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[Image: ZFAvatar.png]The case for extreme modesty in dance ministry

Helena Thomas, Zionfire banner creator and dance & pageantry leader of Cathedral Church of the King, Charismatic Episcopal Church of Olathe, Kansas.

As dance ministry began to become prevalent in the church in the early eighties, there was little understanding of the need for extreme modesty. The attempt was being made to bring classical dance norms into the worship environment, and mistakes were made in the process. Worship dancers appeared before congregations in leotards or body stockings with little more than a sheer filmy skirt covering their completely outlined body shapes. They thought that the purity of their hearts in offering their dance gifts would override the sensuality of their bodies, and justfied the garmenting choice. It was thought that the beauty of the “form” would supercede the lust of the eye. It was wrong thinking. Many dancers met great opposition to their ministry without realizing that it wasn’t dance itself that was the problem, it was the sensuality of the dancer’s image.

In the following two decades, we have seen the results of an inattention to modesty--men who have to avert their eyes when dancers minister, dance ministries disbanded because of disapproval in the churches, brilliant spiritual gifts meant for the edification of the church unused and unappreciated because “it just causes too much trouble.”

Because of these problems, today’s dance ministers must be above reproach in the garments chosen for ministry. The guideline is extreme modesty. This does not mean we have to look dowdy or wear burkas. Grace and loveliness can be preserved in garments that do not provocatively show areas of the human form, or hug them in a revealing way. We must strive to avoid becoming a stumbling block for any man or woman. If we desire to offer ministry that can be received in the church, we must pay minute attention to this issue. Let us offer some basic guidelines.

The dancer’s garments should not distract from or overshadow the message of the dance. Ideally, the garments should be part of the message of the dance in color, style and symbol. The area of symbolic garments is largely still unexplored by worship dancers. Garments should be flattering to the dancer, move fluidly, and be comfortably loose without being sloppy.

For both men and women: Arms should be covered at least to below the elbow. Clothing should be comfortably loose with fluid fabrics, and not emphasize or highlight the sexual areas of the body. Necklines should not reveal cleavage or chest. As a general rule, long hair should be restrained, or at least pulled away from the face. Loose, flying hair can be a sexual trigger and should be avoided. However, if your long hair is part of the story, as in the woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair, there is a reason for it to be loose and in that case is appropriate. Make up should be worn, but not applied in theatrical style. Church platform lights can wash out the colors in the face and nearly erase features, making some cosmetic enhancement necessary to enhance communication.

For women: Culottes or pantaloons should always be worn under dance garments. Just wearing tights or footless leotard/leggings is not sufficient. A supportive bra will help control bouncing. Makeup at a minimum should include eyeliner, blush and lip color, all applied a bit heavier than normal daytime usage.

Jewelery should be minimal. Earrings should be posts, or small, non-dangling single rings. Dangling or large earrings are distracting. Wedding rings are fine, but remove other rings unless delicate. The eyes are very important to communication, so glasses should be removed for ministry if at all possible. Long, sculpted, bright colored nails are also inappropriate for dance ministry. (Of course these are general ministry guidelines. Costuming for character pieces might require different treatment.)

For men: Tight pants should not be worn in any circumstance. (A tunic-style shirt does not compensate for tight pants.) Do a thorough mirror check and wear a dance belt if necessary. If complexion looks pale under lighting, apply some bronzer or blush to warm up skin tones. Further makeup is generally unnecessary for most purposes, as male features tend to be stronger and more readable than female ones. Again, no glasses.

In the early days of dance ministry, men were seldom included in dance companies, and when they were, they were asked to portray a mostly non-moving “Jesus” figure surrounded by what often appeared to be a harem of flower-wreathed women in white peasant dresses. Thankfully, most worship dance ministry today has matured at least a little beyond this point. Men should move and dress as men in dance. The Israeli model proves that masculinity does not have to be sacrificed to dance before the Lord.

When designing dance garments for teams of dancers, the different sizes and body shapes of the dancers should be considered. Do not put someone in an unflattering style for his or her body type just to achieve group unity. Coordination of the team is possible through color and overlays without having everyone in the same garment style. Larger or thicker-bodied dancer shapes can be dressed flatteringly in long tunic or long vest styles. Don’t put them in puffy sleeves or gathered skirts and slacks. Thick-bodied men should not wear belted styles. A caftan-like or tunic style is generally most flattering to this body type. Waist sashes worn by slimmer team members can be better worn as over the shoulder stoles or banners by larger body shapes. Overlays that are poncho-like can also be a garment solution.

The white peasant-style dress is a serviceable group garment, however it is only a starting point for expression, and is not always a suitable image for every occasion. Different colors, overlays, and creative designs can add elegance and excitement to the visual message of the dance team. Headpieces are important. They can add great variety and interest and make a statement about covering. Great variety can be accomplished while keeping the basic guidelines of extreme modesty in mind.

Because of the overwhelming emphasis in our culture on sexuality, I believe these guidelines are wisdom for the church as we seek to bring glory to God through dance ministry.

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