Origins of a Dance Poem

Duvet

Member
Sometime ago I found this poem on-line, the sentiments of which I really like;


I praise the dance,
for it frees people from the heaviness of matter
and binds the isolated to community.

I praise the dance, which demands everything:
health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.

Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling.

Dancing demands a whole person,
one who is firmly anchored in the centre of his life,
who is not obsessed by lust for people and things
and the demon of isolation in his own ego.

Dancing demands a freed person,
one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers.

I praise the dance.

O man, learn to dance,
or else the angels in heaven will not know
what to do with you.

The poem crops up on dance focused websites in all sorts of disciplines. It is always attributed (if it gets attributed at all) to St. Augustine of Hippo, but I’ve come to doubt that.

I’m trying to find the original source, and wondered if anyone could help?
 
Last edited:

Duvet

Member
St. Augustine (354-430) was bishop of Hippo (in Algeria) and a prolific early Christian writer. I was surprised that he had such a positive opinion of dancing, and I wanted to find out where he had written these words so that I could get the context and maybe some more gleanings. But I failed.

I can trace the poem on-line, with variations, to 1998. The earliest websites are in German, but from 2003 it appears and spreads through English language sites. But despite a continuous attribution to St. Augustine, no one ever gives the actual source for it. This, coupled with the poems lack of 5th Century Christian terminology, made me suspicious.
The poem does appear in print as St. Augustine’s words, but the books I found postdate its internet presence, suggesting that the internet could be their source.

In 1993 the complete works of St. Augustine were computerized by Cornelius Mayer, and thus made easily searchable. He says that from that date he was frequently asked for the origin of the line “man, learn to dance, so that the angels in heaven know what to do with you” (so at least that bit seems to predate the internet), and in 2005 was asked for the origin of the lines “I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of things and binds the individual to the community. I praise the dance, for it elates the mind and gives the soul wings”. He says that these lines do not appear in the known works of St. Augustine, and he cannot trace them. He believes they are a later invention falsely attributed to give the words gravitas.

In my search I did, however, find another dance quote from St. Augustine that appears in print throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. It is said to come from his 8th Sermon (the full text of which I have yet to find) but it is the only quote concerning St. Augustine’s view on dancing that appears prior to the late 20th Century. The poem, or any part of it, is unknown to these earlier sources.

The quote runs: “It is better to dig or to plough on the Lord’s day, than to dance. Instead of singing psalms to the lyre or psaltery, as virgins and matrons were wont to do, they now waste their time in dancing, and even employ masters in that art.”

This quote implies an opposite view towards dancing than the poem would suggest. Dance, instead of giving the dancer a “buoyant soul” or “freeing them from lust”, is now a “waste of time” and not suitable for praising God. This was the prevalent view in the Middle Ages, and synods used Augustine’s words as proof that dancing was inappropriate behaviour.

So if the poem isn’t from St. Augustine, where might it have come from?
 
Last edited:

Duvet

Member
The only clue I found on-line is a series of quotes given as from a work by George Goetsch, printed in 1928 called “Lob des Tanzes” (Praise the Dance). The quotes read (I think); "I praise the dance, for it binds body, mind and soul together in man, it binds the isolated people to the community, it binds the community to space and time" and "Dance is transformation of space, of time, of the people and the mass formed in community”. Another site quotes “O man, learn to dance, so the angels in heaven know what to do with you" as also his. The words seem to appears in the preface to Goetsch's book (co-authored with Rolf Gardiner) called "Alte Kontra-tanze" (Old Contra-dances) originally printed in 1928.

The similarity to the 'Augustine' poem is amazingly close, so either Goetsch was quoting the saint, or Goetsch could be the original author.

Because George Goetsch was prominent in the German Youth Movement in the 1920s and both he and Gardiner (as far as I’ve read) were early sympathizers of National Socialism, I wonder if the poem has been removed from their associations and attributed to a seemingly (to some) more acceptable author.

What I’m seeking from forum members is anyone with access to this book (Alte Kontra-tanze/Old Contra-dances) and asking if they could check to see if the words are Goetsch’s own, or whether he too attributes them to St. Augustine (or to somebody else). I’d equally welcome anyone’s comments on where they believe, or know, the poem to have originated.

I like the poem, regardless of who wrote it. I might be barking up the wrong tree regarding its origins, but I'm curious, and some help would be welcome.
 
Last edited:

Mosaic

Super Moderator
Interesting Duvet, I've never seen that poem before, so am no help as to the origins. Hope someone has some answers, I'd like to know myself now:)

I like the last verse "O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you" - seeing that most of us dance, we'll be OK when we get to meet the angels it seems:) Do you mind if I add that to my signature (seeing you found the poem you should have first bite:))
~Mosaic
 

Duvet

Member
Go ahead, Mosaic. But don't attribute it to Augustine!

It was the last line that I came across first, and liked so much that it fueled the pursuit for more information. I'm sure we can share the signature? Or is that not proper etiquette?
 

