Black Girls Are Dancing to Reclaim Their Sacred Worth | Sojourners

Black Girls Are Dancing to Reclaim Their Sacred Worth

Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter dancing during her mom’s Renaissance Tour in 2023. Credit: BANG Showbiz via Reuters Connect.

My “For You” page is dancing again. Coming off the release of Beyoncé’s country album, Cowboy Carter, the TikTokers have taken center screen and are imitating line dances in celebration of her new sound. Sheepishly, I have been attempting to join in. I don’t dance. Or I should say I do not dance well. I’ve never been classically trained, I’ve got two left feet, and I still have to silently mutter the steps to the electric slide to stay on beat. I’ve consistently struggled to find my rhythm, but I dance anyway.

Dance has long served as a form of spiritual reckoning, a way to connect with the Divine. Yvonne Daniel, Smith College professor emerita of dance and Afro-American studies, knows this to be true. In her book, Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé, Daniel describes dance as a form of embodied knowledge. In the context of ritual ceremonies conducted by Haitians, Cubans, and Bahians, she remarks that, “dancing bodies accumulate spirit, display power, and enact as well as disseminate knowledge. Worshipping performers reenact what they have learned, what they have been told, what they feel, and what they imagine. They re-present feelings, ideas, understandings, and knowledges.”

Dancing is not only limited to Afro-Caribbean ancestral traditions. Dancing also plays a major role in the Black church tradition. Khalia J. Williams, associate professor in the practice of worship at Candler School of Theology, describes the liturgical dance presence in the Black church as a form of “embodied worship.” This embodied worship “creates space for the freedom of bodily engagement—brings the physicality of the body into the center of worship and does not ignore the diverse lived experiences that enter into worship in and through the gathered bodies.”

I’ve never attended a ritual ceremony in the Caribbean and my lack of rhythm prevents me from gracing a liturgical dance routine at church. The place where I’ve found both embodied knowledge and embodied worship is in a seemingly more secular space: the concert stage.

Currently, TikTok dancers are donning cowboy hats and Wrangler boots, but not too long ago they were replicating the various outfits and dance routines of a famous child. During Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour in 2023, it was the recurring performance of an eleven-year-old Black girl that caught the world’s attention.

Coming out to the song, “My Power,” Blue Ivy Carter rose from the underground onto the stage and awaited her cue: “This my bloodline / on the frontline / ready for war, go Blue!” With those lyrics, she broke into her choreographed dance routine.

Black girls across the nation were enthralled by her performance as she danced to the lyrics “They will never take my power / My power / My power.” They took her lead and engaged in their own form of collective dance, embodied joy, and the simple celebration of being a Black girl “out loud” in the digital realm.

My womanist sensibilities draw me toward the dance performances of Black women like Beyoncé, but I am also interested in including Black girls in womanist discourse. Routinely, womanist epistemologies have spoken of the experiences of “Black women and girls” collectively, mostly reserving mention of Black girls as an entryway for discussions of Black womanhood. Womanists must interrogate how the current model of womanism tends to ignore the well-being and authority of Black girls. Blue Ivy’s dance is a source of theological reflection. Blue Ivy’s performance becomes a moment of triumph and redemption for Black girls and affirms their sacredness and worth in these three illuminating ways.

1. From marginalization to magnification

Historically, Black girls have faced public scrutiny in the form of “adultification” and constant harassment. In describing the maltreatment of Black girls within the school system, Monique W. Morris, social justice scholar and author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, writes that “Black girls are likened more to adults than to children and are treated as if they are willfully engaging in behaviors typically expected of Black women—sexual involvement, parenting or primary caregiving, workforce participation, and other adult behaviors and responsibilities. This compression is a reflection of deeply entrenched biases that have stripped Black girls of their childhood freedoms.”

Blue Ivy’s dance allows her to reclaim her bodily autonomy and invites people to see her and other Black girls as children of God. As Daniel names it, “dancing and music-making were linked to both survival and salvation.” In ritual ceremonies, dance and music is needed in order to “save and protect [ritual participants’] individual spirits, their dignity as humans, and their sense of a cosmic family.” Essentially, they danced to retain, and they danced to survive. Blue Ivy dances to persevere.

2. Black girls dance on social media

Black girls have also been the subject of digital scrutiny — specifically over-sexualization in the digital sphere. Safiya Umoja Noble, professor of gender studies and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains in Algorithms of Oppression that the issue of Black girls being associated with pornographic images on popular search engines is partially due to advertising. Black girls have been “hypersexualized” on the internet and social media. Noble’s research shows that the over-sexualization of Black girls is driven by three factors: Google AdWords (now known as Google Ads), where advertisers pay to have their sexual content show up alongside keywords; the lack of Black computer programmers who would be the most adept at screeningfor these oppressive algorithms; and the racial stereotyping that is embedded into search engines like Google.

Black girls are attempting to combat these dominant algorithms by flooding social media feeds with positive representations of Black girlhood. Blue Ivy’s dance is but one example.

Aria S. Halliday, a University of Kentucky scholar focusing on Black studies, women and gender studies, and Black girlhood, refers to viral phenomena like the one Carter has started as a “Black girl dancing cipher.” Simply put, this is when there are “multiple Black girls dancing together, encouraging each other, complimenting each other’s movement, laughing, and celebrating successful new moves.” Blue Ivy’s dancing cipher holds serious implications for the digital sphere, but also serves as a testament to the role that the digital sphere can play in either rejecting or affirming the sacredness and humanity of Black girls.

3. (Divine) dancing is for everyone

Blue Ivy’s performances have gone viral on TikTok, to the extent that hundreds of users are doing her dance routine. She has established that dancing wisdom is for everyone, regardless of talent or ability. The community Black girls have built within TikTok becomes comparable to a physical community, where rituals and embodied wisdom are both widely available and foster a unique sense of digital community amongst folks who do not have community otherwise.

Laura Griffiths, senior lecturer at the Leeds School of Arts, writes that TikTok is an accessible and effective way for everyday people to practice and master dance moves. This virtual space becomes one not of competition, but rather communal interaction focused on collective solidarity. Social media can affirm people’s sense of belonging and foster a kinship amongst a community — specifically Black girls — that has been marginalized. Dance becomes a collective endeavor, not simply an individual pursuit.

So, I may not be the first one to run onto the dance floor, I may never perform on Easter Sunday, and I probably won’t be on a concert stage anytime soon. But Blue Ivy has given me the permission to dance anyway — in the kitchen, in the bathroom, on TikTok. She has given me permission to recognize the sacredness of my own divine body and marvel at my embodied wisdom.