Dancing Down The Aisle

A friend asked me about this wedding procession. Good choreography pretty well executed. How long did these people work on it? I think I’d want to ask my sister about this. I like the enthusiasm, too. Is a wedding about joy? This one would seem to be aligned with that feeling.

On the flip side, as a musician I obviously prefer live music over a soundtrack. Would I choose this kind of dancing or recommend it? No. But I don’t have a real problem with non-Catholics doing this.

One internet commenter wondered about the likely longevity of the marriage. That’s an excellent question. One instance of dancing and divorce probably wouldn’t tell us much. But I’ve always wondered what would get uncovered if clergy, parishes, and maybe even musicians tracked marriage success rates of their couples.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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40 Responses to Dancing Down The Aisle

  1. I am absolutely fascinated by all the commentary about this wedding procession in the Catholic blogosphere. I may have to write a post myself eventually — or continue leave comments on everyone else’s!

    Guess I missed the commenter who wondered about the likely longevity of that marriage. What I observed was a couple being their married life with the joyful, loving, exuberant support of friends, family, and community. My guess is those folks will be around for poorer, sickness, and bad times.

  2. Fran says:

    I am not sure if others wrote to you about this, but I will out myself as one who did.

    No one would ever call me a traditionalist in the strictest sense and I believe that joy is necessary and welcome in God’s house. I had one Facebook friend who is not religious ask if me if I thought that this dance would “make Jesus angry.” Oh dear. *sigh*

    I do not think that there is a correlation between this dance and the potential longevity of their union!

    Yes it is joyful, fun and clearly well orchestrated, but for some reason I find myself not moved by it. Hmmm, why? I guess at its heart I feel that way about it as something for a RC wedding… which clearly that was not.

    As Meredith said, what is most fascinating is the big, big discussion that this generated not only in the Catholic blogosphere, but everywhere out here.

    I was motivated to post a slideshow of my own wedding. It is on my FB page, not really being suitable for my parish blog page. Or is it? I did get married there and I always see that day through the sacramental lens of it being the day I married Mark, his daughter Erica and ultimately an entire community. It was my wedding at St. Edward’s that was the starting point of a journey that has changed my life most profoundly.

    While we did not dance we did laugh often during the wedding, it was very joyful and we remain grateful and most happy.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    I wonder if Jill and Kevin had any idea their wedding procession video would be viewed world wide? It’s now linked on some European online newspaper editions.

    A few of us involved with the choir school in Cambridge shared the video and admitted that deep down we rather enjoyed it. (My favorite touch was the dark shades worn by the bridesmaids.) It immediately brought to mind that American culture is probably more comfortable with dancing than singing. It also pointed out that while religious celebration can be joyous not all joyous occasions are necessarily religious. My memory of the entrance procession by a local Ugandan community on the Feast of the Ugandan Martyrs exemplified this contrast.

    The sacramental dimension by definition implies something serious. Good taste reflects that understanding.

  4. Gavin says:

    In the past, I’ve actually had nightmares of exactly that same thing (except in a Sunday Mass, not a wedding) happening at previous churches. I woke up screaming covered in sweat.

    Nothing makes me so ashamed of my generation as seeing them in church for weddings and funerals. We just don’t know how to act.

  5. Liam says:

    Yet another affirmation of the wedding-as-production-number (this is a perfect example of something that is *not* an inculturation of dance as liturgical prayer drawing from deep cultural memory of the people doing the dancing).

    Why this could not have instead have been done at the wedding reception – for example, to transition from receiving line into a processional dance to the feast – is beyond me.

    Btw, what got me is the audience member, oops congregant, very obviously chewing gum in church.

  6. Patti says:

    Frankly, I thought it wonderful. Did any of you notice that the people in the pews were actively engaged in the celebration of the moment? No one playing on their phones or with the missiles or wedding program? When was the last time that you saw that level of engagement in the entire congregation? Are you trying to say that the big, stately parades that we usually see are any less of a production piece? It’s just a different kind and far less joyful.

    Asking how the ceremony relates to the longevity of the marriage is an irrelevant question. This one moment in time cannot predict how this couple will weather the storms of life. Given the divorce rate in this country, I think the odds are good that folks with very traditional starts to their marriages end up estranged.

