Monday, May 19, 2008

Dancing in Church at Pentecost

Entry for 11 May 2008, Pentecost Sunday:

My first successful experiences of going to dances were all church-related. Our youth group at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lodi, California, was quite active and put on a dance from time to time, and also travelled together to youth conferences at churches in our part of the Diocese of San Joaquin. These provided me with a safe social situation in which to dance with young women who were my age and whom I had known for a long time; as a result, these dances were important for my social development and really helped me develop confidence. To this day, I still enjoy a good conference dance, if the band is good.

Scotland has a fine tradition of social dancing, called ceilidh (pronounced, “kay-lee”). Scots love to go to ceilidhs, where ceilidh bands play traditional Scottish dance music, for dances such “Gay Gordons” and “Strip the Willow”. The dances are closely related to English country dancing and American square dancing, and are done in lines, circles, groups of six, etc. The dance steps are not too complicated, and are great exercise, leaving the participants out of breath but exhilarated.

Our current church, St. Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral, in the West End of Glasgow, hosts a ceilidh about once a year. Last year, it was on Easter Day; this year’s ceilidh was held on the evening of Pentecost Sunday, which is the official birthday of the Christian Church. From my point of view, this is a perfect time for a ceilidh, because it is a festival that celebrates the Holy Spirit, and dances in church have always seemed to me to be some sort of expression of that Spirit.

This year, Kenneth came along with us, having arrived in Glasgow only two days before, to spend the summer with us. Kenneth has an excellent sense of rhythm, and has spent years playing the piano and the floormat videogame Dance Dance Revolution, so he joined right in and picked up the dances quickly. The band, called Last Tram tae Auchenshoogle, was quite entertaining, sometimes veering into progressive rock territory, which was musically interesting, if occasionally a wee bit difficult to keep time to. We danced with a wide variety of people whom we knew by sight or slight acquaintance, and by the end of the evening, we had circled around with them, stepped forwards and backwards, looped, clapped and promenaded, and were all somewhat sweaty. It’s a church with a lot of intellectual power, so it was really good to encounter one another in such an embodied manner, dancing to the Holy Spirit, in a grand ceilidh, a Dance of Life.

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