Here in Japan, however, dancing as an expression of worship is alive and well, with roots stretching back into mythological time. Indeed, it is said that once the sun goddess Amatersu Omikami hid in a cave and would not show her face to the world. Finally she was tempted out of the cave when Ame-no-Azume (the goddess of dawn) led the other gods in a wild ecstatic dance. Traditionally her descendants serving as shrine maidens (miko) in the Imperial Palace brought this tradition, known today as 神楽 (Kagura), down to earth.
In Japan there is a holistic sense that every aspect of our being can serve as a form of worship. A similar idea can be found during shacharit, the morning service, it is traditional to recite the Nishmat, a prayer which teaches that true prayer can be much more than the recitation of the words of the Siddur (prayer book).
The breath of all that lives praises You, Adonai our God. The force that drives all flesh exalts You…Could song fill our mouth as water fills the sea…could we soar with arms like eagle wings and run with gentle grace, as the swiftest deer…as the psalmist sang, “All my bones exclaim: Adonai who is like you, saving the weak from the powerful”…”Let every fiber of my being praise God’s holy name.
The Nishmat implies that worship can and should be more holistic, involving the entire body. Dancing can be a form of worship, with our motion and even enjoyment becoming praise for the divine.
If we consider God as encompassing all that there is, found everywhere and in everything, then there is no real difference between the material and immaterial, or the sacred and the profane. Just like sacred activities, all mundane activities – everything we do – awaits and invites elevation – a realization that God is present, achieved through the realization that the divine is hidden within everything though we may not know it. Eating, drinking, singing, dancing, and even sexual intercourse all can be, and should be, holy activities. The Hasidic worldview does not require a withdrawal from the world or from other people, but rather it demands that we seek to make everyday and every moment an opportunity of elevation.
On Simchat Torah our dancing celebrates the gift of Torah as we end and then begin the yearlong cycle of reading. Dancing is a form of elevation, lifting our hearts and souls towards God. The joy and enthusiasm created and expressed in the dance is a form of worship, perhaps one, which we need to rediscover throughout the year.