Religious Dance and Drama Incarnating Compassion by Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D

Religious Dance and Drama INCARNATING COMPASSION by Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D.

image001When Jesus wanted to teach service, he dramatized the message taking a towel and washing feet. When Mariam wanted to claim and thank God for freedom from slavery, she led dance with tambourine in hand. Dance and drama can turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Over a hundred people of all ages participated in “Religious Dance and Drama INCARNATING COMPASSION” March 9, 2013, at the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas.


This was part of the Journey of Compassion initiated by the peace CENTER which named Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D. and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word as the 2013 San Antonio Peace Laureates

All are invited to embrace the ideas of the Charter for Compassion which unites persons of different traditions and cultures.

The day began with a humorous pantomime of creation from the video Daughters Who Image, Weep with God, and Sing God’s Praise by Sister Martha Ann Kirk with music by Colleen Fulmer and Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM. Each person was invited to make a new friend and to share how they are creative


Creativity is a way of following our loving Creator. Then in keeping with the Lenten season, a prayer service on how sorrow invites compassion was shared. University of the Incarnate Word students in the Arts for Christian Worship class shared a pantomime of the Passion of Jesus which was originally created by Father Michael Moynahan, SJ. A white cloth is used throughout as the table of the Last Supper, the rope that tied Jesus, the rope by which Judas hangs himself, the veil of Mary who grieves, and the shroud of Jesus. The pantomime was followed by a poignant dance to “Behold the Wood of the Cross” by Catherine L Cuasay, MA, LPC Expressive Arts Therapist, who was one of the leaders of the day. She both suggested the sorrowful mother and invited all to compassion.


Two thousand and thirteen marks the thirtieth anniversary of Dancing with Creation, Mexican and Native American Dance in Christian Worship and Education by Sister Martha Ann Kirk which describes Matachines dances and other dance and drama of the Hispanic community. The whole book can now be read on-line at the link on the page created for the gathering In Texas there are about 200 Matachines groups according to Tony Aguilar, a main teacher and organizer of Matachines groups in the San Antonio area. He explained that some are family based and others are associated with local churches. Three groups of Matachines contributed beauty and excitement to the day. Our Lady of the Angles Matachines led by Ester Decker shared dance and brought information from the Mexican American Catholic College led by Dr. Arturo Chavez which encourages cultural expressions.

Terri E. Boggess, Ph.D., Chair of the Exercise and Sport Science at St. Mary’s University, and of Holy Redeemer Parish, shared “Yoga as Prayer.” She spoke of how a campus minister José Rubén De León had invited her to dance as prayer years ago and how that had influenced her life and led her to teach many others this beautiful way to

God. If we seek peace and compassion in the world, dance prayer can help us in finding inner peace. She led all in praying the “Our Father” with an adaptation of the yoga Salute to the Sun. Her gentle, prayerful movements with “To You Yahweh, I lift Up My Soul” invited all into deeper reflection. She is beginning a dance ministry with small children at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church which has been know through the years for its inspiring dance led by Harold William

The Danza de Pablo Olivares Matachines was led by Carlos Olivares and his father Pablo Olivares who is the drummer. The grandfather Pablo from Monterrey, Mexico, brought the tradition to San Antonio and it has touched hundreds of people. Tony Aguilar and friends joined them and led all the congregation into the dance which expresses overcoming the evil spirits and coming Jesus and Mary.
The Danza Guadalupana De St.Joseph South San led by Jesus Estrada had beautiful headdresses showing some of the costume variations used in this dance. Workshop participants learned from dancers how all of the movement is prayer. It may go on for many hours and/or be in a pilgrimage of many miles. Sometimes dancers pin pictures of family or friends on their costumes as a symbol of praying for them in their sickness or thanking God for the lives of those who have gone before.


Catherine L Cuasay choreographed a dance based on the AIDS Quilt which remembers those who have died. This is the largest community made piece of folk art in the world with over 6,000 pieces. The dance with music by “Sweet Honey in Rock” was first performed in Boston. Now Cuasay participates in the San Antonio ACTS Retreat ministry with those who

image011have AIDS and are HIV positive. She, Sister Maureen Leach, and some of the others involved in that ministry shared this compassionate dance

​Incarnate Word Sister Sarah Lennon spoke of caring for AIDS patients and others suffering from poverty in Peru where she had ministered for many years.The webpage to advertise this day of dance and drama is actually an educational resource with links to video of the extensive amount of religious creativity in San Antonio and some from other parts of the country. You are invited to use this educational resource It begins with the Catholic Archbishop helping Jesus carry his cross in a drama of the Passion which takes place very Good Friday through the downtown streets to San Fernando Cathedral. This prayerful event draws several thousand people. Spain has had more Christian religious dance and drama than any other country. Since Christianity was brought to San Antonio by Spaniards the arts have continued and flourished in the city with Pastorella plays, Matachines and Flamenco dancers, and many other creative works. At the University of the Incarnate Word which has students from over sixty countries, an effort is made to affirm the beauty of different cultures through their music, dance, and other arts.​

​Dance and drama can move persons from their heads to their hearts where compassion may grow. Dance and drama can help us learn compassion for the earth, for ourselves, and for each other. All participants prayed for creation joining in dance to “Sacred Creation” based on the Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi set to music by Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM.

image013Terri E. Boggess closed the day leading all in a circle dance to “Ubi Caritas” As the words proclaim, God is where there is love and compassion.

Leaders of the gathering Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Catherine Cuasay, and Terri E. Boggess, before the Charter for Compassion which all are invited to sign on-line image015

(Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of the Incarnate Word, has been actively involved with the Sacred Dance Guild since the 1970’s, served as the Texas contact for many years, and represented the Guild at the International Dance Conference in Hong Kong in 1991.

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Posted in Art, Drama, Liturgical dance, Religious dance, Sacred Dance, World Dance

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