    You should be relieved that I didn’t see this in early ’87 Todd ;>

  7. Liam says:

    Patti

    I am no fan of Steel Magnolias (or insert your favorite big movie wedding of choice) production numbers either. Both involve audiences that are happy to play their part as audiences. Audiences clapping in rhythm happen at lots of pop concerts. Audiences singing pop refrains, also. This to me was only FCAP in a shallow way, and certainly not what is meant by it in Catholic liturgy (this was not a Catholic wedding, as Todd noted). This possibly would have been repulsive to encounter at a Catholic wedding Mass.

    I will contrast with more authentic “participation” even in a secular setting: the finest folk musicians do something that is different with their audiences when they teach them to sing their respective parts. Pete Seeger and Weavers did this decades ago (and he still does), Sweet Honey in The Rock (depends on the concert and venue, though), et cet. In fact, one of the most interesting thing at the Obama pre-inaugural concert was Pete Seeger trying to overcome the pop-concert aspect of the concert and shoe horn in something more like the older folk sensibility (but, frankly, the lack of an acoustical space made that a very very very tall order).

  8. Patti says:

    I think, if I what understand from this discussion is correct, that the problem is that this celebratory entrance dance is not solemn enough for a Catholic wedding.

    Mores the pity.

    The point that you seem to miss Liam is that you need to engage people first and then you can lead them into authentic participation. If they continue to fidget with their gadgets and papers in the pews how is that better? The folks in this video are all in the room, bodies and minds. They’ve arrived, now you can lead them.

  9. Jim McK says:

    David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the LORD with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn.

    Michal came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has honored himself today, exposing himself to the view of the slave girls of his followers, as a commoner might do!”
    But David replied to Michal: “I was dancing before the LORD. As the LORD lives, who preferred me to your father and his whole family when he appointed me commander of the LORD’S people, Israel, not only will I make merry before the LORD, but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your esteem, but in the esteem of the slave girls you spoke of I will be honored.”
    And so Saul’s daughter Michal was childless to the day of her death.

    2 Samuel 6:14-15, 20-23

  10. Randolph Nichols says:

    “I was dancing before the LORD.”

    David’s religious intent was clear. I’m not so sure that applies in this case. If you (Jim McK) can convince me Jill and Kevin were dancing before the LORD for having brought them together, I’ll back off and give the couple their due.

  11. Liam

    I am in agreement with you; and in my mind, this is an indication that they are into self-glorification instead of allowing the wedding to be in and through Christ. I think it is a bad start because, all in all, I think it shows they are in love with themselves, not each other — and it will end badly.

  12. Patti says:

    Most weddings I attend are about the show and not the sacrament. I don’t really see how this differs in that regard.

  13. Patti

    It’s another level of the show, another level of people being so into themselves; want to know why so many annulments go through? Look no further.

  14. Jim McK says:

    I did not comment with my earlier post because I am not really sure of the relevance of the story of David and Michal. I just know it belongs with this situation.

    How could one tell if they are dancing before the Lord? How does anyone know this is a “performance” rather than a non-spontaneous act of celebration? Do you really think the congregation was unmoved = not participating in the emotion of the event? How is this “*not* an inculturation of dance as liturgical prayer drawing from deep cultural memory of the people doing the dancing”?

    I do not have answers for these questions. They are beyond my competence. I just think an appreciation of scripture, esp. of David’s psalms, needs to be part of discussing them.

  15. Todd says:

    “I am in agreement with you; and in my mind, this is an indication that they are into self-glorification instead of allowing the wedding to be in and through Christ.”

    While I’m sympathetic to this argument, given the self-absorption encouraged in our culture, this is a dangerous argument to take too far because it begs the connection with how traditional Catholic and Orthodox ritual focuses on the clergy and other ministers.

  16. But the focus on the minister is because of the way Christ is worked in and through them, so it is a focus on Christ. On the other hand, I don’t know any Christological aspect which can work to explain this.

  17. Todd says:

    “But the focus on the minister is because of the way Christ is worked in and through them …”

    Which in theory, I can accept. However, when one brings divorce, narcissism, and other indulgences into the picture for commentary one religious ritual, it is hard to separate out clericalism, abuse of power, and elitism on the other.

