From the Sacred Dance Guild Newsletter Fall 1975, Volume 19, Number 1
The Significance of Religion in the Dance by Wincie Ann Carruth
It is necessary to formulate a definition of religion. Havelock Ellis says that the quintessential core of religion is the act of finding our emotional relationship to the world conceived as a whole. The religious experience exists, according to Hoffdling, in the relation between reality and value in the effort to conserve value.
Religious feeling is almost always accompanied by certain muscular responses, the folding of the hands, the bowing of the head, closing of the eyes, and by all external signs of mental and emotional concentration. Dancing as a means of manifesting a religious emotion is a natural phenomenon, whatever may be the precise meaning or application to the particular occasion. These feelings or experiences burst forth in song and in dance, so that ever since the beginning of civilization, the dance has been a persistent form of expressing religious feeling.
Primitive man felt that he could bring pressure to bear on spiritual powers by use of suitable dances.
So in every part of the world there are intermediaries who learn the will of the spirit through an ecstatic condition secured from wild dances. A savage does not preach his religion, he dances it. Dancing was the primitive expression of religion, and religion had no other expression than the movement of a dance. Out of these religious dances the arts of mankind have developed.
The Greeks, who worshipped gods of anthropomorphic form, used the dance as an expression of devotion to these gods, and as an expression of their profound philosophy of life. In all the stages of
the development of religion the dance has been used to express the religious feelings of the people. It has offered to religion a medium through which to express this feeling. Religion, on the other hand, has influenced the form of the dance used in the worship of spirits, many gods, anthropomorphic gods, and a Supreme Being, offering them opportunity of expressing feeling through rhythmic movements.”
From Sacred Dance Guild Newsletter Winter 1977, Volume 19, Number 2
Black Church and Sacred Dance by Sylvia B. Bryant
The plantation provided the setting for religious and rhythmic dance for slaves. Shout dances survived intact the transatlantic crossing and vividly recalled African dance steps. This consisted of one group rhythmizing a chant or spiritual and a group of worshippers shuffling counter-clockwise around the church house in single file, moving their hips in a rocking fashion, stamping and clapping. Black Sacred Dance, as a formal and acknowledged expression, does have a very distinct history.
Hampton Institute organized a creative dance group and dance spiritual for the first time in 1925. Since that time, Sacred Dance, using the Black expression, has been limited to theatre and concert halls. Many famous dance artists such as Joe Nash, Pearl Primmus, and Talley Beatty performed religious works. Arthur Mitchell and Alvin Ailey have choreographed significant dance works.
“The future of Sacred Dance is, indeed, bright in the Black church.”
The Dancer in the Shrine by Amanda Benjamin Hall