Lord of the Dance (hymn)

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"Lord of the Dance" is a hymn written by English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1963.[1] The melody is from the American Shaker song "Simple Gifts". The hymn is widely performed in English-speaking congregations and assemblies.[1]

The song follows the idea of the traditional English carol "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day", which tells the gospel story in the first-person voice of Jesus of Nazareth with the device of portraying Jesus' life and mission as a dance.

Author's perspective[edit]

External video
Shiva Nataraja Sculpture DS.jpg
I Danced in the Morning (LORD OF THE DANCE), 3:55, First Plymouth Church Lincoln Nebraska
Songs of America - Simple Gifts - Shaker Hymn, 1:40, Cibertracker Imperium. Includes clips of dance.

In writing the lyrics to "Lord of the Dance", Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also by a statue of the Hindu deity Shiva as Nataraja (Shiva's dancing pose) which sat on his desk.[2] He later stated, "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord."[2]

Carter wrote:

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

The Shakers didn't. This sect flourished in the United States in the nineteenth century, but the first Shakers came from Manchester in England, where they were sometimes called the "Shaking Quakers". They hived off to America in 1774, under the leadership of Mother Anne. They established celibate communities - men at one end, women at the other; though they met for work and worship. Dancing, for them, was a spiritual activity. They also made furniture of a functional, lyrical simplicity. Even the cloaks and bonnets that the women wore were distinctly stylish, in a sober and forbidding way.

Their hymns were odd, but sometimes of great beauty: from one of these ("Simple Gifts") I adapted this melody. I could have written another for the words of 'Lord of the Dance' (some people have), but this was so appropriate that it seemed a waste of time to do so. Also, I wanted to salute the Shakers.

Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. 'I dance in the morning when the world is begun...'. It's worth a try.

— Sydney Carter, Green Print for Dance[3]

Criticism[edit]

John Hennig noted an anti-judaism in the third strophe.[4] The second line says "the holy people said it was a shame", referring to all of Israel, whereas the Gospels mention only "some of the teachers of the law" (Matt 9:3; see also Mark 2:6; Luke 5:21), e. g. certain members of a particular group. In the next two lines, the whole of Israel is accused of having tortured and crucified Jesus, whereas the Gospels portray Roman soldiers as the responsible ones (Matt 26:67; Matt 27:27–44;Mark 15:16–20; Luke 22:63–65; John 19:1-3; John 19:16). Hennig mentions this example as a reflex of a long history of anti-judaic distortions of the Gospel accounts. Paul Leopold noted that the song describes Jesus’ mission solely as one of spreading joy, and his death and resurrection solely as an interruption in that mission which changed nothing.

Notable recordings[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Beeson, Trevor (2007). "The Rebellious Sixties". Round the Church in Fifty Years: A Personal Journey. London: SCM Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-334-04148-1.
  2. ^ a b "Sydney Carter". The Telegraph. 16 March 2004. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  3. ^ Carter, Sydney (1974). Green Print for Song: Songs with Author's Notes. London: Stainer & Bell. ISBN 978-0852492840.
  4. ^ Hennig, John. “Zur Stellung der Juden in der Liturgie.” Liturgisches Jahrbuch 10 (1960). p. 237.

External links[edit]