Too often with Christians the tendency is to try to turn every situation into a light and darkness confrontation, an ‘us’ and ‘them’, when people are more warm and receptive if we come in alongside them, celebrating our common ground, shared values and delivering dance that has vitality, tenderness and integrity – sometimes it’s good if it doesn’t take itself too seriously, either! That way we’re being salt, meeting people where they are at. It’s a whole different strategy and brings out the flavour of what is already there first of all. Yes, we carry what God has entrusted to us, but we are to go with respect and an openness to listen, believing that God is at work visiting people’s lives anyway already so our connecting with them or coinciding with what’s going on at a heart-level becomes part of a spiritual chain-of-events. Sensitivity is our responsibility more than attacking systemic mind-sets!
My experience has been that it’s helpful to use men in dance without any apology or awkwardness. It is not unusual for us to invite participation by local dancers or even willing members of the audience at times. Another dance-piece at Halidon Hill mourning the slaughter there of many Scots in a fateful battle was witnessed by a small crowd and the men present were given opportunity if they wished to instead lie on the battlefield swelling the numbers of the slain, as the dance followed the fortunes of one young man who never returned home from his chance to fight the English. The dance concludes as his boots are being salvaged from his body by a local opportunist with a full sack of spoils…
Back to salt and light. I see no reason why we can’t sometimes include dancers or an interactive audience without being sure they are necessarily ‘believers’. What is the occasion? Is it a funeral? then all of us are mourners. Is it a celebration of birth or marriage? don’t we all want to bring a blessing and join the feast? Is it an injustice that needs protesting? or compassion to be expressed in solidarity? At an AA 12-step program, a shared brokenness is the common denominator, in men’s groups promoting rites of passage our shared manhood is the bonding – yes, we are spiritual beings with a hunger for God, but each is individually respected as responsible to explore that relationship. The immediate issue may be feeding the hungry or learning to be a father or finding alternatives to violence, and everyone’s support and contribution is of immediate value – don’t assume it will always be a Christian constituency.
A performance or workshop can create a tangible change in the atmosphere or spiritual climate or even draw down the presence of God amongst those who are present. Tears, healings, questions, even anger at being involuntarily moved by our dancing is not unusual – especially on the streets. But the finest compliment we had as dancers [again a team of lots of guys and one girl] was at a Young Offenders prison unit where one of the guys paused before leaving to say, “Major respect”. It helped that with ‘He still loves me’ from Beyonce’s ‘Fighting Temptations’, we had accidentally[?] chosen to dance to a song from their favourite film.
This is part of a more general question of what it means to be Christian artists. Do we use dance, music, painting, film or poetry just as a medium for propaganda? Is a Christian writer one who writes obviously Christian things? or a writer who is a Christian which will inevitably colour how they experience everything and so permeate what they write? Are we to be propaganda merchants? or artists of integrity, caring and passionate people who may also be Christians?
~ Andy Raine