Q19. How do you incorporate movement into your worship?

A few years ago, I went to a great workshop by Shauna Aura Knight about raising energy in ritual via movement and voice, and while it was great, my attempts to incorporate the techniques into our group rituals was not met with enthusiasm. In general it seems to be too far outside people’s comfort zone. We are coming up on Beltane, and even at a late-night bonfire with a fair amount of alcohol, I’d say that a solid half of the participants will not be at all interested in doing any dancing around it. I’ve heard from quite a few people in our group who would never go back to a group where they were expected to do “spontaneous expressive movement” or anything similar.

We’ve seen a lot of discomfort with asking the group as a whole to do any kind of participation beyond 1) Repeating short spoken lines, in unison. 2) Stand in a circle and hold hands. 3) Pass around items or put specified items on the altar. Chanting and clapping is usually okay, on occasion, provided they aren’t expected to show much enthusiasm. A few people will volunteer to read invocations off a card, carry a banner, pour an offering, etc. but “shy and awkward” seems to be the norm. There are less than a dozen who are okay with singing in a group, and a small handful who will do anything more movement-oriented.

In my private worship, I am more body-centered, more movement-oriented, but still, it is a challenge for me. My concept of “religious worship” growing up was about sitting politely in rows and following a well-defined script. When I see people who are able to unself-consciously do expressive, free-flowing, unrehearsed movement, I am really impressed, but I am just not there. It is one of those issues I can’t seem to wholeheartedly pick up, but I have not been able to put down. I can’t just look at it and say, “Eh. Not my thing.” because on some level I know that it is my thing. I’m just not there yet.

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  1. I’m a dance teacher and I have hard time with that as well!!! I think it starts from my childhood too, from the stand up, sit down, recite a prayer and kneel every week thing. Although it was church, I didn’t “feel” anything. After a couple of retreats as an adult, I DO, get it now and I sway to the music more… Just can’t seem to be the one that raises my arms up. 😉 because they don’t do it in my church. 🙂 Great thought provoking post!!

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  2. I love dancing. I love dancing for my Lady. But sometimes its really hard to get up and dance around a fire, and I have no idea why it should be so. I suppose I feel embarrassed, but why should I? I know I’m not sitting there judging anyone’s dancing myself, I doubt anyone else is is critiquing my dancing…and I often desperately wish I could get up and dance in ritual. I think sometimes the hardest part of religion and devotion is getting over ourselves…

    Dancing in public aside, I was pleasantly surprised when I started adding other more physical activities to my devotions. I do martial arts at the request of my Lady, and pray during class and do my best to do Her proud; and I often hoop dance to devotional music for Them. 🙂

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    • “I think sometimes the hardest part of religion and devotion is getting over ourselves…”

      Very true! Devotion for me is such a personal, intimate thing, and expressing emotion isn’t easy for me. I was raised with this really strong value on controlling your expression of emotion. Over and over I got this message that people who expressed “too much” emotion were dangerous, irresponsible, low-class, untrustworthy, foolish, inferior, and unworthy of respect. (I don’t blame my mom for teaching me that – she was raised with a lot of people who behaved very badly when expressing strong emotions.)

      If I have a structured form for movement, and I have some time to practice it and get comfortable with it, I can do it confidently and unselfconciously.

      But publicly expressing emotion or having an emotionally moving experience is incredibly hard for me, and religious worship, for me, is such an emotionally vulnerable thing. I find I often keep a certain amount of emotional detachment in pubic ritual, or even with a small group of friends and family. I’ve gotten better about it, but self-consciousness is definitely still a barrier to my religious practices.

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      • Good job Ulfdis, reply to the comment a year plus later. 😉 I understand what you mean about the structured form of movement. I think sometimes “knowing what I’m supposed to be doing” or knowing i’m “doing it right” helps. (The difference between demonstrating a move in aikido a year ago vs now probably helped that realization. (and while it sucks your stuck in a boring office job, i’m glad your back to writing!)


        • Contra dance is what taught me how much I enjoy structured forms of movement. I can generally do Contra with very little self consciousness or worry, because I know what is expected of me and I am confident I can do it. (Contra is like casual New-England style square dance, done to mostly Irish-type fiddle music on a heavy 4/4 beat.)


        • I’ve heard fun things about contra dance! I actually enjoyed that aspect of square dancing as a girl scout – knowing the moves and being told when to change and all that. I’m hoping to find someone who’d like to take dance lessons with me.

          The structure is what I enjoy most about doing weapons kata in class. I need to pick up a jo or at least a comparably sized sick. For me, doing the same rote motion over and over and over helps shake my brain loose. Plus, I’m OCD so its rather soothing.


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