A Dance Worth Learning: Of Swing Dancing & Faith

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The lights go down and the music begins, loud, quick, and perky. I stand on the side in my pretty dress, waiting, hoping for someone — anyone, mostly, though hopefully one who can lead me well and make good conversation — to ask me to dance with him.

Soon enough, he sweeps me up with his expected request, “Would you like to dance?” He reaches out one arm for me to take and we find a spot on the crowded dance floor. His hand goes to my waist, mine to his shoulder, our other hands intertwined.

“I’m Elizabeth,” I say and he introduces himself, too. We talk a bit, but mostly we just dance. He leads me beautifully, giving me grace I never knew I had.

“Ugh, sorry, I’m not very good at this,” I explain, embarrassed, when I falter.

“It’s OK. Don’t apologize.” He smiles to assure me it’s alright.

Feel don’t think. Release don’t controlGive don’t hold back.

I remember and begin again, feeling, releasing, giving, and suddenly I’m floating on musical air, moving in ways I never thought possible for any person, let alone graceless, awkward, and uncoordinated old me.

The song ends and he dips me. I let my body fall to the side he leads it, resting in the sole control of his strength. It is scary and exhilarating. That dance is finished. We thank each other and part ways, the smiles still living on both our faces as we look for new partners.

 

To tell you the truth, dancing scares me more than a lot of things. It’s something I’ve been around my whole life, and because of that, I have this built-in shame from all the memories of getting it wrong. It’s like I don’t remember a time when I ever got it right in the realm of moving my limbs to music.

And so it’s hard for me now, at twenty even, past the childhood years and teenage awkwardness. My memories haunt me in the church halls, the classrooms, and the theatre floor, as if they were happening all over again. Sometimes I can’t take it anymore. I can only move to the music for so long before I have to go relax or even cry.

I was never able to explain it till this April, when these fears really began to meet in conflict with the need to dance and the need to be. In tears, I began to explain to others and to myself. But it still felt like it was too late. The dance call had come and I’d done as poorly as ever, yet I knew it wasn’t just that. Beneath it all, there was a river of tears and I let them out, agonizing forever over the strange pain I felt. The movement I’d been forced to distribute had caused this unquenchable pain, I was sure. From then on, I vowed never to do what I couldn’t, never to move to the music and ignite this pain again.

Because this shame and pain and utter exhaustion would always be there, whether in the church halls, the classrooms, or the theatre floor. And the pain, I decided was just not worth it. 

 

I don’t remember how it started — probably with a text from my friend, Holly. She asked do you want to go swing dancing and I thought about it for a while and decided Sure, I’ll go make a fool of myself because it was sort of fun when I went before. I took a risk and gave up my vow in part. “This is different,” I decided.

I wasn’t good right away, but I found that I wasn’t entirely bad either. I still had trouble with the same old things — coordination, rhythm, remembering what to do, and getting so nervous I forgot the steps.

But I began to find comfort in the fact that I was a follow, and if I could depend on my lead, everything would be alright. Some leads swept me off my feet and I felt as if I were flying through galaxies and worlds of jeweled sunsets, and flowing waterfalls.

I began to feel more than I thought. A slow release occurred as I let go of bits and pieces of my beloved control. And I started to give openly and with courage.

 

Some days, I feel like I’m losing hard battles. My head becomes a maze, and beyond the joys and beauty of life, I feel tight and hard.

I’ve realized that I have this mountain size need for control. I don’t know where it came from, yet I’ve come to see where it is leading me and it is a place of more restlessness and battles and discomfort.

It is not worth the shame and pain, I’ve learned.

 

“You dance gracefully,” he said before bowing and departing after our song had finished.

I almost laughed in his face. Instead, I stuffed my laughter with a smile and a gracious, “Thank you.” Another boy asked me to dance and as we did, I pondered the last leader’s words and my heart soared.

When you hear something, whether good or bad, you begin to believe at least part of it. And this was the summer I began to believe that peaceful living is a dance that I can learn, a beat that I can swing to, a rhythm that I can find. Because even though my heart filled with shame in every church hall, classroom, and theatre when the music began and the dancing started, when the lights went down in the dance hall, I could only feel a very peaceful kind of joy that held room for more.

And faith is a dance, too. One I’d like to fall more and more in step with everyday.

 

This summer, I’ve realized that I like to lead way too much. And I’m really not very good at it. Well, not at the kind of leading I try to do. The control I try to take. The unnecessary worries, and big, unneeded plans.

“If you want to lead, that’s fine but go to the other side,” a dance instructor said to the follows at the last lesson.

I’ve been trying to lead from my follow’s place, but this leader’s position is not one I can take. Life and faith are dances, too. Dances in which I must follow and surrender and most of all dance without abandon. 

