Rome’s Dueling Dancing Duo

Father David Rider and Father John Gibson dancing at the North American College Rome, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Domenico Stinellis (oh, and that is me Trisha Thomas (aka Mozzarella Mamma) in the background.
Father David Rider and Father John Gibson dancing at the North American College Rome, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Domenico Stinellis (oh, and that is me Trisha Thomas (aka Mozzarella Mamma) in the background.

Father David Rider and Father John Gibson pull up creaky chairs on the wooden stage at the North American College and slide off their black work shoes revealing serious black priests’ socks.  Father David slips his feet into metal tipped dancing shoes while Father John laces up his Irish dancing shoes with fiber glass tips and heels.  Father David looks at AP cameraman Paolo Lucariello and says, “tell us when?”  And just like that they are off — tipping, tapping, stomping, twirling and swirling.  They are having a terrific time.

The dueling dancing feet of Father David Rider and Father John Gibson. Freeze frame of video shot by ApTN cameraman Paolo Lucariello. October 2014
The dueling dancing feet of Father David Rider and Father John Gibson. Freeze frame of video shot by ApTN cameraman Paolo Lucariello. October 2014

They repeat their various routines over and over again as Paolo and AP photographer Domenico Stinellis work their way around the stage getting close ups of their feet, their faces and long shots of them together gleefully jumping in the air.  I slip around the stage trying not to get in the way and enjoying every second of it.

All this was for a story that AP ran this week on this fabulous couple of dancing priests in Rome.  Some of you may have already seen the short AP story but here is my longer version:

They tip, they tap, they stomp and jump and twist and twirl.  They are the dueling dancing priests who have gone viral on the web.  It all started with a show last spring at the Rector’s dinner at the North American College – the elite university for American seminarians in Rome.  Twenty-nine year-old Father David Rider from Hyde Park, New York let loose a fabulous routine of tap-dancing.  But after a few minutes another priest made his way up to the stage, Father John Gibson, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee.  Gibson gave Rider a friendly push aside and launched into a round of energetic Irish dancing, bouncing high in the air.  And then they were off and running, taking turns trying to outdo each other while the crowd went wild.

Joan Lewis, the Rome Bureau Chief for Eternal World Television Network was in the back of the room.  She pulled out her ipad and began to film.  That night she posted it on her youtube site “JoansRome” with the title “A MUST SEE TAP DANCE DUEL BY US SEMINARIANS” As she explained to me the other day at the Vatican—in between briefings on the Synod– the clicks started to fly. “It just kept growing and growing…and it has just grown and grown and I know yesterday it was 240,000, so who knows what it is today, it seems to grow by about 5,000 a day.”  (Note: as of today, October 25th, the hits are over one million.)

But with the clicks came the comments, dozens of them.  Several individuals said that the priests should not be dancing under a crucifix sparking a debate.  The comments have now been removed, but there are still 151 thumbs down compared to over 4,000 thumbs up.  Clearly some people have a problem seeing priests dance under a painting of Pope Francis and a large Crucifix.

Father David Rider spinning around in a dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner
Father David Rider spinning around in a dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

Joan Lewis was unfazed, “The overwhelming majority approve it.  There was a small group, and then they started writing each other, a small group saying “oh my goodness they are dancing under the crucifix…So those comments, I mean, I read them, they are in a minority, and its just like “oh gosh, I kinda feel sorry for ya.”

Father John Gibson jumping high in an Irish dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner
Father John Gibson jumping high in an Irish dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

On a recent morning in Rome, Father David and Father John donned their dancing shoes for a rehearsal at the North American College with Associated Press. Father David had his metal-tipped tap-dancing shoes, and Father John had his fiberglass reinforced tips and heels.   The two of them clipped across the wooden stage in the North American College auditorium as they flew through their routines with energy and passion.  It wasn’t long before they had worked up a sweat in their long black pants and long sleeved black shirts and white collars. Father David told me they would never dance in anything else, “I never dance without my collar on, I always wear these clothes as witness.”

The two men are not quite sure what to make of their newfound fame. “Everyone I talk to nowadays brings up that video, most people are very energetic and enthusiastic about it so it is good to receive that feedback,” said Father John sheepishly, insisting that his real priority in life is becoming a parish priest back in Wisconsin. Father John said he comes from a big Irish family in Milwaukee and it was his sister who first introduced him to the joys of Irish dancing.

Father David Rider's well-worn tap dancing shoes waiting for him to put them on.  Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Lucariello. October, 2014
Father David Rider’s well-worn tap dancing shoes waiting for him to put them on. Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Lucariello. October, 2014

Father David Rider started taking tap dancing lessons when he was three, then when he was a young teen he saw Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” and fell in love with it and decided he wanted to become a tap dancer.   Each young man felt the calling to become a priest in his late teens and decided to make that his top priority, but neither has given up on dancing.