    Ideally, both priests and married couples would be exemplars of the sacraments/rituals/Church they represent. And as I said, I’m sympathetic to the notion of dignity in religious rituals, but if a case is going to be made against this processional dance, my instinct would be to lean far away any sense of narcissism.

  18. Liam says:

    Patti

    I did not miss that point. If you engage people with the wrong telos in mind, it might be worse than not “engaging” them viscerally from the get go. In fact, there’s a great deal of Scripture and saintly witness about the the risks of going for the jugular to get the attention of people for God. Still small voice and all that.

    All

    I was doing no DSM diagnoses here; my point is about our culture of entertainment (it wasn’t even about solemnity as such) – it’s arguably a denatured thing that is qualitatively different from millennia of human celebration. It’s about recreating an ersatz image or sensibility, not a passing down of ritual actions in a chain of human memory. It’s about recreating Memorex, rather than a living echo of a living memory. This dance and video appear primarily to be for the sake of the video, not even the wedding itself.

    This is a hard point to discern from the bowels of our culture, and I will grant it will seem like hairsplitting. It’s not. And it’s not about being a killjoy.

  19. Liam

    To confirm your point: they are re-doing the dance for television (I think The Today Show, but it could be one of the other news broadcasts).

  20. Liam says:

    Thanks, Henry.

    To understand where I am coming from – and where I am not coming from – I should perhaps explain a bit of history. My concern about this goes back to the mid-1980s. I was in the wedding party of an old friend. The wedding was videotaped. After the reception, the entire wedding party – the newlyweds very much in the lead – went back to the home of the bride’s parents…to watch the video of the wedding. I was dumbstruck (and I did hold my tongue). They did not even have a single night’s dream of actually memory undisturbed by the memory of watching the video and beholding our reactions to it. It struck me with the force of a tsunami that this was a terrible interference with the normal process of layering memory upon an actual lived event. (I am a historian by training, what can I say?) So I am keenly sensitive to how our current video/image culture disrupts much older processes of life and lived memory at times of liminal ritual events.

    It’s. Not. Good.

  21. Patti says:

    Liam,

    I think you need to get over your fear of video.

    Back in the mid-80’s when cam-corders were new, I attended several family parties where exactly what you described happened. We had the party, someone(s) filmed it and then later many of us went to that persons house to watch the tape and ENJOY more time together and laugh at the bits of the party that we missed or laugh again at what we had already enjoyed once. It’s passed now that cam-corders are no longer a novelty and the kids are older but…

    It. Was. Very. Very. Good.

  22. Liam says:

    I have no need to get over it, thank you very much.

  23. Jim McK says:

    I believe they recreated the dance on the Today show on saturday.

    Bride & groom were on the same show on Friday, where the groom said the video was posted on youtube at the request of his father-in-law, just for family and friends. It got viral outside of any expectations.

    Liam, if you have a problem with people reliving their experiences, how can you be an historian? Isn’t a historians purpose to bring people to relive their, or someone else’s experiences?

  24. murph says:

    Joy is a commodity that is sorely lacking in Catholic Churches these days. Two people entering into marriage by sharing joy with their family and friends cannot be anything but holy! God Bless them!

  25. I agree with murph. Just today, I looked at the faces in the pews at Sunday Mass. Not one smile. Even as we sang “Alleluia”–not one visible hint of joy. This happens not just at parish Masses–watch again the installation Mass in DC last week. The assembly and the clergy looked passive and joyless.

    We have several volunteers who take photos at our diocesan liturgies. In the hundreds of pics they take, it is rare to catch one person with a smile or pleasant look on their face during the liturgies themselves. I’m all for solemnity. I wish our liturgies had more ritualized solemnity. I wish processions looked like processions and not simply people lining up to get from point A to point B. But why does solemnity have to make us look so morbid?

    I don’t need dancing in the aisles or cheese-ball grins at our Catholic liturgies, but I think our Church can use a bit more happy-looking faces at Mass.

  26. Liam says:

    Jim

    I didn’t have a problem with people re-living their experiences. I have a problem with immediately inserting Memorex before memory has a chance to be born to do that, as it were.

