At 56, It’s Time to Dance

I was raised to believe God disapproved of dancing.

When I was 10-years-old, if I was sure no one was around, I danced in a narrow hallway of our small house, in front of the full-length mirror attached to the bathroom door. The moves were from dancers on American Bandstand and Soul Train, me grooving to The Four Tops, Edwin Starr, and Al Green. I loved to move and gyrate, and thought I was pretty good, but I never showed anyone what I could do. Occasionally, I’d bust a move if I needed a laugh. My family always laughed. Whatever touch of delight there might have been in the laughter was overrun by a mockery that could quickly morph into frank put-down. I had no Internet to tell me the world was dancing while I stood watching.

It made no sense to me that God didn’t like people to dance — it just seemed so joyful — but I knew it had something to do with boys and girls and sex. Over the years, that made a certain sense to me, so I went along. Rebellion was not my strong suit.

Fast forward forty-six years, and find me standing in a dance studio on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where Karin Stevens, a dancer with her own company whose vision of dance informs all aspects of her life, is about to lead a half-dozen of us through an hour-long session of movement connecting our inner eye with the experience of our bodies in space. As gentle, pulsing music plays, Karin’s voice and movement expertly nudges us along, encouraging us to breathe with a particular awareness of receiving and giving back, paying attention to the energies swirling into us and away from us as we move and stop, move and stop. Quiet mind settles in as we explore straight lines of movement, then curves, then zigzags, and then the swirling turns that come as we mix each of those ideas freely. Conversations between knees and elbows, hands and feet, and heads and hips rapidly become normalized as Karin coaxes us into allowing our right and left sides to pass movements back and forth, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in counterpoint. Soon impulses are ricocheting from bone to muscle and back, and all sides of the body seem like fronts.

For me, it’s flying.

I’ve been a theatre artist for over thirty-five years, and I have always been drawn to the truth and beauty of the body in space. The long and short of the swirling lines spinning away from dancers, the live emotional tensions playing across faces and shoulders of actors, and the collective held-breath of an audience — all these thrill me, and always have. I often say we tell good acting from bad acting by means of the body, that there is something not quite right in a body not fully present with the intentions, the actions, and the character’s emotional releases. The presence of a human body alive, performing in a space where others watch, often riveted by the incarnation of a thought, an emotion, a relationship, or a danger, is one of the great treasures of human experience. To be that performing body is to be caught up in a transformative something full of both terror and wonder, and at its best, all flow, near flying.

As my friends will tell you, I over-think everything. In Karin’s dance class, I find respite and escape. I do not think. I follow impulses of thought and body, watch them dance together, and make no judgments of quality. For that hour, I move without stopping, alert, alive, free in some way that I usually am not. I leap, cavort, whirl, tap, stomp, carve, slow into stillness, fall to the ground, twist and press and float, and throughout, I’m allowed to make those long curving lines with which I’ve always been in love.

Some think religion — the chasing after and following of God in both theory and behavior — begins in the dance. I don’t know about that, but it’s all there. Mindfulness, awareness, tension, pursuit, desire, balance, work, and rest. Emotions fully present — I haven’t laughed or wept during the dancing, but there are always moments when both surge in me — intellect at rest, spirit and soul on walkabout. If prayer is being fully present with the mystery, then that hour counts. Every time.

Is there danger in the dance? Sure. Beauty always carries a bit of danger along, seeing as how far it’s traveled to find you. It’s the same with all Beauty’s forms — relationship, sexuality, art, mathematics, story — all have their perils if you follow them. But some theologians say Beauty is the very call of the Divine, a call that woos you out over an abyss that is the precise place God means you to find Him. And there you’re likely to find yourself as well, that self that is the whole of you, the mature expression of the you lying deep in the seed of your conception all those years ago.

Does God disapprove of dancing? It’s a muddled question, at best. Dance is in large part who we are. It’s what we do in celebration, in grief, in storytelling, and in seduction. For all our uglinesses — think war, abuse, and injustices across all domains of human action — I’m convinced God is for us, and dances alongside. For my part, I will dance, and do my best to dance well, with quiet mind, full energy employed, as search and respite, expression and prayer.

The class comes to rest on our backs, and as we slow our breathing, we are encouraged to go forth and live fully, in awareness of this deeper connection with ourselves and with each other. We quietly negotiate the exit, not quite sure how to carry the dance onto the street, back to our lives. But we are flush with an eagerness to try.

I embrace a friend taking the class, say goodbye, and head off down the sloping sidewalk toward my car. The cool air knifes into me, and I’m aware of its swirling, its dance. I open the car door, and laugh, and figure God’s laughing along, joyful, so pleased dancing’s caught my attention again. The ache is that I think God meant it for me all along.

It’s time to dance.


Find me at jeffberryman.com

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