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Words & Music by Sydney Carter

We are always being asked about Sydney Carter’s Lord of the Dance, so here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions, as well as a few other facts you might not have known.

  • Lord of the Dance was composed in 1963 – many people believe it’s old because it’s a hymn they sang at school.
  • No, Mr Flatley it’s not Celtic!
  • Sydney was born on 6th May 1915 and died on 13th March 2004.
  • The tune is an adaptation of the Shaker tune Simple Gifts, but is accepted and acknowledged as a separate copyright in its own right
  • It’s not ‘Traditional’ – it is fully copyright throughout the world, and as such, permission should be requested for reproduction on websites and in order of services etc. Stainer & Bell Ltd (the host of this page) are the copyright owners and to whom requests should be sent. For the USA, and Canada however, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188 (e-mail administer the copyright on our behalf
  • The so called ‘Pagan version’ is simply a rip-off and parody of the song and has obviously never been authorised
  • In recent statistics from CCLI, Lord of the Dance was found to be the fifth most sung copyright song in school assemblies in the UK. (Sydney’s One More Step came first and When I needed a Neighbour was the seventh most performed)
  • Sydney described it as a carol – ‘a dancing kind of song, the life of which is in the dance as much as in the verbal statement’

Here is the definitive authorised version of the words:

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.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John –
They came with me
And the Dance went on.


I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.


I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black –
It’s hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.


They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you
If you’ll live in me –
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.


Copyright 1963 Stainer & Bell Ltd. London, England

Sydney Carter wrote…

“I see Christ as the incarnation of the 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 of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

The Shakers didn’t. This sect flourished in the United States in the nineteenth century, but the first Shakers came from Manchester in England, where they were sometimes called the “Shaking Quakers”. They hived off to America in 1774, under the leadership of Mother Anne. They established celibate communities – men at one end, women at the other; though they met for work and worship. Dancing, for them, was a spiritual activity. They also made furniture of a functional, lyrical simplicity. Even the cloaks and bonnets that the women wore were distinctly stylish, in a sober and forbidding way.

Their hymns were odd, but sometimes of great beauty: from one of these (Simple Gifts) I adapted this melody. I could have written another for the words of ‘Lord of the Dance’ (some people have), but this was so appropriate that it seemed a waste of time to do so. Also, I wanted to salute the Shakers.

Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. I dance in the morning when the world is begun‘. It’s worth a try”.

From Green Print for Song, Stainer & Bell (1974)
and Lord of the Dance and other Songs and Poems, Stainer & Bell (2002)

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