  27. Gavin says:

    The major words from defenders of this show were “joy” and “participation”.

    What are people participating in? As Dan pointed out above, they’re participating in the self-glorification of the wedding party. At Mass, one must be a participant and not a bystander, sure. But one must be a participant in the Sacrifice, not in displays of “look at me, look at me, PLEASE SOMEONE LOOK AT ME!!”

    “Joy”? People are smiling, yes. They’re smiling because it’s funny, and it’s funny because it’s using a church for something everyone knows it’s not supposed to be used for. This joy isn’t derived from the celebration of loved ones in the couple’s happiness, you don’t have to put on an inappropriate dance show to get that, and people felt that before the inappropriate music started. I have no doubt that the people there are happy, but I ask: is this the route to getting people to smile in church?

    Besides all that, Diane’s comment suffers from a poor conception of Christian joy. I wrote a bulletin article at my last church on just that issue. Joy is an interior disposition, something that endures because of the love shown us by God. It doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time or smile everytime we hear the Mass of Light Gloria. I recall talking with my brother specifically about his attending an evangelical chaplaincy at his Marines base. He spoke of how the music there is so upbeat and said “But I guess I’m a bad Christian because I don’t always feel that happy for God.” With respect to Diane, that’s where this attitude ends: I’m not a Christian because I’m not smiling. Anyone who understands the ramifications of the resurrection has God’s joy. They don’t need to watch 20-somethings make fools of themselves to get it. In fact, that can only get in the way.

  28. Liam says:

    Bingo!

    People confuse joy with happiness in our culture (well, not just our culture, but especially our culture).

    The Perkiness Police (aka the Joy To The World, Dammit! Squad) are just the flip side to the people who 50 years ago cast a cold, Gladys Cooper-worthy*, glare at anyone who dared smile too obviously at Mass. Same syndrome, just the underside of it.

    * Think: Now, Voyager; The Song of Bernadette; The Bishop’s Wife.

  29. Gavin says:

    Thank you, Liam. I like the phrase “perkiness police” and the comparison to the glarers of the old days.

  30. Neil says:

    I think that the proper response here is a sort of bemused ambivalence. (See Deacon Greg Kandra: “I know I should probably be shocked and wringing my hanky into knots over this. … I loved it anyway. I couldn’t stop grinning.”)

    This is because – as Jim McK notes – we can’t really tell if this is a “performance” or a “ritual.”

    From the perspective of “classical” ritual theory, the dance would seem to be a performance. After all, “classical” ritual theory says that ritual has to be “normative, prescribed, formal, symbolic, invariable, repeated behavior closely linked to the ontogenetic development of the human person; it is neither obsessive neurosis nor a spontaneous ‘happening.'” Rituals are “archaic acts, ancestral memories that give the community access to its own history …” (The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship). Well, then, the dance simply can’t be a “classical” ritual.

    But we can speak of “emerging rituals.” These rituals can be charaterized by change and creativity, are often celebrated by marginal (e.g., unchurched) individuals, emphasise the body, and involve self-conscious awareness.

    But like all rituals, “emerging rituals” have to be meaningful by what they actually do, not by referring to something else. They can focus attention and evoke memory, but they should not be explained or decoded. Therefore, our characterization of the dance as “performance” or “emerging ritual” depends on whether we think that it has any meaning apart from being watched. Without the “accidental” audience paying attention to it, whether at the church or on YouTube, would the dance have any meaning at all?

    If we say no, then the dance is just performance and inappropriate. If we say yes, perhaps it is something like an “emerging ritual” (and we should expect similar YouTube videos in the future). But it certainly isn’t a “classical” ritual.

    Best,
    Neil

  31. Jimmy Mac says:

    What got me about this video was the SIZE of the people involved! Maybe it was the camera angle, but there sure were a lot of pudgies and pudgettes in that wedding party.

    Is that a Minnesota thing.

    Heck, it was a performance, folks! Watch the audience.

  32. Todd says:

    “But one must be a participant in the Sacrifice, not in displays of “look at me, look at me, PLEASE SOMEONE LOOK AT ME!!””

    Hmm. Don’t tell the worst offenders of the traditionalists.

