International Dance Council





Dances related with Christianity

The purpose of this page is not the history of the dances related to Christianity but the presentation of some samples of dances
Lturgical Dance as well as Ethiopian Church Dance are not examined in this page

This  subject  constitutes a passionate challenge for research

Circular Dance in Early Christianity

Melody Gabrielle Beard-Shouse(Bibliography) suggests that the circular dance in the Acts of John describes an ancient Christian Ritual in a period that gnostic andorthodox viewpoints coexisted. Furthermore, she points outthat this ritual draws heavily on Greek philosophical understandings of circle dances representing order and disorder concluding that this ritual was ecstatic in character, and that it was individually transformative.She also makes a comparative study with the dialogues between Master and Disciples as they are describedin therecently found (fragmentary) apocryphal Gospel of the Saviour(which original is believedto be of the 2d Century) to confirm the idea of the existingcircular dance ritual in the “early Christian plurality”

Praying Using the Chartres Labyrinth: Credit : /praywithjillatchartres

Medieval Paraliturgical Dances
On special occasions such as Saints’ days, Christmas and Easter, the clergy performed sacred dances for the congregation who were spectators of these ritual acts.

-Several liturgists mention in their writings the practices of the dance and the game of balloon in the large churches in France like Auxerre during important religious celebrations (15th Century).

Even as late as the 16th century a manuscript describes an Easter carol or ring dance which took place on Easter eve at the church in Sens.

– One of the possible functions of the labyrinth, especially those found in the cathedrals of Reims and Auxerre, was to mark out the area which would be used in an Easter ritual where local monks and clergymen jumped, danced, and tossed a leather ball, called a pelota, to each other

Medieval  Dances performed outside of churches

Dance was found in sacred settings as a part of the many church feasts, and there is an entire repertory of sacred dance songs that celebrate these events

Some of the dances were part  of a tradition developed with the approval and guidance of the church and are  known as popular sacred dances They were performed in the church, churchyard, or surrounding countryside during religious festivals, saints’ days, weddings or funerals.

Pilgrimages were also the occasion of dances . The behavior of pilgrims was a sensitive issue

In 1407 after  a complain about pilgrims “… have with them men and women that can well sing wanton songs and some other pilgrimages will have with them some bagpipes…..” The Archibishop of Canterbury replied that music was an entirely acceptable remedy for the tedium and toil of the road and a welcome distraction from the pain that a pilgrim might feel if he hit his foot on a stone

In the Montserrat Monastery , The Llibre Vermell contains a Canconiero Musical with ten pieces of songs dedicated to the Virgin so that pilgrims can “sing and dance devoutly” during their vigils.

We could also mention The dancing procession around the relics of Saint Willibrord in Echternac
in Luxembourg  , custom that exists until today

Ecstatic Dances

In the 14th and 15th centuries two widely known ecstatic dances appeared

1  danse macabre , The dancing movement of the characters was a somewhat later development, as at first Death and his victims moved at a slow and dignified gait. But Death, acting the part of a messenger, naturally took the attitude and movement of the day, namely the fiddlers and other musicians, and the dance of death was the result.

2 dancing mania known as St. Vitus’ dance (a kind of mass hysteria, a wild leaping dance in which the people screamed and foamed with fury, with the appearance of persons possessed.)

Ritual Dance of Isaïas on Orthodox Wedding

Sacred dance in Byzantium

Byzantine dance has its origin from greek Antiquity. The Byzantine Empire was a large pluralistic nation where different types of music and dance could be found in various regions. Furthermore, the society evolved to allow some dancing in Christian sacred places, such as the church. Ex

-moirologia (=laments), which were eventually allowed to be chanted and danced in a circular movement in the narthex (entrance or lobby area, located at the west part of the church

– the Dance of Isaiah, in  matrimony which is a thrice encirclement of the vestment table by the bride and groom, in the Byzantine rite of matrimony still existing in our days
– There are also instances recorded of people dancing inside the church, on Easter and Christmas, after Patriarch Theophylactos (10th Century) had granted his permission. Historians do not agree on his precise influence to reconcile pleasure with piety by introducing some lines of pantomime in the services.(till 13th century)
The actual Church of Constantinople considers him as an unworthy Patriarch


Dancers at Quyllurit'i festival credit : Alamy H69CKP

Pilgrims in South America
Several catholic pilgrims consist of rich celebrations in which pre-colombian spirituality is evident

Quyllurit’i, Peru

According to the Catholic Church, the festival is in honor of the Lord of Quyllurit’i -or Lord of Star (Brilliant) Snow- originated in the late 18th century after a miracle

The festival attracts thousands of indigenous people who  make an annual pilgrimage to the feast, bringing large troupes of dancers and musicians.

The culminating event for the indigenous non-Christian population takes place after the reappearance of Qullqa in the night sky; it is the rising of the sun after the full moon. Tens of thousands of people kneel to greet the first rays of light as the sun rises above the horizon. The pilgrimage and associated festival was inscribed in 2011 on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Before 1534, Copacabana was an outpost of Inca occupation , a key to the very ancient shrine and oracle on the Island of Titicaca, a place of worship.

On 2 February 1583, the image of the Virgin Mary was brought to the area. Since then, a series of miracles attributed to the icon made it one of the oldest Marian shrines in the Americas, On 2 February and 6 August, Church festivals are celebrated with indigenous dances.





Top Photo : Cuncti Simus Concanentes (Let us all sing) 14th Century                     Credit : Catherine Ingrassia