HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN DANCE
FELLOWSHIP OF AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
In January 1988, fifteen New Zealand Christian dancers attended an International Dance and Movement Conference held in Bathurst, New South Wales, hosted by the Christian Dance Fellowship of Australia. Over four hundred teachers and delegates gathered there to share their faith and interest in dance and the movement arts with a richness of worshipping together.
Having experienced the many benefits that come from bringing together movement artists of diverse training, dance forms, skills, different denominations, nations and races, the New Zealand delegates recognized the need for a Christian Dance Fellowship in New Zealand. Therefore, on the last day of Conference a Working Committee was set up to begin looking at the formation of a fellowship in New Zealand. Once they had returned to their separate homes, a time of prayer and action began - seeking the Lord for His guidance as to the timing and other key questions; planning, discarding, re-planning, letter-writing, phone calls, visits – until, little by little, everything fell into place.
In November 1988, it was arranged that a meeting be called in Auckland immediately after a National Worship Conference in order to capitalize on the presence there of dancers from many regions and denominations in New Zealand. By this time, two strong regional fellowships had been formed, one in Southland and one in Auckland. Great interest was shown by dancers in other regions, and by the time of the Inaugural Meeting there were already many people excited at the prospect of a national body.
Mrs. Mary Jones of Sydney, Australia, was invited to attend the meeting and, because of her skills and experience gained both internationally and as the National Coordinator of the Christian Dance Fellowship of Australia, she was well equipped to assist the Interim Committee. A constitution was drawn up and at 2.00pm, 5 November 1988, after a “pregnancy” of 10 months, 24 people met to form the Christian Dance Fellowship of New Zealand. A National Coordinator and a four-member National Committee were elected by the meeting and the Constitution was adopted. Thus, the birth of CDFNZ took place.
The Fellowship later became an incorporated society, pursuant to the Incorporated Societies Act 1908. CDFNZ Inc then grew, flourished, and reached a membership of approximately 400; but then gradually diminished in membership numbers and activities, until, in 2004, CDFNZ was pronounced as inactive.
Some twelve years later in April 2016, a new meeting was held in Hanmer Springs, North Canterbury to re-ignite the Christian Dance Fellowship of New Zealand. A new formation committee gathered together and a new National Coordinator was appointed. Efforts were made to contact previous members of CDFNZ and with the help of the previous CDFNZ National Secretary archive records were found. A new name was then adopted to reflect a move forward in the fellowship, ICDFANZ (International Christian Dance Fellowship of Aotearoa New Zealand). ICDFANZ is now a growing fellowship with members from many Christian denominations and creative arts practices throughout New Zealand.
CDFNZ dancer performing in the 1990's
Opening processional at the inaugural CDFNZ national conference in 1990.
Dr. Debbie Bright at the inaugural CDFNZ national conference in 1990.
PIONEERS OF CHRISTIAN DANCE IN
AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
Shona Dunlop-MacTavish MBE (1920 – 2019)
Shona Dunlop-MacTavish, born in 1920 in Dunedin, New Zealand and died June 18, 2019, at the age of 99. New Zealand's 'Mother of Modern Dance' she also made an important contribution to Christian dance in New Zealand and internationally both as a teacher and choreographer.
At the age of 15 in 1935 she sailed with her family to Europe. She stayed and studied expressive dance in Vienna with Madam Gertrud Bodenwieser for two years when Hitler invaded Austria. In 1938 she left with the company to tour Colombia and South America. It was too dangerous to return to Europe with M. Bodenwieser being Jewish so Shona suggested New Zealand where they were able to organize a visa. After 10 months touring Colombia they moved to Sydney in 1939 to join other members of the company who had found work there. M. Bodenwieser established a studio in the city where later Jacob Bloch, another European Jewish immigrant, set up his famous dance shoe company. She then set up the first modern dance company in Australia, with her repertoire of Vienna waltzes and some major dances on both topical and religious subjects. In one of the longer dances, Cain and Abel, Shona danced the demanding part of Cain. She danced the lead in other major ‘message’ ballets as well as a solo choreography on the life of Joan of Arc. When not dancing, she helped M. Bodenwieser in teaching and also set up a dance school of her own.
