Dancing in the Early Church

The early church was Jewish in origin and would have incorporated dance circles as part of their celebration of Jesus as Messiah, particularly at the three great feasts (Pesach, Shavout and Sukkot). Evidence of circle dancing can be found in the early church as the Christian faith spread among the Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples).

Methodius, bishop of Olympus, died in AD 311. He wrote:

Therefore, O lover of this festival, when you have considered well the glorious mysteries of Bethlehem — which were brought to pass for your sake — gladly join yourself to the heavenly host, which is celebrating magnificently your salvation. As once David did before the ark, so do you, before this virginal throne, joyfully lead the dance. Hymn with gladsome song the Lord, who is always and everywhere present.

Oration on Simeon and Anna, 3

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis on Cyprus (AD 367), described Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

For behold, once again the King approaches … once again perform the choral dances … leap wildly, ye Heavens; sing Hymns, ye Angels; ye who dwell in Zion, dance ring dances.

The early church seems to have practiced two types of dance, as expressed by Epiphanius: geranos, which is the Greek for ‘circle dance’ and leaping, as did King David when the Ark of the Covenant was restored to Jerusalem.

Gregory Thaumaturgus, another early Christian bishop, wrote in about AD 240:

The ring dance of the angels encircles him [Jesus Christ], singing his glory in heaven and proclaiming peace on earth… Today Adam is resurrected and performs a ring dance with the angels, raised up to heaven.

The Church celebrated its festivals with dance as part of their worship to God. For example, every year on March 25th at the Festival of Annunciation, the Christians recalled when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel on that very date to tell her that she had conceived Jesus Christ. Gregory Thaumaturgus said:

Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon You. Dance now, and be glad O Sion.

On the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary, 1

Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, also wrote:

We remember those who now, together with the Angels, dance the dance of the Angels around God, just as in the flesh they performed a spiritual dance of life and, here on earth, a heavenly dance.