Lord of the Dance image

Lord of the Dance

This week I went to my first ever Ceroc class and, having read Matt’s article on some of the similarities of parkrun to church, was looking out for some of the similarities and differences here.

Ceroc is a dance style, described on the official website as “a fusion of Salsa, Ballroom, Hip Hop, Tango and Jive.” It is “the fastest growing dance phenomenon in the country”, already taking place in 200 venues in the UK and branching out into Australia, New Zealand, Dubai (!) and Europe. It sounds and looks intimidating, but I found it lots of fun, and a great way to keep fit and meet new people.

But as for the similarities to and differences from church…

As with parkrun, it started small and has grown through ‘personal evangelism’ – I went along through the persistent invitations of a friend who, once she’d spotted a glimmer of interest, didn’t give up until she’d brought me along.

Like going to church for the first time, I had some practical concerns: what should I wear? How will I know where to go? What if no-one talks to me? What if I do something wrong? And, like many churches (sadly), it took a bit of courage to ask questions of some of the old hands (my friend was delayed so I had to go in alone), but once that barrier was broken, everyone was very friendly. (Like too many of my own experiences of church, my friend told me that some venues can be a bit cliquey, and the experienced dancers avoid dancing with novices, but fortunately my local venue was not like that.)

It works on a model of teaching from the front, followed up with discipleship, as experienced dancers come alongside novices and help them to build their skills. Everyone is expected to put into practice what they’ve been taught, and to help weaker ‘brothers’ along the way.

There is training in small groups for beginners, and further training for more advanced dancers.

Commitment is encouraged, and membership is for life, though unlike church (when it’s working properly), there is no follow-up if you don’t show up for a few weeks. Your membership is valid at any Ceroc club in the UK (and presumably the world).

I was impressed to see a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. Sadly there was more diversity in that hall than in most churches I’ve ever attended – though there were no disabled people, no-one physically infirm, and no children. Participation is open to all, though the physical requirements and entrance fee do present a natural limitation on who is able to access it.

There are no social barriers – you can talk to and dance with anyone.

And yes, the men take the lead, but unlike in churches, no-one considers this a catastrophic affront to their humanity or equality. And yes, where there were too few men, occasionally women had to step up and lead for a time – and that’s all I’m going to say about that!

As in many churches, at least in London/cities, there’s an open invitation to go out for a drink together afterwards, and my friend pointed out that, unlike churches, since you primarily dance in male/female pairings, the after-dance social is the only way you really get to meet and build friendships with your own gender.

Like parkrun, it is popular and growing – there are new people joining every week – though I don’t think it’s growing as fast or successfully as parkrun (perhaps because of the cost and the relative skill-level involved).
The reason parkrun and Ceroc are growing and, in Matt’s phrase, “doing it better than the church does”, however, is because it is missing one or two vital things that the church must retain even if it results in stagnating growth: Jesus, and salvation.

parkrun is not the answer to our inherent need for purpose and belonging. Ceroc will not change your life now, nor give you hope and a future. These activities may be fun and may have lots of benefits, some of which may improve life in the immediate term, but they carry with them no promise of a transformed life. There is no expectation that you will live differently on Tuesday as a result of the dance steps you learned on Monday. Your 50-runs t-shirt will bring no lasting joy to you or benefit to your community. parkrun won’t inspire you to build a school, feed the hungry or fight to end slavery. Ceroc doesn’t expect you to love your neighbour, work for the good of those around you, or pray for your enemies.

Dancing and running may be growing in popularity, but that is because they are fun and personally beneficial while requiring very little in return. I came home from Ceroc buzzing. I posted about it on twitter and Facebook, and immediately invited others to join me. I am personally challenged that I have never felt like that, or reacted like that to a church service, but the fault is mine, not the format of the service or the quality of the welcome. I should get at least as excited about worshiping God in the company of his saints as I do about my temporary endorphin high. But it’s me who needs to change, not the church.

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