 

I went swing dancing for my twentieth birthday. To most, that would merely seem fun, cool, or interesting. Only I and a few others know the true significance of choosing to do that activity on my special day. It was something I wanted to do, and chose firmly and freely. That makes me laugh and almost want to cry at the same time.

On my birthday in particular, my limbs loosened and my heart felt truly light. I began to really dance without abandon, follow without leading, and fall in love with something worth caring for.

I’ve found dance to be a great analogy for faith. God leads; we follow. He creates and we create out of His creations.

God invites; we accept. We enter in to a covenant of many, many dances. Some are tricky, messy, and odd. All are beautiful.

His hand’s at my waist, mine’s at his shoulder, and our other hands are intertwined. Locked together in an unbreakable embrace. His breath’s in the music, in the movement, in my tangled steps, my graceful ones too, in every spin and dip and jump.

The pain and the shame weren’t worth it, but the dance was one worth learning with the Father of dance to lead. 

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On Choosing Theatre

“So are you glad that you became a theatre artist?” he asked me, settling down in the seat which happened to be next to mine.

His question took me by surprise. He was my professor in first year and he’d learned many of my struggles and problems with choosing theatre. But I was still taken off guard. I just hadn’t thought about the choice in so long; it had become so routine, so mundane, so natural to me.

Yet I’d been mulling my choice, whether I realized it or not, over in my head this past Christmas and in the weeks since the break, too. My holidays were wonderful, but I was very much out of the “theatre loop” and I began to wonder what the heck I was doing all over again. Most of my “back home” friends are working and others are studying to be engineers and nurses or planning to go to law school post-degree. Where does theatre fit into all that? I wondered. I know that I love it, I know that I can do it, and I even know that God loves it, but is it really valuable to others? What’s the point?

It was hard to wake myself up that first Tuesday morning of school. Besides feeling burnt out from the last three semesters and the recent summer, the question of why we do theatre still rumbled in my head till it was sore.  Really, I was asking: Am I valuable? Is what I do needed? And if it’s not, why do it?

I resisted, at first. I refused to be excited. Every semester, especially the last, has left me strongly disappointed. I refused to feel that disappointment again.

But that first week took me by surprise. And so did the next. I was filled with absolute joy in the presence of what I loved. My classes were amazing and inspiring and much more than I could have asked for.

The truth is, in my state of resistance and bitterness, I began to love acting like never before. It became exhilarating once again, in more ways than ever. My play. My acting class and the scenes I’m involved in. Voice & Movement. They brought me the excitement I’d lost hope in.

This all came back to me as I answered my prof. “Yes. I mean sometimes I’m not; sometimes I’m just tired and worn out, I guess. It’s work. But we’ve been doing Meisner and these Lindy Davis exercises and I’m playing Sister Aloysius in Doubt and Much Ado is a challenge but it’s fun and well, I’ve never loved acting more.”

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But is love enough? That’s the question I pondered next.

Does loving something make it valuable, useful, or right?

I’m definitely an advocate for doing what you love with your life. I believe in following your own dreams and not the ones someone else’s. But still. It can all be a little disheartening when other people’s dreams seem to be so useful and important and you’re left feeling like a joke. What then?

I’m not trying to play the martyr here. Theatre is hard, but I realize I won’t get burned at the stake for it. This isn’t Shakespeare’s time when actors were below slaves in status, or something like that. Yes, theatre and art are socially acceptable vocations, but sometimes I feel a little lost in the dust, as others, I’d assume feel, too.

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“We’re the messiest of them all,” the aforementioned prof has said before. Often times, he’s right. We get dressed up and walk around campus doing photo shoots. We take classrooms apart so we can rehearse or fill them with camera gear for a promo video and clean up just in time for the next class to start. We make people sweat and quicken heart beats when we swear and kiss people we’re not married to and portray lots of conflict on stage. We put humanity, in all it’s flaws and horrors, on display for the world to see. And it isn’t always pretty.

Plain and simply, I find theatre valuable because I love it. I do it because I love it. Frankly, I don’t have to justify that.

