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Moving rhythmically to music as part of a religious ceremony. Certain forms of dancing have at various times been introduced into Catholic worship, but the Church has set down two conditions. First, to the extent to which the body is a reflection of the soul, dancing has to express sentiments of faith and adoration in order to become a prayer. And second, dancing must be under the discipline of competent Church authority. "Concretely, there are cultures in which this is possible in so far as dancing is still reflective of religious values and becomes a clear manifestation of them. Such is the case among the Ethiopians. In their cultures, even today, there is the religious ritualized dance, clearly distinct from the martial dance and from the amorous dance." The same is found among Christians in the Syriac and Byzantine traditions. "However, the same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in the Western culture. Here dancing is tied in with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses; such dancing, in general, is not pure. For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever."
What about dancing outside the liturgy? This is permissible, but only under certain conditions. Thus "if the proposal for a religious dance in the West is to be acceptable, care must be taken that this occurs outside of the liturgy, in assembly areas that are not strictly liturgical. Moreover, priests must always be excluded from the dance" (Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae, 1975, 11, pp. 202-5). When a group of Samoans came to Rome for a missionary festival in 1971, they assisted at Mass in St. Peter's and then carried out their dance in St. Peter's Square, outside the church.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.