Just the fact that the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing is known as the Shakers speaks volumes about the way that sacred dance is perceived by the American public.
It is traditionally either ridiculed or exploited. Or both.
However, according to Dance to Health author Dzagbe Cudjoe, sacred dance has long been integral to religious expression. She defines it as moving in a way that unites “Mind, Body and Spirit with a Higher Spiritual Energy.” Her numerous examples of sacred dance throughout history include depictions in prehistoric cave art, bishop-led choir services of the early Christian church, Talmudic angels, ancient Greek rituals, Sufi dervishes, Yoruba
priests, Balinese Hindus, King David with the Ark, and Psalm 150.
She also speaks of the Shakers.
Shakers considered music to be integral to religious experience. They considered their thousands of original compositions to be revelations from God, and therefore duly recorded them (with a unique system that was reminiscent of ancient Greek notation). One of these songs, Simple Gifts, was composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett of the Alfred, Maine Shaker community. Although it is often sung (while standing still) as a church hymn, or vicariously enjoyed (while sitting still) as a performance, it was originally intended as a vehicle for sacred dance. In fact, Brackett’s original two-stanza lyrics lay out specific instructions for such
(bow… bend… turning, turning in order to come round right).
Years later, English songwriter Sydney Carter picked up on this theme in his revised song Lord of the Dance. (Ironically, Carter’s birthday was May 6, same as Brackett’s.) In Green Print for Song Carter explains that he envisioned “Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us – He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality.” Carter also viewed Christ through an interfaith (and interspiritual) lens. He talked of Shiva’s cosmic dance as being another key inspiration for the song. During that same Green Print for Song interview, he further explained: By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance…
Did you know…
The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield MA will present Sing Like a Shaker on August 27, 2010 from 1 to 2 PM. This educational program will include the practice of authentic Shaker songs (Simple Gifts and others) with accompanying dance motions.
And did you also know…
Michael Jackson was inducted into Saratoga NY’s National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame on August 15, 2010. This museum will soon have a Michael Jackson Tribute Exhibit that showcases his many contributions to the dance world.