"I learned the Lord's Prayer at the age of 6. Seven years ago, I danced it for the first time," said Kathryn Fredgren, 33, who conducted the entire worship service at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Annandale last Sunday, using interpretive dance. "I had never prayed that prayer so deeply and fully in my life.
"A dancer leaping down the aisle, is not what we're talking about," explained Fredgren, a lively and intense person, during an interview at her south Arlington home.
"Liturgical dance is the effective communication of God's word through movement. Effective means that the congregation must be mentally involved in what the dancer expresses in movements."
The jammed-together congregation at John Calvin Sunday morning, who will sit on folded chairs until their new sanctuary is completed, squirmed and strained to keep Fredgren's expressive gestures and facial movements within sight. She sidestepped and pirouetted, facing this way and that, looking at as many as possible in the congregation.
"What I do borders on mime," she explained later. "So often, people can't dance. I have to move in such a way that their spirit can dance with me."
Fredgren just ended one career as artistic director for the Arlington Dance Theater, where she taught and performed, specializing in tap, jazz and ballet.
But for the last seven years she, along with singer Lori Brady who describes the movements, have visited Washington-area churches, "educating" the worshippers, and further developing the song-and-dance liturgy that they put together using folk and sacred songs.
They have also been teaching others to perform liturgical dance, using choreography developed by Fredgren. One student, Pat Close, interpreted the reading of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, Sunday along with Fredgren.
The scripture talks about love and the absence of love. Close, the wife of John Calvin Presbyterian's pastor, the Rev. Robert Close, said after the service she not only had to practice graceful dance movements, but "loving looks" and "unloving looks" with Fredgren to get their message across.
The congregation seemed pleased with it.
Fredgren feels a liturgical dance service is a failure if the congregation doesn't feel a part of it. "If the congregation is not involved, then my movement becomes distraction or entertainment only, and shouldn't be involved with the worship service."
She also said that liturgical dance is not for everyone. Some of John Calvin Presbyterian's congregation didn't come to church Sunday, she said, because they knew she would be there. They don't like dance, "even outside of workship, as one lady said to me."
But during a song version of the Lord's Prayer, most of the congregation swayed back and forth in their seats, enthusiastically clasping hands and jumping to stand at the right movements.
"The reasons why we have symbolic liturgy is that words are not enough to express our spiritual feelings," said the Rev. Robert Hovda, a Catholic member of the Liturgical Conference, which promotes the development of new liturgy.
He praised the effectiveness of Fredgren's work and said, "She has done more (liturgical dance) in the Washington area than anyone I know of."
Because the worship was conducted completely by Fredgren and Lori Brady last Sunday, Mr. Close did not deliver a sermon. A visitor asked a woman in the congregation, during the mad scramble to reach Fredgren at the close of the service, if she missed her weekly sermon.
"If all that wasn't a sermon, then I don't know what one is!" she said.
If a sermon was delivered, its message was of celebration, both happy and sad. "As I was driving my car yesterday, I knew I would be with you today," Fredgren said to the crowd during a short rest. "I saw a tree with no leaves on it. It looked so dead. Yet I knew that somewhere deep down in that tree there was life. We go through many seasons like this in our lives. For instance, if we are mourning because we've lost someone we love. Sometimes we have to dig really hard to find life inside us . . . But we are here to celebrate, for God has come to our lives for all seasons."
On Dec. 16 and 17, at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, Fredgren will do a liturgical dance accompanied by Dave Brubeck in "La Fiesta de la Posada," which tells of the Mexican celebration of Christmas.
The Georgetown University School of Continuing Education will offer Fredgren's 10-week course on Gesture and Movement in Worship for non-dancers starting next February.
Liturgical dance is not something new. Dance has prominent in the worship service, particularly during the time of King David, according to a book published by the Liturgical Conference, written by liturgical dancer Carla de Sola of New York City.
"But a living, deep understanding of the religious significance of dance was being lost in the midst of 'development', and so our Western civilization relegated it . . . to a secular activity," wrote de Sola, in "The Spirit Moves."
To Fredgren, "liturgy is the celebration of life."
"We're uses our voices in worship for centuries, which is only one tiny part of the body, the most beautiful gift given to man. It's time for us to use our whole self, not just our vocal cords," she said.
Asked about her response to those who feel that dance has to place in the worship service, she said; "Some people ask, 'Dance on Good Friday?' "That's probably the most meaningful way to bring out the drama. Not only to say the words of his passion and suffering, but to see it added out . . . allows us to make a full response to his situation. His life was very dramatic. Sometimes words are not enough."