Friday, January 25, 2013


I decided something this week. As you know I like to dance. A lot. I don't do it so people can watch me, I don't do it to get attention. That's not to say I don't like attention. Of course it's nice when people appreciate your moves, or at least your guts. But seriously, I would be just as happy dancing in a corner, or in the dark where nobody can see me. In fact I often do just that. It's about the music, and being in it, really in it. But sometimes there's no music. Sometimes it's about how I'm feeling, and sometimes, it's about God.

dancing in a play age 12
I have about three very clear memories of dancing in public as a child. It always followed the same pattern - I just started moving to the music, I couldn't help it, my feet were going crazy, then people started to turn and pay attention, then they were pulling me up onto the stage, or out into the front, and people were snapping pictures or videos and smiling and asking me if I took lessons, or was "a professional." No, I'm not a professional, I'm just a kid who likes to dance. Why are you all looking at me? 

"We know we're gorgeous" - Triona and I at Peppermint Ball
But those moments were few and far between. My dad was raised Baptist - strict baptist. He taught me (or at least so I understood) that there was two kinds of dancing. The first was the "vertical expression of a horizontal desire" A.K.A. couples dancing A.K.A. the "lust of the flesh." The second was the kind that was inspired by "the pride of life" and meant to inspire "the lust of the eyes" A.K.A. people dancing to get other people's attention. Both of those led to trouble. What other kind was there? Oh yes, what David did when he was praising God in the streets, that made his wife Michal despise him. Obviously, that wasn't anything to emulate if it made him look stupid. The conclusion was that dancing, if not actually a sin was...better avoided. 

Girls being girls - my sister, my niece, and I
That viewpoint became harder and harder to hold onto the more I was exposed to the world.  First of all, my mother, as a teen, danced ballet and taught lessons. He married her. His sister was a professional ballerina. He was proud of her. Why did Dad seem to be ok with tap dancing and Riverdance? Why did my parents take me to ballets and musicals? My Christian drama group threw a dance into one of our plays. My sister taught me about the origins of bellydance - originally it was just a bunch of ladies gathering in a house having fun - no men allowed. Folk dancing, swing dancing, square dancing, "interpretive movement teams," moshing at rock concerts - there was all kinds of dancing, for all kinds of reasons - and I started trying it all. And then the clincher. My dad and I both got roped to a musical production (it's a long story) The Pirates of Penzance. And there was my own father on the stage, trying to keep in step with a dozen other senior gentlemen in the "singing policemen" number. That obviously didn't fall into the "lust of the flesh" or "pride of life" categories.

swing dancing - a favorite social outlet
Then there was my friend Kara that I met in college. She was a senior when I was a freshman, and I really looked up to her. She was so passionate about God and so down to earth, and sort of took me under her wing. She had this part in a play. I'll never forget. It was a very serious, adult play, and she played this girl who was "different." Maybe autistic, it was hard to tell, but mostly she just sat and stared, and made cryptic statements. When you asked her a question, about an hour later, she might give you an answer. But when everyone else was gone, she would stand up, and completely silently, start to move and twirl in the most lyrical, graceful way. Never when anyone was around, and no music to be heard. That etched a deep impression in my 15-year-old brain. Why in the world was SHE dancing? But I knew. I couldn't explain it, but I got it.

 Not long after that, I went to a Pentecostal church and there were these smiling ladies in bright, flowy satin with scarves and tambourines, flouncing up and down the aisles. When I first saw that, I judged those ladies very harshly. They would dare pretend to praise the Lord when they were so obviously just showing off? While my worldview had broadened enough to accept that maybe people could dance just for fun without it being sexual, the idea of making it spiritual felt like people trying to justify doing what they wanted to do anyway.

Don't have to worry about being "spiritual" teaching kids about God
I remember the point at which the weight of trying to separate soul from spirit, the human from the divine, was so heavy on me that it snapped. It's hard to explain the baggage in my past that made it so important to me to sort every human experience into either God's will or man's, so necessary to categorize every decision made by myself and by the people around me as being either Spirit-led, or wrong. In the churches I grew up in, it was "use your spirit, follow your spirit, are you in your spirit, or are you in your mind?" But the problem with that is that my spirit is not the Spirit - it's only the container. And so are the soul and the body. Focusing on any of them, worrying and choosing between them, is just fragmenting what God created to be whole. God showed me the human and the divine is sometimes so mixed up you can't separate them, and it's not my job to. My job is to focus on Him, love Him, follow Him, and just live. 

So how does that connect to dancing? And if you remember, I said at the beginning of this, I decided something. That's what I'm leading up to. The impulse to dance can come out of the body (from an abundance of energy, or from lust); out of the soul (self-expression, aesthetics, intense emotion, communication), or out of the spirit. I believe a dance can be a sacred prayer. Sometimes it is the only way to let out something that is in you so deep that you don't even understand what it is. I have experienced all of the above. And what I decided was simply, that dancing has a place and needs to remain in it. 

Getting crazy at Ground Zero
There are a few instances lately that I let myself cross a line. For all my self-righteous defenses, at that Feist concert, I was A. making a spectacle of myself, and B. distracting myself. Intentions aside, I didn't need to do that. I could have done without the pleasure of being that free at that moment. I got so absorbed within myself I wasn't as fully present as I could have been if I'd just stood there and listened. Next time I won't feel so compelled. 

And then there was a recent friend's wedding. I get nervous at places where I don't know people, and dancing is a way to let out that kinetic energy. But that's not justification for hopping about like a jumping bean alone on the dance floor...that was just being a spectacle. It didn't matter that I wasn't trying to show off. It wasn't being sensitive to the bride and groom. Me having the pleasure of dancing wasn't worth being an embarrassment and distraction to the people there. I'll know better next time.

 I had an experience last Sunday which got me thinking about all of this. It was an honest expression of joy in the Lord in a place where that may not be typical but isn't condemned. That was a beautiful moment. But of course someone commented on my dancing and says "You should do that every week!" This was the first time I'd allowed myself that freedom, for fear of being an object of scorn, and at first I was like "hooray, so I can dance whenever I feel like it now!" But no. Maybe it's God instilling in me a sense of modesty. There's no pressing reason for me to risk taking anyone's focus away from God just to exercise my personal right to free expression. And unless the Spirit moves me in a very profound way once again, that's all it would be the second time around. Maybe it would be easy for someone else to "not take him literally" but for me, it was a breakthrough, if a small one.

So there's the story. I hope there was something edifying or at least entertaining about it. I like to think my writing actually has a purpose.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...