Praise dance choreography is diverse in its creation and execution, but also follows a universal standard, making it easy for groups to collaborate and share the artistic breakthroughs they have received from God. Praise dance is an expression of praise and worship to God through dance. Africans brought their dances to North and South America, and the Caribbean Islands as slave labor was starting in the 1500s.
Dance has always been an integral part of daily life in Africa. In the Americas, it helped enslaved Africans connect with their homeland keeping their cultural traditions alive. As before enslavement, Africans danced for special occasions, such as a birth or a marriage, or as a part of their daily activities. For Africans, dance affirmed life and the outlook of a better future.
Praise Is What I Do
Praise dance or liturgical dance has become an important part of worship in the African American church. It’s roots stem all the way back from what Christians believe to be biblical times, when in the Hebrew tradition, dance functioned as a medium of prayer and praise, as an expression of joy and reverence, and as a mediator between God and humanity. Praise dancing in modern day times can include jazz, modern, African and even hip hop dance set to gospel music. It has become an integral part of the African American church and culture.
I started dancing as a little girl. I would listen to the tunes of old and became captivated by the sounds that came out of the radio. I would spend hours singing and dancing in my room to the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Chubby Checker, and Elvis Presley. I would create these elaborate dance routines that I would perform at family gatherings. One day my mother had me to make up a dance to a gospel song for a church program. The people were captivated and that’s when I found my calling.
Liturgical dance was practically non-existent until the 20th century, unlike many other dance styles that have been around for centuries. However, the start of liturgical dance actually originates back in biblical times, with many examples of worshipful movement recorded in the Old Testament. It has also remained popular in other regions of the world, but is still fairly new to Christians in the West.
Liturgical dance can be choreographed in a few ways. When it comes to the spontaneous forms of movement mentioned above, there really aren’t any rules, as it is considered by the church to be spirit-led. Movements can be jerky or flowing, graceful or sharp, fast or slow.
Choreographed liturgical dance is usually a series of arm movements with gentle turns and modest steps involving the lower body. There is usually no jumping or other technique-infused choreography.
Lastly, liturgical dance can be incorporated into other dance forms. Every year, more churches and non-profit groups are beginning to discover the beauty of using traditional dance styles such as ballet, jazz and even hip hop, to glorify God. Christian teenagers are especially drawn to this form of dance, as it allows them to be energetic and expressive about their beliefs, without ever being boring or stuffy in its creativity.
John Tesh’s Alive is a perfect example of this newest form of liturgical dance. His music and dance collaborative was recently performed with young adults worshiping God through lyrical, ballet and hip hop dance. The end result was aired on network television and the DVD is still being sold to many who are searching for that perfect artistic inspiration.