  33. Yes, of course Christian joy is an interior disposition and must be always so–it’s not the superficial happy-slappiness of forced perkiness which comes and goes in a flash. But there must be some exterior expression of the inward disposition. That’s a basic liturgical principle and a foundational principle for the Incarnation.

    All I’m saying is that glumness–which is pretty much the “default” for most liturgical participants on any given Sunday–is not the desired outward expression of this interior joy.

    I think, reverence is the first desired outward expression–that is, reverence shown in intimate relationship for the Other expressed in intimate relationship for the other (small “o”). Let us let go of our need for direct mediation and accept that our relationship with the Other is also mediated.

    This interior Christin joy doesn’t necessitate feigned pleasantries. But it does require our bodies to do “something” that expresses joy in Christ–which is human joy found in the depths of the human heart, not a gnostic stocism serene in its interiority.

    Believe me, I’m not calling for a parallel to some 90s or 80s attitude that we all have to smile and be huggy with each other. But let’s at least look as if Christ is risen–and here’s the point–and act so clearly that it matters and makes sense to people without theology degrees.

    Just my afternoon rant after a martini or two on a late July afternoon.

  34. Gavin says:

    Diane: I suspect we would mostly agree on that point. Sometimes one has to look around at Sunday Mass and ask “who actually WANTS to be here??” Where we may differ (or not) is that I would say such joy cannot be manufactured from without through music, style of presiding, etc. Hence the application here.

    Todd: the trad predilection for the showy is another topic altogether, although I would probably agree with you to some extent.

  35. Jimmy Mac says:

    Gavin: come to my parish’s 10 AM liturgy any Sunday, ask that question, and I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of the regular attendees will answer with gusto: “I do!!!”. If there ever was a parish that is a true intentional community, ours is.

    http://www.mhr.org

  36. Patti says:

    Have none of you nay-sayers ever been married? If I had danced down the aisle like this on my wedding day, it would not have been “manufactured joy”, it would have been the real deal. And while I can’t speak for other people, I dare to imagine that those who love me would have shared in that joy authentically and did.

  37. Gavin says:

    I’ve never been married, Patti, but I have been in a church.

    If I were to have any part in something like that (which I likely wouldn’t as I admit I can’t dance), it would be in a non-church wedding. But I guess I’m just a 24 year old fart who has crazy old notions like reverence and respect for God’s house. I intend to show joy at my wedding through smiles, hospitality, sharing, applause (if the congregation is so moved), and of course beautiful music. These are the marks of a joyful church.

  38. Deacon Eric Stoltz says:

    I really don’t understand where reverence and respect for God somehow precludes smiling and laughing. Is that because God frowns upon such things and we need a glum face to prove to him that we take him seriously?

    I’ve experienced a number of Orthodox Easter celebrations. We might assume that because their liturgy is so elaborate that their joy must be expressed in the glum way our “traditionalists” demand. But no, the constant exclamations of “Christ is risen!” become almost shouting contests, with laughing and the people loudly proclaiming “Indeed he is risen!” The censers go higher, the bells get louder and a good time is had by all. There’s not a glum face in the church, everybody is beaming.

    At my own parish, our Easter Vigil is similarly quite joyful. There are tears and laughing and clapping as each person is baptized, and I look out on a sea of happy faces. Now that’s a celebration. When I greet the people at the church doors after the vigil, I see people happy, children jumping and I feel the joy.

    Now for those who would purse their lips and tsk tsk, I say, what is wrong with being happy in the house of God? And we all know what it means to be happy, it’s just plain disingenuous to claim that happiness in church really means being silent and frowning. Oh come on now. Happiness is happiness.

  39. Liam says:

    Deacon

    You are arguing against a position not proposed here.

  40. Jake says:

    I just have one question: Isn’t a wedding all about look at me? Look at me make the commitment before God and friends to this person, through all these vows and promises. I may not be catholic but I do believe in Jesus Christ. How can one say that the ceremony has to be solemn. Jesus was Jewish, right? They had and still do have singing and dancing at their wedding in a joyous respectful way, in the house of God. So, how can the Church say Jesus would disapprove?? let me know ( i know this thread is over 2 years but i was curious to hear a repsonse)

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