Dad dancing

Watching the Prime Minister attempting a few moves during her visit last week to three African countries brought back too many uncomfortable memories.  Of course it really was a no win situation for her unless she had proved to be the most natural and fantastic dancer in those kitten heels.  If she had stood completely still while the rhythm of the drums and the passion of the dancers was all around her then she would have been criticised for that.  And if she had a go and gave into the desire to join in, well, she was pilloried for that.  I suppose that is all inevitable.


It is the season for weddings, even though we have just moved into September, and I have been involved in a few this year.  If, as a vicar, you accept the invitation to the wedding reception then you have to realise what you are letting yourself in for.  Its fine if the couple are people you really know, from a family you really know and like.  But if your relationship is anything less than that and for some reason you RSVP ‘yes’ to the invitation then you can be in for an agonizing few hours.  Inevitably you are seated at the meal next to someone who once went to church.  People imagine that vicars only like talking to people who go to church – it is not true.  Then of course there are the speeches, half an hour of your life spent listening to stories about people that you really don’t know, appalling jokes and the unveiling of opinions that would be startling in any setting.  Old family wounds are reopened and embarrassment surges round the room.  But then the ‘disco’ begins, the dancing, and that person next to you who once went to church and who has drunk a whole bottle of white wine during the meal tries to drag you onto the dance floor.  ‘Come on Vicar.  I bet you’re a lovely dancer!’.  The fact is I’m not and no amount of alcohol seems to help that.  But inevitably you’re out there, the cheers and the rhythmic clapping begin and a space opens up, like in ‘Saturday Night Fever’, in which you can display your moves.  Mrs May, I sympathise.

But vicars get involved in dancing in more places than wedding receptions – and I’m not talking here about the Revd Richard Coles on ‘Strictly’. So often at a big service there is a music group, there are worship songs, gospel music, and it really is foot tapping stuff.  But allowing the foot tapping to verge into swaying to verge into full blown dancing, well that is a danger to be aware of.  There is only one occasion when I saw it work brilliantly.

I was on an Anglican Communion Conference being held in Johannesburg on the theme of the Millennium Development Goals (remember them?!).  Each day the Eucharist was arranged by the delegates from a particular part of the Communion.  On the last day it was the turn of Central and South America.  Some how, from somewhere they magicked up a marimba band and, as we stood for the opening of the service, the band started up and all the clergy and the bishops danced into the chapel.  It was absolutely amazing and there was not a hint of ‘dad dancing’ as these mitred and coped bishops swirled and stepped their way towards the altar.  I swayed a bit but I kept it firmly under control.

There is a story in 2 Samuel 6 which touches on all of this.  The Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines.  But King David and his troops had recaptured it.  Finally it was making its way back to Jerusalem, to be in its rightful place at the heart of the nation, as it should be.  The people were over joyed and David was triumphant.  So we are told

David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. (2 Samuel 6.14-15)

But not everyone was impressed by this display of dancing prowess.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6.16)

There is a long tradition of being despised because you allow yourself to be caught up in the dance.  And Sydney Carter catches something of that in that wonderful but, I suspect, less often sung hymn of his, ‘Lord of the Dance’

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame:
The holy people said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high,
And they left me there on a cross to die:

By all accounts Carter was influenced by seeing the dancing images of the Hindu god Shiva and imagined Christ into that pose.  He wrote about it

[Jesus] dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.


Shiva dancing

I sang the song yesterday at a wedding – I won’t tell you if later on I danced.  But maybe Mrs May was right, maybe you just have to give into the rhythm and try the steps and dance with Jesus the shape and pattern of life, whatever else others make of it.

may I dance with you.
the dance of life,
the dance of love.

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In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


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Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark