Liturgical dancing and the Reformed tradition

My thanks to all who have commented on my recent article, “Lord of the Dance”. As for contemporary liturgical dance, there’s certainly enough current blame to go around, if blame is to be assigned.  It does seem suggestive to me, food for thought, that liturgical dance’s early pioneers found a welcoming venue in churches of the Reformed tradition, rather than anywhere else, so I wonder, “Why?”

In many Reformed churches I have been in, there is no altar.  In some, the table for the Lord’s Supper is temporary and portable and is set up for the intermittent occasions when it is celebrated.  Is it a sacrament?  It doesn’t look like it to me.  Instead, it looks very much, liturgically, what the arrangement was in the churches in England during Cromwell, where the permanent altars were quite deliberately removed and temporary tables made available for the non-sacramental Lord’s Supper that was celebrated.  I ask whether there is any relationship between voiding out the Catholic liturgy in the church and the obvious attempt by modern experimenters to fill that void with something, in this case with acting out or performing the experiential spiritual drama that occurs in the solitary saved soul.  I don’t have anything like a definitive answer, but I don’t think it’s at all absurd to ask the question.

Both William Glenesk, Presbyterian minister, and Chester and Margaret Palmer Fisk were founders of the modern liturgical dance association.  Margaret Palmer’s father was president of the Chicago Theological Seminary.  Riverside Church comes out of the Reformed tradition, and it was quite active in sponsoring Ruth St. Denis, not only for “one-off” performances, but also in sponsoring an ongoing school for liturgical dance, which met and often performed in the church.

I am quite happy to agree that these particular folks, and their churches, really did not resemble, at that point in their journeys, the churches, the liturgy, and the theology of what might be called “serious” Calvinism. And I can see why someone who is or was associated with that brand of Calvinism would perhaps take umbrage, but the fact is that these folks who were dancing about in a church saw themselves as Presbyterians and inheritors of the freeing reforms initiated by Calvin.  So, I guess I have to say that if I hit a nerve, it might be something that would be better taken up by one Calvinist against his wayward fellow Calvinists.

But I confess that I may be missing something.

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About John B. Buescher 14 Articles
John B. Buescher received his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia. From 1991 to 2007 he was the head of the Voice of America's Tibetan Broadcast Service. His books include The Other Side of Salvation: Spiritualism in the Nineteenth-Century Religious Experience (Skinner House Books, 2004), The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), and The President's Medium: John Conklin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation (Richard W. Couper Press, 2019).