I believe in its value for a lot of reasons. It teaches us to have empathy, both as actors and audience members. It is art and it allows for creation, which I believe is very biblical. Last but not least, people love entertainment and people like me who study BFAs in Acting provide that. And really, this list could go on but it won’t for now.

~~~

I get a lot of reactions on the answer that slips out of my mouth after the infamous student question, “What is your major?” That sounds fun! and Cool! or I could never do that! and What’s that like? are among the top. One person laughed out loud when I told him, but that’s a story for another time. Lots of people ask me what I intend to do with it, too. I tell them I want to be an actor.

This isn’t a pity party. As another professor says, we all have choices; it’s just silly to say we don’t. Thus, we honestly can’t complain about a lot of stuff because 95% of it likely stems out of the choices we’ve made. I made the choice to study theatre a year and a half ago. I continue to make that choice day after day. And I can make the choice to quit at any point.

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I suppose what I’d like for you to know is that choosing theatre can be great. It is for me, at least. Choosing what you love, I think, is best. Do it, if you can. No matter what it is. What you do, whatever it is, has value because of Christ. He created everything good in this world and has an intention for it. So go out and do it. Choose what you love.

So yes, I’m glad I chose to be a theatre artist.

What about you?

Cultivate 2014

My New Year’s resolutions. 14 aims for living wholly in 2014:

1. Love people well and be intentional in friendship.

2. Work hard, but rest harder.

3. Write something everyday. Doesn’t matter what. Just has to be something.

4. Dialogue with my Father and listen to Him more.

5. Learn to let go and relax.

6. Continue to get to know myself better.

7. Develop patience.

8. Take care of myself, body and soul.

9. Invest myself freely in my art, whatever it happens to be.

10. Remember joy and find it in life’s blessings, both big and small.

11. Make specific goals for acting, follow them and fly with others, and most of all: just dive right in.

12. Cultivate my own character.

13. Drink more tea, read more books, bake more cookies.

14. Live missionally, wherever I am. Seek justice. Be merciful and humble.

These 14 goals are brief and somewhat vague. They may change and I’m not holding myself to the originals, if they do. I’m also not giving up on them, even if I find myself letting go. In a nutshell, I’m an imperfect person learning to be whole. Every step, every day, every year in my life is part of my journey to that wholeness. And this list is made up of things that I believe make a person whole.

2014 will not be a perfect year. It may not even be the best year yet, either. But I’m going to do everything I can to make it a year in which I stepped a little closer that wholeness I seek.

This is a new year. This is 2014 and my theme word is cultivate. Cultivate joy, hope, love. Freedom. Passion. Salvation. Forgiveness. Productivity. Rest. Healing, justice, and beauty. Everything good. Cultivate Life.

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Here’s to 2014!

What are your resolutions and hopes for the new year?

PS If you haven’t done so yet, please take my short survey here and help me improve The Journey Home in the new year!

Recap & Dreams

2013 was a roller-coaster.

First year second semester didn’t pull me by the ear lobes like my first had done. It was stagnant at first; difficult, strange. I had to grab it by the neck and make it what I wanted and needed. I did just that. In the words of my professors and friends, I transformed in my art and I think also, in myself.

Summer came much too quickly. I put acting aside for a while, on a shelf though, to be found again, come September, no doubt. Core requirement books piled on my desk and for six weeks I devoted my time to completing courses in Old Testament, Self-Defense, and Human Kinetics.

June brought my first article to publication. One I’d worked at since January. It began as a tiny proposal forced from my hands. I never thought my first attempt at a magazine submission would lead to publication, but it did, somehow, beautifully.

My first real job, as a cashier at a Thrift Store, came and went. July and August were filled with long days and hard work, dust, unfriendly voices, interesting objects, and weird comments. But there was love and joy and peace and satisfaction there, too. And for those things and the lessons learned, I miss it every day.

Last semester boomed along. I played a small role in my first university play. I took hard classes. My professors pushed me and I pushed myself. And I forged friendships like never before. There was beauty and life, but at the end, I was burnt to the core.

More. There was always more. More to do, more to be, more to learn. It was exhausting.

My holidays have been quite the reverse. School flew away and I nearly forgot the little homework I did have.

I spent a lovely four days with a friend and her family, relaxing and celebrating the new year. I had a beautiful Christmas, filled with Christ, family, and sweet things. I’ve had a wonderful holiday, seeing fabulous people and creating to my heart’s desire. In everything, I’ve learned more about myself and the person I want to become.

And now, as I sit and think on January 3rd, I am hopeful. All of what happened, both the good and the bad, makes 2014, a new year, brighter to my eyes. Because we learned and we finished and came to believe in 2013, through every blot and beauty.

And this — why this is only the beginning. We’ve barely breathed on the new year yet. Hardly made mistakes. The days ahead are still coming and we don’t know what will fill them. And while unknowns can be scary, adventure lies in what we do not know or even understand.

It snowed this December. It rained a lot, too. And in it all, it “sunned” as well.

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2014 should bring similar weather, I believe. But who knows what the colour of the rain will be?

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Here // This is Beauty

I often find myself longing for the exquisite. I dream of adventure, beauty, and joy. Slowly, I pass through life, wondering if there’s more and when happiness will ever abound.

Every person has a dream. I have several. They say every girl longs for a prince and a castle and I’ve spent life looking for mine.

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But then sometimes I find myself, caught gently in snow-globe moments, within the passage of everyday life.

The sun rises, glorious, majestic, golden pink and sets in the same beauty and colour. A winter wonderland in the morrow. White magic glistens from the tree tops and everywhere, promising a white Christmas after all.

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Later, we bundle up, gloves on hands and boots on feet, ear muffs, toques, scarves and all. Giddy, we venture outside, dashing through fluffy snow, we prance and play. Two forts, we build. A snowball fight ensues.

Well after midnight, we sit around the instruments, playing and singing. One groggy body after another curls up in some sanctuary corner and falls to slumber. But soon enough, we’re laughing again, running through hallways, playing, and telling stories.

The table is set early, the smell of pancakes and sausage drifts through the space, and sleepy limbs settle on chairs. Christmas carols stream from the iPod in the kitchen. We say a prayer before eating, and the light from the wonderland shines in on us. Silence ensues as we gobble. Hot chocolate for still sleeping souls and scrambled eggs fill our tummies.

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And as I look upon the exhausted faces, smiling in spite of their sleepless night, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve found what I set out to. Its a snow-globe moment. Adventure, beauty, and joy are all in this room. The secret, daily longings I’ve struggled so long for have reached my soul at last.

