August 2011 Newsletter – Do You Dance at People’s Funerals?

“Do you dance at people’s funerals?” This question was asked of me at the Denver Senior Law Day event on July 23rd. This question hadn’t been asked of me since last year’s Senior Law Day. The prompting of this question was a large sign I had on display of my book cover with title: Please Dance at My Funeral: A Celebration of Life.  I didn’t know how to take the question at first. I thought it was an absurd notion that I should have a table to advertise that I would dance at someone’s funeral. I don’t really think I look like someone who would advertise to do this, but don’t ask me what I think a person who dances at funerals might look like.

The question came this year from a man who proceeded to say that he has offended a good many people with that question, but explained? being of Scottish descent— it was common to dance at a funeral or wake, and he enjoyed doing so to contribute to the celebration.
Celebration is the reason for the dancing, and the reason for the title of my book. Looking further into customs of dancing at funerals, I noted that funeral is defined as a ceremony for “celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life” of one who has died.

Various cultures and beliefs have included the ritual of dancing relative to a death. Some believe that you should dance on graves to bring back the spirit of the one who died, to bring the person back to life. Another notation said you want to dance to keep the spirit or deceased from returning! I don’t know if certain dance moves distinguish one purpose from another.

Ecclesiastes 3: 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

As a tradition arising from a combination of African spiritual practices, French musical traditions, and African-American cultural influences, a typical New Orleans jazz funeral consists with a march from the home, funeral home, or church, to the cemetery. The family, friends, and a jazz band, start this trek to very somber music until the ceremony has concluded at the cemetery. From the cemetery to a gathering destination the somber music is replaced by loud, boisterous music and dancing where bystanders now join in to celebrate the life of the recent departed. This is known as the “second line” where participants do a dance and march while waving hats and umbrellas (brought as protection from the heat and rain), and handkerchiefs ? no longer being used to wipe away tears of grief.

As one Scottish minister puts it, “It’s no surprise that in the Bible we find these opposites side by side. Weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing all have their special places in our lives, even at funerals. It’s not just a way of coping with loss, it’s also a remarkable fact of the human experience – life goes on around us, no matter what we go through.”

The Church of Scotland Book of Worship states it this way in the funeral liturgy: We were not meant for the darkness of death; instead we were created for light and life, and to share these with God forevermore.