I have always loved to dance. I have never been able to dance as much as I’d like, but I have plunged into many kinds of dance, from Ballet to Jazz, from Lindy Hop to Fox Trot, from Highland to Samba. Dance fills me with energy and joy and connection–to music, to my body, to other bodies. One thing I’ve never associated with dance is fear, except when I was required to wear tight costumes that leave nothing of my stocky build to the imagination. So I was intrigued and challenged when one of the discussion questions mentioned “dancing with the fear.”
I started taking dance lessons again last year, after more than a decade’s hiatus. Since becoming a mother 12 years ago, I’ve been barely treading water in an ocean of fear–fear that I was failing at my vocation, fear of going broke, fear of not being able to get my child with special needs the resources she needs to thrive, fear that I had lost myself and would never find rest and happiness again. As my kids get older and other things in my life have stabilized, I can feel the sand under my feet now, trust I won’t drown, and I am slowly walking towards the shore. Part of getting my feet under me was deciding to start dancing again, not just living vicariously through my daughter who dances several hours a week.
When COVID hit, the dance classes stopped, but so did many of the waves of fear that were still crashing around me. With my kids learning at home, I no longer feared what the teachers and priests at their Catholic school might be telling them to bind them up in shame and misinformation. I no longer worried about my daughter anxiously picking her fingers until they bled instead of being able to pay attention in classes and learn. I no longer agonized about the terrible homilies given by my parish’s priests, or the spiritual bullies running parish study groups. I no longer feared being stalked by the Catholic writer and Machiavellian culture warrior, Austin Ruse, not only on social media (through spies, since I’d long ago blocked him) but also in person as I tried to find a local parish where I could go to daily Masses that would give me more spiritual nourishment than fear or anger. Life retreated into the relative safety of the walls of my home, where I could choose whatever sources of liturgy and study I wanted for myself, and monitor and supplement what the school was giving to my children. For all the turmoil in the world right now, I have had three months of unprecedented peace.
But now things are beginning to open up again. This week my kids’ dance studios announced their imminent reopening after months of operating via Zoom. The dread begins to well up in me again about my kids going back to Catholic school at the end of summer. I ran into local Catholic bullies on Facebook yesterday, demanding “swift apologies” from the teenagers and local elected official who organized a black lives matter march in our community that concluded with a peaceful speech and 9 minutes of silence for George Floyd in the church parking lot. “How DARE they plan to use this space without asking permission from the pastor first?!?” (I’m sure the organizers thought their First Amendment rights meant something there because part of the parking lot is designated for commuter parking for public busses.) When I tried to counter their narrative with photos of what actually happened, they doubled down with self-righteous and fabricated accusations. How can I drop my children off in good conscience in that same parking lot again in six weeks? Why am I being forced to dance with a fear that arises not from nerves or uncertainty, but from neighbors full of prejudice and malice?
This week has shifted the feelings in my gut from a peace that passes understanding in a time of outward turmoil, to knots of dread, anger, and soul sickness. I can’t see any good coming from staying at this dance. Like my shift from ballet and other classical dance forms to social and ethnic dancing–I can’t stay in a place where I’m dismissed, excluded, and ridiculed because of the shape of my body that I was born with. It’s not healthy to do violence to my nature to try to fit in. There are other types of dance that are more egalitarian and collaborative and forgiving. I shouldn’t stop dancing–I’ve seen how my body and spirit atrophies when I do. But I need to engage in the type of dance that makes me healthy and joyful. Dancing with wolves isn’t for me. The Spirit and my gut tell me so, and I need to listen.