I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, which for my family was more of an ethnic identifier than a faith community. The church was there for special rituals in life, but it wasn’t until I lived in Ireland that I discovered a more intense relationship and thus I began my search for church in my adult years.
I will never forget the great performances done by my peers in Connecticut through the Walter Shock School of Dance. I had only participated in ballroom dancing, as everyone in my town of affluence did, but I simply enjoyed the larger theatric performances. I can recall the time break dancers came to our school, and when we went to see a Soviet dance company share mostly traditional dances. This started my love of dance that brought me to love ballet.
So both of these important parts of my life now were not part of my formative years. Most people that love dance as an adult danced as a child, and constantly in the church I hear about youth church camp experiences and/or how one was raised in the church. Neither of these is true for me, but that doesn’t make me any less of a fan, and the best fans are actually critics. I think there is a unique perspective from those who discover church as an adult rather than those who have grown up with it. There is an outside appreciation that may be overlooked. The same may be said of fans of dance who were not dancers in their youth—there is something unique that draws them in.
Recently I was reading Jennifer Homans’ Appollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, and when I read these words about ballet, I could not help but also think of the church:
Today’s artists [PASTORS]—their students and heirs—have been curiously unable to rise to the challenge of their legacy. They seem crushed and confused by its iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own. Contemporary choreography [WORSHIP] veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation—usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lighting and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.[i]
I read this over and over, and I could not help but change the word artists with pastors and choreography with worship. And I must say this applies equally to ballet as it does to the church.
Is this a pure coincidence?
Is this a problem of post-modernity?
Is this a problem of consumerism?
Is it a problem at all?
Honestly I think there is more hope for ballet, for it is an artistic form that can explore the divine and humanism equally with no dogma, while the church has found itself stuck in a battle of dogma rather than following the one that preached against organized religion: that Rabbi Jesus. But maybe we can take the forms and discipline of church, as with ballet, to new and very different ways we cannot even imagine.
Perhaps we can remember in both dance and church, but more importantly in life, what George Balachine asks, “Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”
[i]Homans, Jennifer (2010-11-02). Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (Kindle Locations 10507-10512). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.