I danced in the morning

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth;
at Bethlehem I had my birth.

This is one of a relatively few modern hymns (perhaps more appropriately called a song) which has been taken up widely throughout the Christian Church. It was written in 1963 under the title Lord of the Dance by Sydney Carter (b. 1915). Carter was educated at Christ's Hospital and Balliol College, Oxford, and served in the Friends' Ambulance Unit in the Middle East and Greece during the Second World War. After some teaching he became a freelance writer and broadcaster. He is quoted as saying "nearly everything that I am doing now goes back in one way or another to the time I spent in Greece". The songs of Sydney Carter live a double life. Lord of the Dance is sung like a hymn in church, and in another way in a folk club. Carter describes it as a carol - "a dancing kind of song, the life of which is in the dance as much as in the verbal statement. Carols are often, but not always, seasonal. They can be pagan, Christian, or both".

In his book Green Print for Song (1974), Carter writes as follows: "Scriptures and creeds may come to seem incredible, but faith will still go dancing on. I see Christ as the incarnation of that piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus - in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus."

The words of the hymn take the form of an approachable narrative of Christ's ministry. Dancing for the scribe, the pharisee, for James and John, on the Sabbath, on a Friday, and so on. The story is told with simplicity for all of belief and non-belief to hear and understand.

Tune - Shaker Tune

The tune for I danced in the morning is adapted from an American Shaker tune, Simple Gifts by Joseph Brackett (1797-1882). The Shakers, whose origins were in a 1774 emigrant Manchester Quaker community, kept largely celibate lives. When they met they expressed their joyful assurance of salvation and belief in the imminence of Christ's second coming by singing and dancing. Carter chose this tune to salute the Shakers.

Nigel Day

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 12th August 1997