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Liturgical Dance – Maddy Woodman

Creating and performing a liturgical dance requires your whole being: body, mind, and soul committed to the movement and the story behind it. It engages all of you in an act of expressive worship that brings you into community with the church and welcomes the active presence of the Lord. By dancing like this, I use movement to discover God’s glories in a new light in order to receive His gifts with fresh wonder.

Thus, as soon as the opportunity developed for me to do a performance at the Christmas Eve service, I was committed. I dance almost everyday, but it is rare that I have the opportunity to bring my passion to the church and engage in such active worship. My mind immediately started considering the possibilities: what movements I would use and what music I would dance to. With all these elements to consider, choreographing a piece can be daunting. The artist must create movement from stillness and choose from seemingly endless possible actions, working with timing, dynamics, and more. However, liturgical dance provides a respite for my overactive choreographic mind. It is a beautiful reminder that I do not go into the creative process alone. By praying and intentionally drawing inspiration from the Bible and Christian hymns, I trust that the movement I make is not a reflection of my own artistic genius (or lack thereof), but rather an inspired response to the glory of God which I perceive in the world around me.

I began my process with prayer, asking God to reveal Himself through my movement before going about the task of picking a song. I listened to a lot of music, improvising to each song to see what moved me. Though there were so many Christmas songs that filled my heart with joy and made me want to dance, I settled on “Mary Did You Know?” Its narrative slowly revealed the deeds and characteristics of Jesus in a way that spoke directly to my heart. As I
continually listened to the song in preparation, I found myself, much like Mary, experiencing awe and wonder about who Jesus is and how his life fits into God’s plan for salvation. I searched for movement that would convey my interpretation of the music and embody my emotions. I began with a joyful reach and a tender rocking gesture and let the dance grow from there. For example, when the singer speaks about Jesus calming the storms, I let a wave pass through my body. Shoulder to wrist, the energy goes through my arm, pulling my body to the side and challenging my balance. As I recenter myself and take a deep grounding breath, I feel the storm of movement stilled. This visual representation of the lyrics (and the long ago deeds of Jesus), not only conveys a message to the audience, but transforms my thoughts as a dancer.

On a unique level, I am able to feel what it is like to have the peace of Jesus settle in my body. This somatic experience and others like it magnify the presence of the Lord in my life which in turn, magnifies my ability to worship Him. I realized that I, like Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), have the chance to praise the Lord and share the joy that He brings me. Finally, Christmas Eve came around. As I danced, I experienced these emotions again, but not alone. As I joyfully reached my hands out, gazed upwards in wonder, and rocked an imaginary Jesus gently in my arms, I went through it all with the congregation. When I looked across the pews, I saw faces looking back at me. In that moment, I knew what it means to be in
fellowship, to worship with joy, to express gratitude and beauty, and to have that affirmed by those around me. This exchange is what gives me the strength to continue dancing and praising
the Lord. Thank you for your witness.