Yesterday for Septemberfest, inside the Oklahoma History Center with the Winnie Mae overhead and the dome of the Capitol building in the background outside, the Celtic Praise Troupe danced its last performance with three of the original members: Katie, Rachel and Hannah.
The 45-minute program included, among others, Gaudete , a joyous Christmas madrigal; Walk On , with its funny little foot wiggle near the end (cf. the 3:28 mark on this recital video); Give Me Your Eyes (recital); Faithful ; and instrumental pieces by Rachel and Hannah on hammered and mountain dulcimers.
The Troupe’s performance of Gaudete awakens the joy of countless generations. Through the rhythms of the music and their motions, I sense the presence of many generations, from witnesses of the birth of Christ to the madrigal performers of the Renaissance, joining with us in the communion of saints to celebrate our hope today.
The Troupe has been dancing Faithful, a celebration of providential deliverance and thanksgiving, since fall of 2004. Whenever I hear this song, I will always remember the sight, for a brief moment during the chorus, of my daughters making the sign of the cross.
Your dancing is Celtic knotwork in motion, joy made visible. The most beautiful lacework from the Book of Kells has leapt into the air, whirling along with your lively rhythms in a blur of moving feet, swirling skirts and flashing smiles.
As father of two of the three dancers who participated in their last performance today, I want to say thank you, Celtic Praise Troupe, for the years you have given us. Thank you for the untold joy you have brought to us!
You are beautiful.
Each one of you is precious to us. You have brought joy beyond words into my life. I am a rich man to have been privileged to watch you over the last eight years, since your first performance in a freezing drizzle in March of 2004 for the Bricktown St. Patrick’s Day parade. Thank you for your weekly toil, for what must be thousands of exhausting hours of practice, in preparation for hundreds of performances at churches and schools, arts festivals, senior citizen centers, parades and special events.
Thank you, my dear daughters, Rachel, Hannah and Susanna, for the joy of a lifetime you have compressed into a short span of years and presented to me through your dance. I will never forget the beauty of your dance. Thank you, Sarah Decker, for your devotion to these girls, to God and to dance, for your amazing choreography, and for the love of God that pours from you through your mentoring of these young women and through their dancing. I will never forget the frequent sound of your voice asking the dancers, “Why do we dance?” and hearing an immediate chorus of young voices in response, “to praise God!” Thank you all for dancing as a way of life rather than for competition; dancing for joy rather than for honor or fame; dancing to praise God, to encourage others and to share his love with the world rather than for personal gain.
Dance is, to me, the most moving of all art forms. Music shapes time and imbues it with meaning; dance adds visible shape and motion that brings the beauty of music to life, embodied in all of you. No sickness, injury, phase of life or power in heaven or on Earth can ever take this experience away from you. It is who you are, and who you shall ever be.
We have been told that Aslan assured some young people that “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” So, once a dancer in the presence of God, always a dancer in the presence of God. Yesterday you danced to a song asking God to give you his love for humanity, to show you how he sees the world. Your dancing itself is one answer to that song, for your dancing has disclosed a preview in miniature of life – of your life and theirs. Life is a dance, choreographed by a loving providence, a shape of love and beauty revealed in the pattern of our lives. You will always participate in beauty, a gift of God’s grace to you, prefigured in every moment you have danced with the Troupe. The dance has only just begun.
Dance as we now experience it is an eschatological vision, a revelation of the future, an unveiling of heaven, a moment of heaven on Earth. Dance is, in miniature, your life, our lives together, the whole tapestry of history, and the entire life of the cosmos. We have entered a Great Dance, along with every creature of heaven and Earth.
The Great Dance points us to God.
“Yahweh your God is in your midst, a Victorious Warrior. He is mighty to save. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. He will renew you by his love. He will dance over you with shouts of joy, as on a day of festival.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
At the Prodigal son’s homecoming, he was met by a dancing God, a rejoicing Father inviting him to enter into his own joy. For the secret of this Great Dance in which we find ourselves is that it overflows from the very life of God. The love of the Triune God is the fountain of the Great Dance, its unceasing source and power. The triquetra (right), symbol of the Trinitarian communion of love, represents the reality in which every dance participates. The Great Dance will never end; rather, as we journey on and the Great Dance continues, we will experience more and more the life and love of God, and enter the very source from which all dance flows, cascading down with divine energy from sphere to sphere into the farthest reaches of the universe and enfolding all our lives together in eternal joy.
Your love for others is a dance of beauty in this turning world. This is not the end; it is only the beginning.
- Rachel’s blog posts here, here, here and here.
- Marriage, creation’s dance.
- St. Patrick’s Day.
- Congratulations, Hannah! (Graduation, May 2012)
- Gaudium Mundo.
- Life Metaphors – Music (1).
- Life Metaphors – Music (2).
- Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited (pdf)
- See also the Southside Christian Dance Celtic Praise Troupe website and YouTube channel.