“My Shoes Are Too Tight”

“Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “My shoes are too tight, but it doesn’t matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.” I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance.”
-Londo Mollari, Babylon 5

I have never been a dancer. I didn’t come from a family that danced (except for weddings, and the occasional funeral–just kidding on the funeral). I didn’t have friends that really danced. I never learned, except for the Electric Slide, Cha-Cha Slide, and Cupid Shuffle.

I regret that the church never learned, either. Maybe it could have taught me before I became too self-conscious to try.

I know what the early American church’s problem with dancing was. In its mind, dancing led to sex, and therefore all dancing had no part not only in worship, but had no part in the lives of real Christians, who were supposed to live absolutely upright and moral (by the church’s standard). It tightened its shoes so much that it killed its feet.

American Mainline Christianity never recovered from that overreaction. We should have found other ways in which to channel our deepest emotional energy, but I don’t think we have. The Contemporary Christian Music movement has tried to reintroduce us to dance, but in the process introduced a whole slew of other problems (like bad music and even worse theology). We’ve tried Special Music, Liturgical Dance, Praise Bands, but nothing has worked. Our shoes are too tight. We have forgotten how to dance.

A few months back I came across a video featuring Peter Hollens and Lindsey Stirling. I am a musician in the core of my being. I am both a vocalist and an instrumentalist, but I can’t imagine being able to channel my energy like they do. Or like The Backbeats, my favorite group from NBC’s “The Sing-Off”; or Alex and Twitch from FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance?”; or Quest Crew of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” fame.

I have an enormous amount of respect for these people. They have discovered the secret to being truly and fully human. Their music and their dance is as much a part of them as breathing or eating. I get a glimpse of that when I play my tuba. It takes me to another place and I feel more like me than I ever do at other times–not even when I sing. It flows through me, and it is in those times I can see God most clearly.

When have I felt that in the church? Not often. A few times here and there, almost always music related–that’s what speaks to me most easily, after all. It is disheartening to try and get other people to move (or even clap) and be met instead with blank or scowling faces.

Last Thursday night, at our first summer Evening Prayer, we sang the “Canticle of the Turning”, which uses part of Mary’s Magnificat set to an Irish tune. A little girl, Sophia, liked the music so much that she decided to dance up and down the aisle. Watching this child, who is usually incredibly shy, let go so easily and dance moved me. She is an inspiration. The irony that I was receiving this revelation from a girl named Wisdom is not lost on me.

I want to learn how to do that, but my shoes are too tight. I want to take them off, but my inhibitions keep me from doing so. I got made fun of all the time as a kid for everything, so adding to the list is never a comfortable feeling.

What if I look like an idiot? What if I find I can’t do it? What if everyone stares at me? What if they judge me? What if their opinion of me changes, and they don’t want to be around me anymore? What if I embarrass not only myself, but others I care about (that’s the one I really struggle with).

The thing is, I know everyone else in church is thinking the exact same thing–except for those few who do still believe that bodily movement that isn’t kneeling or praying is from “the devil”.

How do we change it? How do we get people to stop being who they are and start being who they could be? How do we move them into what Richard Rohr calls the Second Half of Life (thank you Pastor Bill)? Especially with our shoes so tight?




11 thoughts on ““My Shoes Are Too Tight”

  1. In the Assemblies of God church I grew up in, we were all about hand-raising and dancing. The youth especially started a habit of going up to the front of the church to dance during worship. It wasn’t any kind of formal dancing, just jumping and moving, making a joyful noise and motion before the Lord. At first when I did it, it was very exuberant and heartfelt and genuine. Then I did it even when I felt nothing at all, or felt bad, because it felt obligatory, because I worried what my friends would think if I didn’t go to the front to dance. I did it to show off my piety, thinking I would show others (especially thinking of the young ladies) what passionate Christian I was. It went from worship to basically a sham, I felt.

    As I drifted from that, I learned to be very distrustful of outward displays of worship. Even still going to that church, I was afraid to raise my hands in worship because I worried that I was doing it just for show. Now that I’m Catholic, I’m rather glad that our actions and gestures are pretty scripted and regimented. I like that things are orderly, after the disorder I grew up in. I never have to worry about doing anything unexpected, or anyone else doing anything unexpected, and feeling like I should follow suit. I do still allow myself a brief moment of unobtrusive, unscripted hand-raising when I get back to my pew after Communion.


  2. Of course I like this post! I come from a dance heavy religion and personality, but you know whats great about dancing… especially religious dancing… you don’t need shoes at all!! I’m sorry that this perpetuated group think is stifling, but I’d definitely dance in a church with you! Cast it all aside and let’s dance, my friend! 😉


  3. All of us have to remember that “David danced before the Lord with all of his might” 2 Sam 6:14. It must have been quite a sight to see. I currently teach praise dance/liturgical dance, and it has been a slight uphill battle to set people free from their stereotypes or closed minds at times. It has also been well received by those who support the idea of expressing praise in dance form. I commend you on your open and honest blog post, and I honestly hope that you find a way to kick off your shoes and…dance.


    1. Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement. Being at camp with some of our junior high / elementary kids gave me a bit of an opportunity to be a little fun and crazy, which helped, but I am still not comfortable yet just putting it all out there.


