Welcome to Portland: My son and the ecstatic dancers

Yesterday our new church opened up their field and facilities to the local neighborhood association and the Uplift neighborhood coalition for a fall harvest festival. The celebration included food, music, arts and crafts, bartering, and live music. People from the congregation were encouraged to attend and participate. I love that the church is doing things to have a positive presence in the community and to build relationships with the people just outside their doors.

We were able to catch the last hour of the festivities. I enjoyed a bowl of spicy turkey chili from the community pot and watched my kids play and explore. My three year old has a tendency to express his appreciation for music with enthusiastic dance. I wasn’t too surprised when he ran in front of the music tent and began cuttin’ up the field to the rhythms of the steel drum band. He stomped his feet, waved his arms in the air, shook his head (and his bottom), stuck his tongue out, and just generally flailed and leaped about to the beat.

After a few minutes of entertaining the onlookers, his attention was drawn to a hula hoop next to a small group of young adults seated on the grass. He danced all the way over, tapped the owner on the head and blurted out a request to play with the hoop. The young lady who owned it graciously agreed, so I struck up a conversation with her. I quickly learned that she was relatively new to Portland and that she was an ecstatic dance instructor.

I was quite certain that anything called ecstatic dance would be far outside of the realm of plausible activities for me, but I was there to meet the neighbors and maybe establish some relationships. So, I admitted my ignorance and questioned her as to how it worked. She explained to me that it is dance led by individual expression. It is facilitated by mood creating music and words of guidance from the instructor. Dancers simply move however their bodies tell them to, with the intention of creating a spiritual (or at least self-actualizing) experience. Benefits associated with this practice include exercise, freedom from inhibition, self expression, greater connectivity with oneself and with others, and deeper spiritual awareness.

Sounded weird to me, so I did a little research. Come to find out ecstatic dance, AKA trance dance is a movement that has been around for a long time. It has known popularity in the western world for at least fifty years and it’s various forms reflect components of everything from eastern meditative thought to pagan ritualism. Upon talking with others at the festival, I learned that there is a whole tribe (and, yes, that is what they would call themselves) of ecstatic dancers living in a house just up the road from the church. Those just happened to be the people my son decided to grace with his wild little boogie. It is likely they were impressed.

That young woman with the hula hoop later approached me and kindly offered me her friendship and her help getting to know the area. I haven’t even moved there yet, so I am thankful and encouraged to have had an opportunity to meet people in the community so soon—people who are absolutely precious and valuable to God, and people who need to be introduced to Jesus. But, as I walked away, I couldn’t help shaking my head and thinking,

“Welcome to Portland!”

In case you were curious…


12 thoughts on “Welcome to Portland: My son and the ecstatic dancers”

      1. The video you showed was ghastly. I was responding to the friendly womans description of self expression and surrendering to the music not being intimidated by those around you. Your video showed what appeared to be extremely insecure people trying to fit in and show everyone how free and self expressive they are, and it was ghastly. Unfortunately that same insecurity exists almost every where we look. People are trying to impress each other and fit in compromising their personal integrity. What a mission field we have here in the U.S.

  1. Looks like we missed an opportunity for family bonding at the reunion this summer. We would have been quite a site doing an “eclectic dance.” What a great opportunity for ministry!

  2. I love that God is already using your youngest to open doors in the community! I love too your heat that likes to think outside the box (the church building if you like) and into the community God is intending you to influence. Trust me you are heading in the right direction!

  3. Becky – Boy, people are just full of disturbing mental images today! I admit, that is a funny thought, though. Yikes!

    Marla – Yeah, it is both exciting and intimidating. We’ll see what HE does!

  4. God works in and through all things for our good and HIS glory!

    Praying for protection for you and your family as you seek and serve HIM and whosoever HE puts in your path.


  5. Dad – Yes the video was ghastly. Unfortunately, I think it is fairly representative. The clip I chose was slightly more juvenile than some others, but it was the only one I could find that wasn’t either overtly suggestive or utterly bizarre.

    I was going for visual aid, not shock value. 🙂

    Canice – Thanks. I can’t tell you how much it means to have prayer support as we transition and engage in a new battle front.

  6. Crystal:
    All I can say is, “Ho, Ho, Ho. What an experience you guys are gonna have. May God stay reeeeeeeal close.

    Blessings, John

  7. Not to labor this beyond useful dialog, but historically this uninhibited dancing was prayerful and worshipful and a method of expressing joy in the heart in many cultures, including the Jewish culture. An example is King David’s spontaneous and uninhibited dance expressing joy – 2nd Samuel ch.6 v.14-23. I think the so-called ecstatic dance of today is a poor imitation of what it used to be.

  8. John – I do believe you are right!

    Dad – You’re not laboring anything. 🙂 That is a good point. In considering this, my thoughts also turned to spontaneous worship.

    As far as I’m concerned, the questions concerning this type of activity in any era or culture would be, who or what are the participants being led by, what are they expressing, to whom are they expressing it, and what is the point?

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