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Doug Adams: His Life and Work

Doug Adams, Teaching Dance


I train toes as well as heads to express the word, partly because St. Augustine said that Christians should be an Alleluia from head to toe.
Doug Adams, Pacific School of Religion Bulletin , 1981-82

Doug Adams interest in the arts began very early in his life. When he was in elementary school, he joined both a dance choir and a drama group that was part of a Congregational Church in Rockford, Illinois.

He received a reminder of the role that sacred dance could play in worship when he was at Duke. There a visiting professor of Russian Orthodox studies taught that the arts were a major part of Christianity in the East. "Part of it was that the early church councils in the East pronounced that the non-verbal arts are coequal with verbal expressions as a mode of doing theology. (from Carol Egan, "Special Ceremony to Honor Doug Adams," Berkeley Voice, November 20, 1997, p 14.)

Pacific School of Religion had embraced dance and drama. Ted Shawn danced there in the 1930s. Anna Halprin took classes on drama and gave lectures on sacred dance. Sacred dance pioneer Margaret Palmer led workshops and performed from the fifties through the seventies.

Adams was a great promoter for the sacred in performance arts, moving images, and art. The photo above is taken from one of his workshops on sacred dance. He also became a close friend with sacred dance pioneer Margaret Palmer, donating her archives to the GTU. Here are a few of his activities:

Adams served as special editor of Modern Liturgy. Below is his editorial introduction to the sacred dance issue, March 1977.

Bringing the Whole Body to Liturgy

Doug Adams, Modern Liturgy

Recent biblical and historical studies inform us that "dance" and "rejoice" may be the same word in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. These studies reveal that dancing was common not only in Jesus' Jewish worship experience, but also continued in the early church and on down through the medieval period, to help the people experience and express heightened senses of community and joy. The "chorus" in hymns means "dance" and was a time when people danced in worship. "Carol" means "dance"; and Christmas carols were danced joyfully in medieval churches. There was even joyful dancing at funerals to express the joy of faith that triumphs over death. There are vestiges of dance evident in Sunday liturgy even now, though they are the restrained movements of the priest and people coming in, sitting down, standing up, kneeling, coming forward for communion, and going forth into the world.

In light of these reflections, the question is no longer "Should there be dancing in Christian worship?" The new question becomes "What and when do we dance in worship to express and experience the words of liturgy most fully?". This issue of MODERN LITURGY addresses this new question to bring the whole body to liturgy (and not just the head) so that we may all worship the Lord our God with all our mind and heart and strength.

Here are suggestions to bring the whole liturgy to dance. There are separate articles discussing movements for leaders of liturgy, for congregations, and for children. Then there are articles outlining dances to express the seasons from Lent through Holy Week. The concluding article reveals how scripture provides inexhaustible resources for dance in liturgy throughout the year; and brief columns suggest ways to increase understanding and acceptance for dance in local churches and ways to keep in touch with others leading sacred dance across the country.

All the contributors to this issue describe dances they have led in churches and a brief mention of the authors' home bases suggests how widely accepted the dance is in contemporary christian worship. Carla DeSola leads sacred dance companies from New York and designed the children's dances for the Philadelphia International Eucharistic Congress. Kay Troxell leads dances in different Pennsylvania churches. In Ohio, Gloria Weyman leads her dancing and joins with Father Lucien Deiss for worship workshops nationally. From Indiana, Sister Adelaide Ortegel dances and co-directs the Center for Contemporary Celebration. From Denver, Colorado, Constance Fisher inspires Jubilate Dancers and the Rocky Mountain Sacred Dance Guild. Christ the King Catholic Church in Missoula, Montana was the scene of the congregational dancing detailed in the article by Doug Adams. Father John Mossi, S.J. reflects on work in both northern and southern California. And, Margaret Taylor and Martha Yates serve as national officers in the Sacred Dance Guild that links hundreds of dancers and dance choirs in churches throughout the nation and overseas.

But even if you think of yourself as having two (or more) left feet, you will find our departments in this issue to be worth careful consideration. Jerry DuCharme's Lector Workshop, Brian Casey's Poetry series, Tom Simons' Resources column, and Paul Page's Music Section are just waiting for you to turn the page to them. What do you think of the instrumental meditation piece in this issue? Hmmm! I guess it could be choreographed for use in conjunction with the theme of this issue! If you know about choreography for any of our hymns or Mass parts, please send it to us. If enough of our music is used in this way, we should consider putting out a dance book or kit, like some of those you'll find in the MODERN LITURGY Bookstore insert. Check especially As Clay In the Hands Of The Potter by Sr. Suzanne Toolan in Vol. 4 No.1.

The whole body of Christ is learning to dance again. Across the nation, liturgy leaders, congregations, children and adults are learning to move in response to the invitation Jesus extends to all of us: "Rejoice and leap for joy".

Permission to reproduce editorial and table of contents courtesy of Resource Publications. Modern Liturgy is now Ministry and Liturgy. Among other special issues of Modern Liturgy, Adams edited a second dance issue (April 1984) and an issue on parables (May 1981).