Sunday, January 9, 2011


Below is Claude Debussy's piece that translates
in English to: "Sacred and Profane Dances" -
performed in a church (naturally!).


Edited from The Feast of Fools
by Harvey Cox
A people who dance before their gods
are generally freer and less repressed than
a people who cannot.
Christians danced a lot in the early years
of the church. They danced in places of
worship and in churchyards. They danced
on saints' days and in cemeteries at the graves
of martyrs. Men, women, and children danced,
before the Lord and with each other.
Nevertheless, discomfort about dancing in
church was developing quickly.
The controversy appears openly in the
fourth century. St. Basil the Great,
Bishop of Caesarea (A.D. 344-407)
is a key figure.
St. Basil was against the dance for
one reason - it was too sensuous.
Displaying that suspicion of flesh which
has plagued Christianity off and on for
most of its history, he here clearly objects
not to the dance as such, but to its
explicitly sexual dimensions.
For the next thousand years, the
authorities of the church fought a
hopeless battle, first to guarantee
chasteness in the dance and, then,
losing that struggle, to abolish it altogether.
Century after century, bishops and councils
issued decrees warning against various
forms of dance in churches and churchyards.
But they persisted.
Finally the Council of Wurzburg in 1298
declared them a grievous sin.
Even this final interdiction, however,
did not abolish religious dance.
Proscribed from the sanctuary, the
dancers moved to the square, the
churchyard, and back to the cemetery.
They tagged along at the edges of the
processions, or sometimes took them over
entirely. They showed up at pilgrimages.
They supplied the gusto at saints' days
and festivals. Also in Christian movements
outside the power of conciliar dicta dance
worship continued, and persists to the present.
In black congregations and Pentecostal
churches, rhythmic movement has never
disappeared.  "Go forth, young men, old men,
and maidens," runs the exhortation of
a Shaker elder a hundred years ago,
"and worship God with all your might
in the dance."

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