notice the difference.

 

I asked people to email me about the origins of praise dancing or their thoughts on such. One gentleman's email read as if he'd read my mind. He questioned a church activity that had women in body-hugging leotards covered by flowing dresses (sometimes made of the sheerest of material) while they kicked, turned and thrust their hips to and fro.

 

On the other hand, I heard from women who enjoy praise dancing. One said, "It adds beauty and deep emotionalism to the service." I was also sent a number of scripture passages that refers to both men and women dancing in the Bible.

 

So imagine the quandary I found myself in when I attended the program for Garfield Major this past Saturday at Divine Tree of Light Church. As Pastor T.C. Raven sang my favorite song, "Just Put it in Jesus' Hands," I stood up from the pew and began to clap and move about. My elations could have even been termed "dancing." So does that make me a hypocrite? I had to question myself.

 

After giving it deeper and even more introspective thought, I still don't like praise dancing. The reason? When one gets the spirit of the Holy Ghost, it is done with spontaneity. It is not planned. Or choreographed. It just happens. It's kind of like those who get so caught up in the church that they "speak in tongues." That occurrence is not on the church program. It can't be performed.

 

The same can be said for all those passages from the Bible. Those who danced didn't plan on it. They didn't practice for it. It wasn't in the church bulletin. It was a spontaneous tribute to God that can never be duplicated. Even if it happens over and over again, it is not a duplication. Sometimes it happens in the beginning of the service. Other times at the end of the service. Sometimes it lasts a minute. Other times it can go on forever. But in the end, it is not planned and that is, for me, the defining factor on dancing in the church. For when one has to have rehearsals to learn the steps and movements, then is it really dancing to praise God or dancing for the entertainment of the congregation?

 

Singing is a God-given talent that people use in church to offer their talent to God. Where is the talent in praise dancing? One auditions for the choir. Do they audition to praise dance? And given the timeframe when the Bible was written, the interpretation of dance back then could be a simple hop and skip as opposed to the leg-thrusting and arm-waving that I've been seeing as I watch the praise-dancing segments that were posted to YouTube. And is there really choreography involved when the same hand movements are used over and over again? I wonder how many of the young girls, who are the predominant ones doing praise dancing, would be willing to put forth a concerted effort into formal ballet training? You know the kind where your feet hurt and bleed from being on your toes and your legs muscles cramp from the constant reaching for perfection?

 

Lastly, I've got to get some answers on another dance that is now becoming popular in black churches. That is the tendency to have black people performing as "mimes" in whiteface. Can anyone besides me see the hypocrisy in our getting mad over white people in blackface, then put the exact opposite in our churches as an acceptable form of entertainment?

 

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