Shona left the company in 1948 to marry Donald MacTavish, a Canadian Scottish missionary on his way to China. When the Communists took over China in 1949 they had to leave. On their way to a new posting in South Africa they were able to stop in Sydney where they saw Bodenwieser for the last time. Margaret Chappel and Keith Bain, two of the Company’s first Australian dancers, set up the Bodenwieser Dance Studio in Sydney after M. Bodenwieser died in 1959. In the 1980s dancers from CDFA (Christian Dance Fellowship Australia) took classes there.
Donald MacTavish had been appointed as Chaplain of Lovedale Missionary Institute which was situated between Grahamstown and East London and had 7 schools operating as part of it. Finding herself in apartheid South Africa, Shona did what she could to fight against the prejudices of that system while bringing up their three small children. She taught classes for African women and children. She found they didn’t respond to the discipline of technique but loved spontaneous dance. The Bible classes she taught were transformed when she started using movement to explore the stories. She also started dance classes for the European children and then proceeded to include both African and European children in the same concert – an unheard of event. At their manse all races were welcome.
Tragically Donald died in 1955 after five years at Lovedale. Heartbroken, Shona packed up and returned to New Zealand with her three young children where she started choreographing both sacred and secular dances, opening up a dance studio in 1958 and setting up New Zealand’s first contemporary dance company, Dunedin Dance Theatre, in 1963. She became a well-known teacher and choreographer into her 80s when a documentary was made about her life. During those years she travelled extensively teaching dance and lecturing at conferences and theological colleges. She was Visiting Professor of Sacred Dance at Silliman University in the Philippines from 1972-73. In 1985, she was awarded an MBE and, in 2002, an honorary Doctor of Literature degree by the University of Otago. Two films were made of her life, Out Into the Blue and Wind Dancer.
In summarizing her life in dance she wrote: “I have danced in many countries and many strange venues. In bull arenas, hospitals, theatres, prisons, city squares, gypsy caves, vast cathedrals and tiny chapels, at prestigious conferences, with isolated tribal people, and on-board ships. I have danced at by the shores of Lake Galilee and the gates of Damascus. I have danced for celebration and I have danced for revolution.
CDFA (Christian Dance Fellowship of Australia) invited her to be guest teacher at their first conference in January 1980. She writes: “The Christian Dance Fellowship movement now operating in almost a dozen countries, owes its existence almost entirely to the drive and enthusiasm of one woman, Mary Jones. Because of the work in religious dance I had begun in New Zealand, I was invited in 1980 to be guest teacher at the first Christian Dance Conference being held at Abbotsleigh Girls’ School, Sydney – the same school where I had been assistant to Gertrud Bodenwieser thirty years before.”
The first ICDF Conference was held in 1988 in Bathurst, New South Wales. Membership had greatly increased and Mary Jones, having travelled far to promote her vision, had assembled an impressive number of dancers, authors, historians and theologians, even including dancing women pastors. Actors and mime artists also participated.
The New Zealand Christian Dance Fellowship was formed on this occasion by Rosalyn Smaill and David Haddy shortly after the first ICDF Conference in 1988. Shona said, “ I found some kindred spirits at these conferences with whom I have continued a warm relationship.” - Shona was a teacher at this conference where ICDFANZ (then known as CDFNZ) was formed and also at the first ICDF conference in Jerusalem in 1991.
In the 1985 New Year Honours, Dunlop MacTavish was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to the arts. In 2001, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree by the University of Otago. In 2017, she was made an honorary member of Dance Aotearoa New Zealand.
Thank you Shona. May you enjoy dancing in worship around the throne.
Dunlop MacTavish, Shona: Lord of the Dance, Be Jubilant my Feet (1975)
Dunlop MacTavish, Shona: An Ecstasy of Purpose. The Life and Art of Gertrud Bodenwieser. Dunedin, 1987
Dunlop MacTavish, Shona Leap of faith: my dance through life. Longacre Press, Dunedin, 1997