By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 14, 2015) — New Mexico and Flamenco go together like love and marriage. Since the early Spanish influence in New Mexico, the unique dance form has found a permanent and distinctive place in New Mexico’s heritage. Consider these facts:
* New Mexico hosts the only National Flamenco Festival and school in United States, going on its 28th year: http://www.nationalinstituteofflamenco.org/National_Institute_of_Flamenco/Welcome.html
* The University of New Mexico has the only Bachelors of Art degree program in Flamenco in the United States: http://theatre.unm.edu/academics/dance/undergrad.php
* Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts the only public sponsored charter high school that specializes in Flamenco. Called, Tierra Adentro, the school has an emphasis in the art and music of Spain: http://www.tierraadentronm.org/
The list could go on, as New Mexico hosts regular performances, has bi-yearly dancers from Spain, and has restaurants dedicated to the art form.
Flamenco is everywhere. And we New Mexican’s are the better for it.
I was able to attend the opening event at this year’s Festival Flamenco Internaional De Albuquerque (http://www.ffi28.org/#ffi-home) . With dancers from several countries and a concert by Flamenco singer, Montse Cortes, the night proved to be one of beauty, culture, and great fun.
Over the past several years, I’ve become an admirer of the art.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that a priest in Spain, Jose Planas Moreno uses Flamenco to bring people to his church, Nuestra Senora del Carman church in Campanilla.
According to journalist, Fiona Govan, people are flocking to the congregation. She writes, “Unlike across the rest of Spain where the Catholic Church has struggled with falling numbers, the priest, who is known as Father Pepe, celebrates mass to a packed congregation with queues regularly forming outside his church.”
Govan quotes Father Pepe as saying, “Something happens when I dance…I love it. It brings me closer to God.”
Imagine that: dance can bring you closer to God.
The prodigious C.S. Lewis wrote concerning the topic of prayer and service, “Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best–if you like, it ‘works’ best-when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.”
His point in this quote (as related to prayer and service) is that if one has to count out steps while dancing, the real act of dancing is not yet an integral part in the person; he or she is still a student of dance, not yet incorporating its fullness into their life. In this quote, Lewis likened dance to service, but the analogy is well suited for an understanding of dance itself.
The underlining point one could draw from this quote is that to be a good dancer you must get beyond the counting of steps and move towards the incorporation and integration of the act-the movement of dance-into one’s very being.
Dance is an analogy for the Christian life.
Historically, dancing is either desired or detested within the Christian church. In some church cultures-say, the Greek Orthodox-dancing is part of the living tradition of the church. In other church cultures-say, the Baptist or Nazarene-dancing has historically been frowned upon. In today’s world, most churches have softened their stance on dancing, saying it’s a matter of conscience for the individual as directed by the local church.
Biblically, the Bible takes a high view of dance, showing that dancing before the Lord is a means of worship and strong emotion. Just a few of the references are as follows:
In Exodus 15:20, Miriam and some women dance and play music while praising God. In 2 Samuel 6:14, David dances before the Lord at the return of the Ark of the Covenant. In Psalm 149 and 150, dance is encouraged as a means to praise God. Even Jesus references dance. In Matthew 11:16-17, Jesus draws an analogy with dance to himself-the celebration that the Messiah has come.
The Bible also has some unwelcoming things to say about dance. In Exodus 32: 19-25, people dance around the golden calf. And in Mark 6:22-25, Herodias’ daughter dances, leading to the beheading of John the Baptist.
It seems that there are wholesome reasons to dance and unwholesome reasons to dance. The wholesome reasons would be praise, celebration, and formal engagements-marriage, birthdays, and the like. The unwholesome revolves around false-worship, lust, and movement spurred by intoxication. But let’s make it clear: the Bible doesn’t discourage dance; rather, it encourages it within the appropriate means.
In a Christianity Today article on dancer and choreographer, Elizabeth Dishman, writer, Luann Jennings, interviews Dishman about her role as a ballet dancer. In the article, Dishman states that modern dance “opened up a world of movement that was verboten in ballet. I was fascinated by its poetic potential and physical freedom, which embraced improvisation, collaboration, and the surprises of the moment.”
Dishman goes on to discuss her calling as a dancer. She states, “The sense of call has been very gradual for me. I initially entered the entrepreneurial world out of necessity, since there just didn’t seem to be a place for what I wanted to do at the time . . . but looking back I can see God’s design for me in my personality and gifting.
“I’m not sure I fully understood it as a “call” until recently. Family life has changed everything. It would make everything so much simpler just to move on and plant both feet firmly in the mothering world, even for a handful of years. But I’ve continued to sense God nudging me in this direction, thankfully.
“I’ve heard this call through the sense of health and vitality I have when I’m working (and depression when I’m not), deep successes in some of my recent work that really touched people, and several opportunities to work with others who support what I’m doing and want to jump in. Some wonderful voices from my church and local Christian community have inspired me to honor the skills and passions God has planted in me. Plus, this area of my life tends to be where God works powerfully to dismantle my ego and show me his love for this art form and my place in it.”
Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, in his book, Art in Action, writes concerning the purpose of art (dance included in his understanding): “Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse acts as praising our great men and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge. Works of art are objects of such actions as contemplation for the sake of delight. Works of art are accompaniments for such actions as hoeing cotton and rocking infants. Works of art are background for such action as eating meals and walking through airports. Works of art equip us for action…the purposes of art are the purposes of life.”
I like that last sentence: “The purposes of art are the purposes of life.”
If dance is an art (and I wholly believe it is), then dance is something that shows, directs, and gives meaning to life. And as a Christian, dance can show and direct a clear meaning of the Christian life as well; that which expresses our praise, contemplation, fears, hopes, and dreams-as people seeking and serving God. Dance can be art in action, a way to give significance to our existence as humans-both in the spiritual and temporal realms.
So do yourself a favor: dance a little. Even if you are not a dancer (heaven knows I’m not), but a little kinetic movement just may be what the Great Doctor ordered. For as C.S. Lewis says, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” Bring some delight to your life: dance, and thank God he’s given dance as a gift for Christians to enjoy.
Photo captions: 1) Flamenco dancer at a previous festival in Albuquerque (Photo courtesy Pat Berrett). 2) Dancing priest, Father Pepe. 3) Facebook cover for the Festival. 3) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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