  4. David danced in front of the Arc, but where is the precident for dance in the catholic tradidion? Was David’s dancing part of the liturgy of the Hebrews?

    I think these are important questions to ask when talking about dance in a liturgical church. To my knowlidge there is not a tradition in the church of the Augsburg Confession, nor in its predicesor in Rome, neither in the Orthodox church.

    Perhaps the Divine Liturgy is not the place to put it all out there. I’m happy for little Sophia, but I think it is Paul who writes of milk and meat, of putting away childish things.


    1. There is actually no precedent for dancing in the Roman Catholic church, which I have since read is forbidden by the canons and which I think is unfortunate.

      Liturgical dancing is present in the Old Testament not only at the dance of David, but in many places–in the psalms, for example, worshipers are encouraged to dance. Miriam danced. There’s no question that for the ancient Israelites, dancing was an acceptable way to worship God, and I believe that tradition has continued somewhat in modern Judaism (but I may be wrong). There doesn’t appear to be any reference to liturgical dance one way or the other in the New Testament.

      However, that has not discouraged the church over 2000 in other areas. Beam an apostle from the first century to the twenty-first century and take him/her to a Christian worship service and I don’t believe they’d recognize a single thing. Lutheranism is not a tradition that says if it is not mentioned specifically in the Bible it must be omitted–rather, we say that if it is not explicitly rejected by the Bible, it is acceptable, but not necessary. We call it “adiaphora”, “indifferent things”, and I believe liturgical dance falls into that category.

      At the ELCA National Youth Gathering that was held in New Orleans last week, I actually saw a great example of liturgical dance in the closing Eucharist service. It wasn’t a “special music” type of interruption, but rather, it was done alongside the music of the liturgy, making it actually part of the liturgy. I thought this was a much better use of liturgical dance, because it was used in the same manner as the music was. It was part of worship.


  5. I’m not sure that you can call the dancing in the Old Testament liturgical. It seems that the dancing of a prophetess after a victory does not fit into a liturgical context. I think an exegetical study might more closely link this to a victory dance after a great battle. In a more contemporary setting: the dance done by a football player after making a touchdown.

    It also seems that David’s dancing was not exactly part of the liturgy, after all there were people who looked askance at what he was doing. Truly God did not, but I think that has more to do with David’s relationship with the divine. Like a prophet he is an outsider, someone set aside as a king. Is there an example of the Levites, or the temple priests stripping down and dancing as a part of the temple ritual? I don’t think so.

    What people call liturgical dance plays to sentimentalism, and performance. It brings more glory to the dancer than to god. The dancing of Miriam, and David was not a choreographed addition to the liturgy. I realize that he’s LCMS, but a look at Piepkorn’s writing on the liturgy may be helpful for putting together what a dignified service might look like. However, the ELCA is much more interested in adiaphora than catholic tradition. That is clear as the new hymnal even makes the creed an optional part of the service. (See my response to your comment at: http://churchandthesinglegirl.com/2012/07/24/visiting-an-elca-church/#comments )

    I’m thrilled that little Sophia is a child and free to dance. I’m thrilled that the children in Atlanta got to express themselves through dance, but I do not think that the Divine Liturgy is a place for self expression, or sentimentality. It is a place to worship the Lord in a dignified manor. Over a thousand years of traditional, adiaphora, support and dignify that which is necessary and biblical while giving a connection to the communion of the saints. Even Luther’s German Mass was designed as a catechizing device. It was created in a way to give milk to liturgical babes before they could understand the meat of the Latin Mass.

    I’m sure your experience in Atlanta was quite moving, and empowering some truly great things happened through the grace of God, but I’d argue that this event was not organized by youth, but by adults, who’ve systematically dismantled the Evangelical Catholic traditions of the ELCA, and despite the record numbers of attendees at the National Youth Gathering are still in a panic over declining numbers of youth in church. These same youth leaders are confused as to why a teenager after confirmation stops attending church. I and many others would argue that it is due to liturgical innovation and an abandonment of tradition, and I site a bit of anecdotal evidence as well as a bit of empirical evidence:

    Anecdotally, when I was in college the pastor in charge of Lutheran Campus Ministry called the campus Lutherans over to his house for dinner. He had a selection of new worship materials including With One Voice. He thought we’d be interested in settings and hymns, songs with a more contemporary feel, and language. Overwhelmingly the students selected traditional settings and hymns to be used at campus worship.

    Empirically, here’s an article about the discussion of a new hymnal in the Anglican church: http://thecuratesdesk.org/2012/05/15/dont-do-it-for-the-kids-of-hymnal-revision-and-young-adults/


    1. One of my problems with the way liturgical dance has been used in church has been exactly your concern, that it is often more about the dancer/s than God, and that it plays on our emotions and sentamentalism. And those are the same problems I have with so much Contemporary Christian Music and with “special music” in church. Yet, despite those problems, we have (for thousands of years) found ways in which to make music not only a part of Christian worship, but an integral part. I am hopeful that, provided it receives similar treatment and is approached correctly, dance could be incorporated in the same way. But you are absolutely right that it can’t be about performance and sentamentalism as its focus, else we are just repeating the mistakes we’ve already made.


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