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DANCING. This has formed a part of religious rites and has been associated with war and hunting, with marriage, birth, and other occasions since the records of man began to be written. It grew out of three basic human reactions: the desire to imitate movements of beasts, birds, even the sun and moon; the desire to express emotions by gestures; and gregarious impulses.

Throughout past ages, dancing has been linked with worship. In sacramental dance worshipers sought to express through bodily movements praise or penitence, worship or prayer. Out of the primitive dances the esthetic dance of civilized ancient nations slowly developed. In these the primary concern of the dancers was to reveal grace, speed, and rhythm, often to appeal to the carnal nature of both participants and spectators. Vashti refused to expose herself to this end (Esth.1.12). Priests of all pagan religions cultivated dancing but at times found it the source of dissipation and harm. For ages it has been accompanied by clapping of the hands. Percussion and other noise-making instruments seem to be native to dance (Judg.11.34; Ps.68.25).

The religious involvements of dancing are clear from several passages already cited. Added to these could be the dance led by Miriam’s timbrel playing celebrating Israel’s preservation at the Sea of Reeds (Exod 15:20). Judges 21:16-24 records the dancing of girls connected with the annual feast at Shiloh. There is likewise evidence based on post-OT practice that dancing may have taken place during other religious celebrations, such as the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Psalms scarcely mention dancing, but do frequently describe religious processions. It is possible that dancing was included on these occasions, inasmuch as singers and instrumentalists are mentioned (Ps. 68:25). If Psalm 132 commemorates 2 Samuel 6, the procession in vv. 8 to 10 could include a repetition of the dance of David in 2 Samuel 6:14-16.

Pagan societies utilized the dance for various purposes, including religious ritual. The prophets of Baal employed a kind of limping dance while imploring their god on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:26). In Babylon, dancing was so closely tied to the religious cult that it could not be properly called an independent activity. Egyptian paintings and reliefs portray the dancing of girls to the beating of drums and other instruments.

Gordon has related the dancing of David (2 Sam 6:16) to the war dances used by the Spartans of Tyrtaeus. These dances were performed in time to the elegiac poems composed by the Spartan leader. Just as David used poetry to inspire and teach his troops (1:18ff.), so he may have utilized the dance. He could have learned this technique from his tenure among the Philistines, whose Aegean connections are well-known.

In the NT ̓ορχέομαι can be used of the playful dancing of children (Luke 7:32) or of the performance of the daughter of Herodias (Matt 14:6; Mark 6:22). The latter dance was undoubtedly a sensuous display before the immoral king. Luke 15:25 refers to the joyous dancing celebrating the return of the prodigal son.

While the mode of dancing is not known in detail, it is clear that men and women did not generally dance together, and there is no real evidence that they ever did. Social amusement was hardly a major purpose of dancing, and the modern method of dancing by couples is unknown. See Feasts.


W. O. E. Oesterley, The Sacred Dance (1923); J. Pedersen, Israel III-IV (1940), 759; W. Sorell, “Israel and the Dance”; D. D. Runes, ed., The Hebrew Impact on Western Civilization (1951), 505-511; C. Gordon, “David the Dancer,” M. Haran, ed., Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee (1960), 46-49; H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (1962), 190.

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