They were both surprised when their dancing duel went viral and were not expecting the negative comments.   “Oh, well some people thought that it is not appropriate for priests to dance,” said Rider, “we would just refer them to the Bible where David dances before the Ark of the Covenant and the Lord tells us to live with joy. This is a great way to express joy.”

Both priests have completed their seminarian course and are busy getting graduate degrees now at other Pontifical Universities in Rome, but they have not given up the dancing.  According to Father David,  “ Because there is not too much precedent for tap dancing priests, I have no one to look to see how this all works out. So really it is all to be discovered.”

Note to Blog Readers: Unfortunately, I cannot attach the AP Television report we did because it is for AP TV clients only, but here is a shortened version  for AP’s on-line video service.

DANCING PRIESTS – AP ONLINE VIDEO VERSION

17 thoughts on “Rome’s Dueling Dancing Duo”

    1. Trisha Thomas

      How funny! I have never heard that expression before– but it makes sense, put people in a good mood and they are bound to be more generous.

  1. Joan Schmelzle

    Hi,
    Another fun story. I’m so glad the link was there. I had tried to watch the dancers on a link probably from “Italian Reflections Today.” But the movement and sound were so out-of-synch it was not enjoyable. Unfortunately the “dislikes” are up to 157 today, but the “likes” are at 4600. And also I now have another site to subscribe to, “Joan’s Rome.” Not sure if that is good or bad since I already follow so many blogs about Italy. I guess I’ll vote for good.
    Thanks again. A presto.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      I think it you are interested in the Catholic Church, you should definitely follow “JoansRome” — she doesn’t miss anything and is very smart and well-versed in all Catholic matters. I just found out AP put out an on-line voiced-over shortened version of my story, so I will put that link on the blog now. Yes, the dislikes keep rising, but the likes always beat them. There are always some gloomy-guses out there.

  2. Joan Schmelzle

    Hi,
    I guess my message disappeared again. And up came address not found. I just wanted to say thanks for a fun article and especially for the link. I had tried to watch them before probably on a link from “Italian Reflections Daily,” but the sound and picture were so out of synch and the movements jerky that I gave up. Very enjoyable. And now, of course, I have found another Italy site to subscribe to–“Joan’s Rome.”
    Thanks for the article, link and new site!
    A presto

  3. Gwen Thomas

    The Whirling Dervishes of the Catholic Church channeling the spirit through their flying feet. Right on!

  4. What a joyful story, except for the part about the cranky judgmental finger pointers. But there will always be those out there, those “thumbs down” or clouds of doom who will always try to block the sunshine.

    This story made me think of the new video/single that came out this week from Italy’s own Sister Cristina, winner of The Voice. Her first single from her new album (to be released next month) is “Like A Virgin!!!” Now it’s sung as a ballad and a line or two are rewritten, but check it out as it is remarkable as you can see that it is practically turned into what could be interpreted as a love song to God.
    https://screen.yahoo.com/virgin-160136697.html

  5. Oh Trisha – Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I had not seen the video that has “gone viral” but I am off to watch it now. I think it’s just wonderful that they’re comfortable doing this, regardless of the cruxifix or portrait of the pope. It shows the love and passion and talent that God has given to human beings, and how they’re capable of spreading joy with those talents.

  6. thanks to Joan and the priests and your blog..this is the kind of PR the Church needs today.. good, human interest stories about genuine, nice priests.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Both Father David Rider and Father John Gibson were truly nice, genuine people. I asked them if they were aiming to become Bishops and Cardinals given that the North American College is considered to be the training ground for future American Cardinals (or leaders of the US church), the both insisted vehemently that they want to be parish priests. I insisted saying “c’mon guys, you can tell me off the record, you really dream of being Cardinals, no?” — Niente, nulla — they said that would just be a hassle, they want to be with people in a parish.

  7. This is a joy to see. It’s joy to see priests exploring the Spirit in other ways than through the mass or doctrines. And it is refreshing to see priests dedicated to the life of the body, too. These guys are so very young, I hope they can find a way to keep this up, and stretch the priesthood into new directions through it. It’s great to see them maintain a part of themselves from their family homes and from their lives before priesthood. In an important way, this post is a comment, as are they, on the Synod on the Family . . .I think Pope Francis would enjoy them in person, very much!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      It is definitely a joy to see, and I would be great for the Pope to see them too. He would love it.

  8. John Patrick

    Catholic News Service calls these two seminarians and not priests, so somebody is wrong.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hi John Patrick, they are no longer seminarians, they are priests. I don’t know when Catholic News Service wrote about them, but perhaps when they did they were still seminarians at the North American College, but now they have both graduated and have been ordained.

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