Dance with Us – Dance and the Christian Life
Written by Jason Farley on January 3, 2018
Team Farley has a number of Family Rules that are beyond discussion. Rule #1: When Billy Idol comes on the radio no one may leave the car until the song is over. You must respect the Idol. It is our most sacred Family Rule. Rule #2: “Hello,” by Adele, requires that all windows be opened and everyone must sing as loud as possible. Rule #3, the third most sacred of our rules, is: When “Footloose,” by Kenny Loggins comes on, everything stops and everyone must dance until the liturgical moment has passed.
It does not matter the time or place, the laws must be kept. Whether in the living room or the school parking lot, the law must be kept.
Footloose makes the list. But not simply because the song is incredibly catchy. The movie Footloose (the 1984 version obviously, with Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack a rebellious new-comer to the small midwestern town of Bomont-not that 2011 remake which, like eating with shepherds, is an abomination to all true Egyptians) was an enormous part of my childhood. The Baconator had me down at the Supercuts on Regal asking the hairdresser to feather my hair. Little bits of glitter bounced off of Lori Singer as she danced at Prom and attached themselves to my young soul. My neighborhood began playing chicken on skateboard being pulled behind a BMX. I came to see every empty warehouse as a possible future location for a dance-fight with my teenage angst (when I eventually grew into some). Footloose was an important staple to my childhood.
Then I went to seminary. At some indefinable point I came to a realization: both sides of the rivalry in the small town of Bomont rest on terrible exegesis about dance. On the one side you have a preacher-dad worried that the town’s kids are enjoying themselves too much. And everyone knows that Jesus disapproves of people enjoying themselves. On the other side, his daughter provides a small list of Bible verses that mention dancing. By reading them at a council meeting, Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) changes everyone’s mind. And the dance-magic is baptized from the barrios and bathhouses into the High School gym.
Phew. Prom was almost ruined by the fundamentalists.
As sentimental as the movie is for me, Kevin Bacon’s bad exegesis still bothers me. His exegesis is so bad that Martin Luther and the Pope agreed to come back from the dead, arm in arm, to give the sermon two thumbs down. His exegesis was so bad that even the libertines took up a collection to send Ren to seminary. His exegesis was so bad that even Joel Osteen thinks the curses of the New Covenant are going to fall on Ren McCormack.
The conservative church might know that both sides of the Bomont rivalry are living in ditches, but that is different than knowing how to stay on the road. Dance has generally been given up on. The car is simply left in the ditch. If there are no objections then, let me attempt to hook a chain to the bumper of this 83’ Delorean and drag it out of the ditch.
My thesis: both sides are in the same ditch. Both the footloose and the foot-tied have crashed into the same gutter while fighting over the steering wheel. The problem is in what they agree on. Namely that all dance, all touch even, is sexual.
Against this false assumption, we should align–and then electric slide. But you will never replace something with nothing. We need to fill the space by treating one another as brothers and sisters with all purity (1 Tim. 5:2). It is not enough to simply stand against ‘them’ doing it wrong. We must reflect constructively about dance.
In spite of Kevin Bacon’s bad exegesis, the Bible does talk about dance. In fact, it has more to say than you might expect (and I plan to tackle that info in Part 2 on dance). But God made us with bodies that respond to music. Many of us are raising kids who are trying to figure out how to live in bodies that respond to music. Kids will learn to dance one way or the other. They were built for it. It is not a question of whether they will learn; it is only a question of which teacher they will have. And in a hyper-sexualized culture like ours, the movies, music videos, tv shows, and commercials are teaching us to objectify our neighbor.
You do not honor or give yourself for objects. You use objects. We are bombarded on all sides by the financial, sexual, and political objectification. We need to resist. We need to teach the next generation to resist. People are not objects. People are divine-image-bearing subjects for whom we owe their creator thanks and to whom we owe kindness.
Dance lessons are a wonderful opportunity to de-objectify our neighbors. A good dance lesson teaches kids that not every touch is sexual. People are people, not sexual objects. Learning to dance–whether group, partner, or line dances–teaches that people are not objects to be used. Being trained to dance is a significant opportunity to de-objectify the opposite sex. And learning the forms, steps, rhythms, and moves of a dance prepares us to show honor by helping a dance partner enjoy music bodily.
My Latin percussion instructor once told me that my job was simple. “Lay down a beat with a steady clave so that the dance floor will be full of people enjoying themselves. If you drum for yourself, trying to impress people or draw attention to yourself, then you are worse than useless. If you are never noticed because people were dancing, then you are a good drummer.”
Not only is that the kind of deep life lesson that you can live by, it is the reason to learn to dance. To bring others joy by the delight of the fellowship available through dance as well as the pleasure of the blithe jocundity of the dance floor. Fear keeps us from love. Love puts others first.