God’s people have always danced. Throughout history, they have danced to celebrate and give thanks for God’s mighty acts.

Most biblical dances appear to have been spontaneous expressions of thanksgiving. One of the first of these came after the Red Sea crossing when Miriam “… took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing” (Exod. 15:20). By contrast, Exodus 32:17–19 describes dancing around the golden calf that was profane and performed for purposes other than for glorifying God.

Little sacred dancing is found between King David’s reign and Christ’s birth. It is understandable that when the Israelites were in captivity under the Babylonians they had little to celebrate. Their joy ceased and their dancing “turned into mourning” (Lam. 5:15). Finally, they were absorbed into the Roman Empire, and while many Jews (and Gentiles) became Christian converts, many ancient worship forms remained in disuse because the Jews generally rejected anything that resembled the Roman way of life—such things as pagan festivals and dancing.

The early church fathers preached against theater and dance in order to purify the church of all traces of paganism (although isolated instances of sacred dance occurred throughout the early, Medieval, and Renaissance periods). Dramatic masses were performed throughout the early centuries, and the mass itself, developed during and following the sixth century, was considered a highly formalized sacred dance.

There were two distinct kinds of sacred dance in Medieval times: dancing in the mass, and dancing in churchyards during holy festivals. The latter dances were often accompanied by revelry and drinking, however, and the church hierarchy began a series of prohibitions ...

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