Reflection on Dancing in Park and Christianity: How to Break the Dilemma of the Gospel Surrounded by Secularization?

People sing and praise God in a worship service.
People sing and praise God in a worship service.
By CCD contributor: Li DaonanSeptember 25th, 2020

Dancing in the square, a popular exercise routine among the middle-aged and retired Chinese women,  has nothing to do with Christianity. Although they seem completely unrelated, perhaps there are ways that they could be found to have some similarities

First of all, let's look at two examples. In this way, we will begin to see that square dancing has a close relationship with Christianity.

The Dama who lives downstairs came from the countryside to take care of her grandson after her daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby. She is nearly seventy years old. She is in good health and full of energy when talking about her grandson. When she arrived, she began to do the housework and take care of her son and his family. To keep in touch, her son bought her a smartphone. Sometimes in the park in the community square, I could hear hymns or sermons playing on her cell phone. That’s how I knew she was a Christian.

After learning that I was also a Christian, she asked me where Christians meet, and I was happy to introduce her to a church in her neighborhood. On Sundays, when her son and daughter-in-law were resting at home, she would go to church.

When her son and daughter-in-law came home from work in the evening, and she didn't have to take care of their child, she would go downstairs and walk around by herself. Gradually, because others around her were also taking care of their children, she became familiar with the elderly people who took care of their grandsons or granddaughters.

About three or four months after she came to Suzhou, the weather slowly warmed up and people in the community began to gather to square dance. In the square in the neighborhood center, trained dancers and the elderly who were dancing gradually filled the whole square. In the beginning, Dama just stood by and watched. After a few days, she imitated the dancers while watching. I often saw her as she wiggled on the side of the crowd.

So after a period of time, I saw here in the group of people who were square dancing.  Her enthusiasm for square dancing never got out of hand. Every day after her son and daughter-in-law got off work and settled their child after dinner, she would go downstairs to dance in the square. Her enthusiasm for square dancing was far greater than her desire to attend church.

Later, at church events, she would attend only Sunday parties, and when they were over, she would return home to spend time with elderly friends she had met while dancing.

Still later, when I met her in the square, her phone was full of rhythmic pop music instead of hymns and scripture verses.

Once, we talked for a little while. She said that there was dancing the park in her hometown, but she was too old to be laughed at by others and felt embarrassed to dance. Now people of all ages were dancing in the community, so she joined in.

There is an aunt downstairs, about fifty years old, who came from the countryside to take care of her granddaughter. This aunt is relatively young and is quick to accept new things. Within a few months, this aunt fell in love with short videos on Tik Tok. In her spare time with her child, she would also dance for a little while and sing a short song to post on Tik Tok.

Dama was a Christian. She said she had a terrible toothache before and took all kinds of medicine, but they didn’t work. Later, she was introduced to the Lord and believed in the Lord. After a period of time, her tooth didn’t ache anymore. Naturally, she became a Christian. But today the enthusiasm for square dance has clearly surpassed that for Christianity.

The aunt is not a Christian, but TikTok's appeal to her apparently exceeds that of other forms of entertainment, and at this point, preaching would probably be far less appealing.

It has been several years since square dancing has become popular. Although there has been a lot of controversy around square dancing. especially the tension and conflict between modern urban civilization and it was a hot topic being discussed. Dancing in the park has grown in popularity. People of all ages are participating. TikTok is a new phenomenon that has become popular among the whole nation.

The generation that likes dancing in public areas lived through a difficult period of time when there was little public culture and they lacked the public activities to express themselves. Although the political movement had engaged everyone, it was not a platform for self-affirmation and self-expression.

As time passed and the economy improved, the degree of openness and inclusiveness in society has also increased. It is during this time that dancing has become popular. Public dancing first arose in cities. The most important thing is to have a place to dance. Obviously, when urbanization expands the capacity of cities, it also takes into account the construction of public squares. Therefore, dancing in the city square emerged after the construction of many city squares.

Square dance is a kind of spontaneous action. The government did not use any administrative power, and square dance flourished. While dancing, people, especially middle-aged and elderly people, find a culture and a melody that they can immerse themselves in and get a sense of pleasure. Gradually, square dancing began to appear in rural areas as well, no matter in remote areas or towns.

As a matter of fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, singing was almost unheard of except for the hymns of Christian church meetings, when singing and dancing were confined to places like special karaoke rooms. Because at that time, there were no so many squares, and there were no economic conditions required. Of course, people had no mood for that too. Everyone was working hard to make a living.

In the eyes of my mother, Christian singing is a kind of "freedom". In my childhood, in the whole countryside, except for the bands for marriage and funeral, you could hear music and singing only in the church.

Christian gatherings, however, have less of this gaiety and have far less universal appeal than dancing. Activities like dancing, posting on Tik Tok and other activities have made Christianity no longer a unique choice, but only an option.

Urbanization and modernization also mean secularization, and secularization is not considered as a nihilization by traditional Christianity, but a kind of de-religion. People can gain pleasure and meaning in the secularized activities.

The dilemma that Christianity is facing today is that activities such as square dance have a great impact on the religious enthusiasm of Christianity and provide alternatives to Christianity for people to choose. Under this background, it is worth everyone's thinking about how Christianity should break out.

Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) But should this kind of rest be in the rules of religion, in the repentance and confession, or in the joy and ease of human life? It is worth reflecting on whether rest should be heavy or light.

- Translated by Nicolas Cao

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