One of the easiest and most effective ways to combine movement & dance ministry with trained and untrained dancers is scripture choreography; it high-lights favorite scripture verses and then uses them as the foundation for choreography accompanied by words. Not only do we hear specific verses as they are read, but we SEE them come to life; this movement expression often captivates the hearts of onlookers (as well as the participants themselves). The technique is a win for embodied faith.
How does this happen?
For many years, I have used a focused scripture verse to either end or begin dance rehearsal with the group that I am leading; that’s what makes it so specific and so special. It’s always a joy because the group surprises itself with spontaneous ideas; right away, they experience choreography success. I get excited and always marvel at the explosive creativity that releases embodied faith so easily. Let me give you a taste of the general structure.
First, I never assume that any group that I work with has a toolbox of terms so I start a worship warm-up with a simple explanation of praise poses; these are frozen statue shapes reflecting worship movement using words already found in the bible like bow, kneel, lift hands, etc. Below are a few scriptures to match those words (but there are a lot more if you start looking):
- “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Psalm 95:6)
- “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD”(Psalm 134:2)
- “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2)
Sometimes the group is so familiar with scripture that they begin to share and input all kinds of verses. We all try the movement word in that verse. As they begin to see the beauty of movement in the bible, I ask them another question. “Do you think that we are limited to use only the movement words found in specific scripture verses or do you think that we can create our own movement, and still please God in worship?” Of course, the answer to this yes. We can create any frozen pose that we want and offer it to God as worship as long as it glorifies him. So Christ followers can worship God with the literal movement words from scripture but they can also create worshipful poses based in their own reflective choices.
To briefly introduce the group to some choreography principles like time, space, force and body(see chapter 3 of my book), I often talk with the group about level. “Do you think that you can create a worship pose on a low level? Or a medium level? Or do you think that God always insists that we stand up to worship him with movement?” Most groups laugh at the idea that they can only please God if they create a worship pose on a high level. Then I ask them to initiate 4 individual worship/praise poses of their choice and I ask them to create them on 3 different levels(with 2 on the same level as they are asked to create 4). I wait for 5 minutes and watch the individuals in the group each design 4 choices [so very special to see people enjoying themselves].
Then I talk with the group about direction. “Do we always need to face the audience or can we worship God using different directions for poses as well as the levels that we have already talked about? The answer is yes. Then we discuss direction options: front, back, side, angles. Then they all try their 4 created praise poses on different levels and different facings. The group feels confident.
With that brief background (and I could include other elements; it depends on the time frame I have; as well, introducing elements like level and direction help people feel comfortable to create from their own movement vocabulary), we form a circle and I tell them that we are going to choreograph a particular scripture. Because the structure evolves with spontaneous ideas, I tell the group that the first person to blurt out an idea for the beginning section of scripture will be the choreographer(choose a word section from a scripture verse that has at least one noun with adjectives, at least one noun, adjective & verb, or just a verb). For instance, I might break down “In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:28 in the following way:
‘In him we live’-the first person to speak with an idea is the choreographer of this section. Everyone copies that movement idea.
‘And move’- the first person to speak with an idea is the choreographer of this section. Everyone copies that movement idea.
‘And have our being’- the first person to speak with an idea is the choreographer of this section. Everyone copies that movement idea.
Finally, the group combines the 3 ideas developed about the specific scripture above(in this case, in 3 sections) and then they blend them together to create a flow of movement. It’s fun to see a group clarify what the choreographer for that section wants them to do; right away, they do it. After they rehearse the combined motion from each of the sections several times, we polish our presentation. I cite the scripture verse before the movement begins: “Acts 17:28”. Then I say the verse slowly as they move to it. Depending on time, I ask the group if they want the choreography to face inward to the circle for the entire verse or if they might want to change the way people are facing and choose to do the movement in different directions. Their choices throughout the process of scripture choreography is usually outstanding. It’s very easy to use any group’s ideas to serve as a visual video of embodied faith in a sermon or a program of any type.
Have fun and look forward to see some pictures of scripture choreography from our upcoming worship workshop in next month’s blog!