Glimpses of Sacred Dance in California By Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D.

california-churchWhile in California to interview Carla De Sola, a leader in sacred dance for almost half a century, Sister Martha Ann Kirk  enjoyed dance for the closing and opening ceremonies of churches, dance in a special Eucharist focused on hope in the face of cancer, and congregational dance enriching worship every Sunday.

On June 29, 2013, the Roman Catholics of the Diocese of Orange County had a Closing Ritual to leave the campus of St. Callistus Church which would then be used by the congregation of Dr. Robert Schuller’s Church which had been called the Crystal Cathedral. Seventy-nine dancers enriched the prayer service which called attention to the different areas of the church and parish complex in which good things had happened, such as Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, education, and administration. The ceremony was full of movement and symbol as the people expressed gratitude in each place.

The congregation then moved down Lewis Street to celebrate the first Eucharist on the campus of what is now called Christ Cathedral.

Vietnamese American dancers brought joy and hope.  Throughout the ceremony there were prayers and songs in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Tagalog reflecting main cultures of the population.  Bishop Kevin W. Vann even spoke in three languages.

Some dancers carried a cross and the Bible in decorated baskets.  Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM, has been going to Vietnam for over ten years to collect music for hymnals and ideas to enrich liturgy in the US.  Dance is frequently used. (To learn more of this, see

st-maritnsIn St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose, CA, on July 6, 2013 there was in a sensitively planned “Mass for Hope” with prayers for those who have been affected  by cancer whether personally or through those they love. Katie Bignell and Becky Reuter led a processional, invited congregational movement during the responsorial psalm, and danced “In Every Age” by Janet Sullivan Whitaker after Communion.  “Teach us to make use of the time we have. . . Teach us to embrace our ev’ry joy and pain.”


They began dancing there in their home parish when they were nine years old.  Now as adults they live in New York City and with Martha Chapman are co-directors of Omega Dance Company which Carla De Sola directed at St. John the Divine Cathedral from 1976 to 1990. They bring vibrant energy and talent to Omega.

Carla De Sola’s beloved husband Arthur Eaton who died in 2008 was a member of St. Gregory Episcopal Church in San Francisco where a mural of Christ and the saints dancing surrounds the people who dance around the altar.  The congregation gathers in one area of the church to open prayer and reflect on the Word of God. They join in the tripudium step to go to the altar table for Eucharist. At the conclusion of the service all who wish join in a circle dance.  The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia, an accomplished dancer and who frequently works with De Sola in Omega West, beautifully explains worship at St. Gregory’s


The congregation over a period of years carla-marthaselected people to be portrayed. Ghandi dances. Rumi and Francis of  Assisi and the wolf dance. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Once there was a time when the whole rational creation formed a single dancing chorus looking upward to the one leader of this dance. And the harmony of motion that they learned from his law found the way into their dancing.”

Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Carla De Sola, and Sylvia Miller-Mutia, one of the priests of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church chat after Sunday Eucharist. De Sola has been choreographing a dance for the opening of the exhibit “Birds of Longing” at the Doug Adams Gallery at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley on September 11, 2013.  Miller-Mutia is one of the dancers.

(Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D., a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of the Incarnate Word, hold a doctorate in Theology and the Arts from the Graduate Theological Union. As part of her studies there, she wrote Dancing with Creation: Mexican and Native American Dance in Christian Worship and Education and Celebrations of Biblical Women’s Stories: Tears, Milk, and Honey.  See

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Posted in Choreography, Dance, Liturgical dance, Religious dance, Sacred Dance

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