Duvet

Member
Talk about serendipity!

In trying to find out about George Goestch and Rolf Gardiner, I discovered that Gardiner owned 'Springhead' in Dorset, now run as a centre for creative and sustainable living - and the place where I have the fondest memories of Egyptian dance due to a weekend away there with Sara Kahan & Aliya Birch.

Plus, I volunteer for a charity called The Library of Avalon, which houses and makes available to the public a large collection of esoteric and occult material. One of the early and substantial donors to this collection was Sir George Trevelyan. I've just finished reading his biography and found out that his sister, Katherine, was the wife of George Goetsch!

I'm no nearer to the poem, but how strange the inter-connectedness of things.
 
Last edited:

Duvet

Member
Still haven't seen the original book, but found printed works from 1929 onwards which quote Go(e)tsch's words enough to make me convinced that he did indeed write the OP poem, although it has been altered and rearranged somewhat. As far as I can work out from the various quotes, Go(e)tsch wrote something close to the following;

"I praise the dance, for it frees people from the burdensome; from the things that threaten to dominate the spirit and make it heavy, and to unravel the loose ends of the soul. I praise the dance, for it binds body, mind and soul into a human whole; it binds the scattered people into a new community; it binds the community into a new space and time. I praise the dance. Dance transforms the person. Humans are constantly in danger of disintegrating, becoming only brain, will, or feeling. Dancing, however, demands the whole person, fully centered, resting on the breath; not possessed by motivation, or the desire for people and things, which is due to the demon of self isolation. The dance calls on and demands a healthy body, a clear mind and a German soul. I praise the dance, for it transforms space, it transforms time, it transforms people and community. The dance can transform us. We are all turned to stone if we forget how to dance and continue to covet things and let them dance around us. I praise the dance for it makes the dead live."

I can appreciate how the poem has changed due to free translation, but how it became misattributed to St.Augustine is still a mystery to me.

Only one quote, from 2010, attributes the line "Man learn to dance, or else the angels in Heaven will not know what to do with you" to Go(e)tsch, so I'm not sure if this is part of the original or not.

Will keep looking.
 

Mosaic

Super Moderator
Go ahead, Mosaic. But don't attribute it to Augustine!

It was the last line that I came across first, and liked so much that it fueled the pursuit for more information. I'm sure we can share the signature? Or is that not proper etiquette?
We can share:)
~M
 

Duvet

Member
Hey, I've found out this thread has been linked by someone who has been reading my posts.

http://www.microsofttranslator.com/bv.aspx?ref=SERP&br=ro&mkt=en-US&dl=en&lp=FR_EN&a=http://blogdesebastienfath.hautetfort.com/archive/2013/07/04/saint-augustin-aimait-il-la-danse-entre-legende-et-realite.html

Unfortunately, despite accepting the evidence, he then just swap the 'St.Augustine' attribution for one of "the unknown believer". He doesn't want to loose the mystical air of this poem by allowing mundane reality to assign it to a 20th Century German supporter of National Socialism.
 

Andrew Chapman

New member
The quotation is from Augustine's commentary on Psalm 92: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801092.htm

He has an unpleasant and unfair view of the Jewish sabbath, it has to be said:

'This Psalm is entitled, a Psalm to be sung on the Sabbath day. Lo, this day is the Sabbath, which the Jews at this period observe by a kind of bodily rest, languid and luxurious. They abstain from labours, and give themselves up to trifles; and though God ordained the Sabbath, they spend it in actions which God forbids. Our rest is from evil works, theirs from good; for it is better to plough than to dance.'
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Well, that's an interesting first post on a BD site, Andrew, but welcome here. I'm curious: how on earth did you come to post on a six year old thread?
 

Andrew Chapman

New member
Well, that's an interesting first post on a BD site, Andrew, but welcome here. I'm curious: how on earth did you come to post on a six year old thread?
I was looking for the same thing, for a completely different reason. At some stage I found it, and also in the process stumbled across this thread, and just wanted to help the person out.

To be more precise, I was responding to this:

'It is said to come from his 8th Sermon (the full text of which I have yet to find) but it is the only quote concerning St. Augustine’s view on dancing that appears prior to the late 20th Century.'

I also had found the same reference, and it took me a while to find the correct one.
 
Last edited:

Andrew Chapman

New member
Yes, sometimes, to rejoice. I did some dance improvisation classes in the 1980s, which I enjoyed. Now I am a Pentecostal Christian, and we allow the Holy Spirit to move as He wills. David danced with all his might before the God of Israel when the ark of His holy presence was returned to Jerusalem. And Miriam the prophetess danced with the women after Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I wish you a joyful dance journey with all of us at OD, Andrew. Have you wandered around and checked out some of the dance videos?
 

Andrew Chapman

New member
Thank you. I am not on a dance journey so much as a life journey with a little dance here and there. The videos make me think of Salome's dancing before Herod. I do like the sensitivity of the Middle Eastern expression. I find this from the Cairo cave almost overwhelming:
 
Top