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|Worship, dance and prayer in Puerta del Rebaño, Chile| Versión Español|
Salsa dancing as preparation for prayer
March 16, 2007
Puerta del Rebaño, Chile — As a unique way of preparing for an hour of prayer, the lively community of Christian believers in Puerta del Rebaño engages in an hour of salsa dancing together every Wednesday night.
The church, started by Carlos González, then professor of Fine Arts at the University of Concepción, has always regarded the arts as very compatible with the life of the church and its activities.
These dance classes before prayer hour “began as a practical application of a sermon I gave in a Sunday service on the body and its importance,” explains dance teacher Valentina Elgueta.
In Chile’s macho culture, spousal violence is all too common. Elgueta and several other women from her church offer workshops for women’s groups to improve their self-image and view of the body, as well as workshops for the kind of self-abuse alcoholism wreaks – especially on men.
Elgueta’s positive view of the body has theological underpinnings: as part of God’s creation, “the body is good and sacred” and “Christ’s resurrection” was of “the body” and therefore “a renewal in our faith journey is [also] renewal of our bodies,” Elgueta asserts.
Although she begins her dance classes by focusing on “taking consciousness of our body,” it is no individualistic act. “Forming a circle and holding hands is important, because we are community. And it is not a matter only of learning a form of ‘self-help’ but of mutual healing by sensing each other in a different way, beyond words, [and sensing] that we are in the same boat. Besides, we need and are there for each other,” explains Elgueta.
Why salsa dancing? “Because it is most expressive and playful… fun, upbeat and requires that we co-ordinate one with the other, that we touch and move in sync, and I thought it to be the best way of motivating not just the women…but also the men,” Elgueta reasons.
Salsa dancing before prayer increases attendance at prayer, Elgueta observes, but even “more importantly, it reinforces the appreciation of the body…[as] good and sacred. Therefore, why not [dancing the salsa] before prayer, since we may see it as a moment of most intense communion with God. Dancing in community is an important time of communion with God,” concludes Elgueta.
Titus Guenther of Winnipeg participated in this unique warm-up to scripture study and resonates with Elgueta’s sentiments. “We felt bonded as a group after working for an hour at getting the rhythms of artistic movement right,” he said, “It was a good way to feel as we entered into prayer.” The group in Puerta del Rebaño sees no clash between salsa dancing and prayer meetings as the hour of exercise helps the group to feel good physically as well as relaxed, adds Guenther.
The unique combination of dancing and prayer grew out of the church’s resistance to forcing young people to choose between art and church activities. By combining the two, the congregation has created a lively and holistic atmosphere that encourages physical activity along with spiritual exercise. Bound together by common interests, the group engages each other in important, open dialogue.
Titus Guenther teaches missiology and world religions at Canadian Mennonite University.
Sidebar: Sophia’s story
Puerta del Rebaño, Chile — Mixing salsa dancing and prayer opened doors for Titus Guenther to have conversations about Christianity.
Guenther, who teaches missiology and world religions at Canadian Mennonite University was on sabbatical/teaching assignment with Mennonite Church Canada Witness when he met Sofia (not her real name), a practicum student of sociology from a secular university. Sofia was conducting a survey on students at the Evangelical Theological Community (CTE) of Concepción.
Guenther invited Sophia to join him at a unique congregation that prepares for prayer by salsa dancing first. Later, she questioned Guenther on why a Buddhist would need to convert to Christianity. From a rigid church background, Sofia had sought for deeper answers to spirituality in Buddhism.
In the course of their conversation, they considered whether the Buddhist search for the “ego-less bliss” of Nirvana (based on the belief that people ultimately have no selves) is really the same as the Christian search for finding our true selves by losing our selves in loving service. Rather than polarizing two beliefs, Guenther suggested it might be more helpful to approach the two religions and ways of life through dialogue. Guenther invited her to visit the community of Christian believers in Puerta del Rebaño and participate in their evening of salsa dancing and prayer.
The evening was a good fit for Sofia, who was able to talk openly with members of the group and engage in a unique worship experience. “She evidently enjoyed the salsa sessions. But she usually also took in the prayer hour,” said Guenther, and added, “Sofía discovered in her newfound holistic community that a rigid church and Buddhism are not the only options open to us.”
Guenther reflects on the impact the evening had on Sofia and how she had enjoyed the group atmosphere. “In later conversations with Sofia, I learned that she has not given up her Buddhist ideas altogether,” he said “but she clearly took away a greater understanding of the diversity of the Christian faith.”