Reflection Week 3 – Dancing Again

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.

5 thoughts on “Reflection Week 3 – Dancing Again

  1. Hi Lillian – once more your intense presence to your gut and the world around you touched me. And your longing for the dance that matches who you are took me to my sister Terry. Terry is now a woman of 70. As her older sister I watched her desire to dance in the worst way from the time she was a toddler on. It was not something that was allowed in our family and she never got the chance. As a mature adult and after 3 bouts of cancer she discovered belly dancing. It spoke to her and in fact, a few years ago she went to a little village in Turkey where they teach a form of belly dancing. She dances all the time now! I imagine you discovering “your dance” as well. Diane

  2. Seek the peace that make your heart dance. I think you are right in this time of the “great pause” it was a chance to see what our souls needed. We are not meant to go back to “the way things were”. That was not good in so many ways. Forward we go…dancing.

  3. The community around you sounds oppressive. I grew up in a place that has some similarities to what you describe, and I would find it difficult if I was there now.

    The joy of your post is bringing back dancing, something from an earlier part of life which has opened up a space for expressing your relationship with God! As I read your writing and feel with your post, I imagine what I would do in your shoes. I imagine being as creative as a child in resisting the negativity around me. I imagine creating my own worlds–in my head, my journal, a corner of my room.

    What strengths from your child-self can you call upon? Where do you create sanctuary?

    I also call upon Christ to do powerful signs of resurrection in your presence to strengthen your trust in him as you journey into your new ministry.

    11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

    14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

    16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. [Luke 7:11-14]

    1. Honestly, I didn’t have much of a childhood. My parents were emotionally abusive and I was bullied a lot by my peers for being precocious and non-gender-conforming; all my child-self ever wanted to do was grow up and get out of there. I’ve been searching for sanctuary my whole life and the closest thing I’ve found so far is the local Episcopal church I started going to a month before COVID shut everything down. I hope the warmth of the community I’ve experienced from a few services, a few book club meetings, and several Zoom discussions is real, but it’s hard for me to trust anyone. I appreciate your prayers because I sure could use some resurrection.

  4. Lillian, I wanted to offer this quote from Henri Nouwen: “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. Seems you are in an un-safe space and I hope that makes it easier for you to move forward. I believe that everyone in heaven is dancing and we need to dance much more on this earth. I am sure you will find your new “dance” if you follow your heart and know the love of the Spirit is with you on this journey.

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