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date: 25 June 2022

Dance, Religion, and the Legacy of European Colonialismlocked

Dance, Religion, and the Legacy of European Colonialismlocked

  • Kimerer LaMotheKimerer LaMotheIndependent Scholar

Summary

In the waning days of the Renaissance, the race among Western Europeans to control, convert, and displace Indigenous peoples around the globe precipitated a collision of cultures, unprecedented in scope, between Christians who largely denied dance a constitutive role in religious life and Indigenous traditions from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas for whom dancing and religion were inseparable. In the economic, political, and cultural conflicts that ensued, the practice of dancing as religion emerged as a contested site—both a nearly universal target of Christian imperial and colonial oppression, and an equally frequent agent of Indigenous resistance, resilience, and creative response.

Focusing on the United States, this article documents how European colonization of Native American people, and European and American enslavement of Africans precipitated cultural shifts in how each of these cultures conceived and practiced “dancing” in relation to “religion.”

Among European and Euro-American colonizers, these collisions fueled some of the most virulent expressions of hostility toward dancing in Christian history—as an activity punishable by death—especially when that dancing appeared in the form of Native American or African American religion. Nevertheless, Native American and African American dancing also inspired Euro-American artists to create techniques and aesthetics of dance that they claimed functioned as religion. Such cases of religious art-dance in turn not only catalyzed the use of dancing in Christian worship, they spurred Western philosophers, scholars of religion, and Christian theologians to reconsider the importance of dancing for the study and practice of religion, Christianity included.

Meanwhile, Native and African peoples, as they navigated the challenges of ongoing racism and oppression, created new forms of their own dance traditions. Some of these forms emerged in explicit dialogue with Christian forms and even in Christian contexts; and others have appeared on secular concert stages, representing ongoing efforts to preserve and perpetuate Native and African identity, spirituality, creativity, and agency. These projects are dismantling the conceptual typologies that Euro-Americans have used to devalue Native and Indigenous dancing, including the assumption that religion and dance are separable dimensions of human life.

Subjects

  • Global Perspectives on Religion

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