~~~

Today, we skated round and round. Half the church came out. We drank hot chocolate and smiled in each other’s presence. The exercise and cold air and companionship filled my lungs and gave me strength.

And I realized, the answer of these longings is never far away.

What I’ve been looking for has been here the whole time. Perhaps it was hiding just beyond reach or maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. But it was here.

Perhaps the exquisite is simple and beauty looks like the smile in your eyes when we talk.

Maybe adventure can be found in building a snow fort in the church parking lot.

Perchance joy is grasped in simply being. Yes, I think joy comes from realizing each daily adventure and seeing the beauty for what it is.

Fulfillment is right now. Today. This moment. I’ve found it.

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Is there more to life than this? You’d better believe it.

But it is here, found among the ordinary, dancing in our souls. This God-given, blessed life is the more that we crave.

Here. This is beauty.

Longing: A Story Of The Here And Now

For the past three and a half months, I’ve been longing for this time. I’ve dreamed of December days when the homework is finished and out of sight and Christmas baking and gifts pile up instead. As a student, all semester Christmas, it seems, is as good as it gets.

Now, the bright lights blur in my eyes as I drive home from town. One whole semester, with every success and bleary-eyed morning, long day and rippling laugh, behind me. My third term is finished and there’s five whole semesters left.

I’m done. I’m here. I made it! I wrote my last exam on Tuesday and its been a week now. Yet my heart still longs for what I do not have.

I wish that I could eat the pizza in the fridge and the cookies I’m going to make, but my mouth is still sore from surgery last week. I long to have presents ready and crafts made. I want to feel useful and creative once more. Christmas day, seeing family, and visiting friends form happy images in my mind. Something about the holiday season — perhaps its the mistletoe or maybe the fact that I’m bored — makes me dream of romance. And all of a sudden, I’m caught up in the circle of longings again.

But my finals are done and I got A’s on my papers and I think “well, that’s pretty great.” The tree is up and I was able to consume a muffin today. But there is always something more that I’d like to have. That’s just the nature of life on earth, I suppose.

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I get home after volunteering at the Thrift Store, which once served as my summer job, feeling fulfilled. My name tag was still hanging on the rack and everything seemed as if I’d never left it at all. I hung up clothes, answered questions, and ran people through the till a few times. The work was simple, but it gave me so much joy.

At home, the tree is all lights and the star welcomes me in. There are dishes to wash while I chat with my mom and sip coffee from my favourite mug. I find jars and napkins and tins to aid my DIY gifts and the butter is finished thawing for the sugar cookies I’m going to make.

My bible sits in the box beside me. I’ve been reading random chapters lately — mostly short, New Testament ones like Peter and Titus and John — because I don’t know where to start sometimes.

~~~~~

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This is life. It is simple, but it is good.

I long for the future and for future days and plans and people. But today, I also give thanks for the present because it is the time to be lived in.

And I realize, that in all these longings, there is a desire to love the here and now. Longing is really a story of what we already have.

I Can’t Roll My R’s

Mi professora habla a la clase.

She talks fluidly, with ease in her own tongue. The language is beautiful to me. And I listen eagerly, trying to soak up every detail, sound, word. Spanish is like music to me — music that I cannot ever get enough of.

And then she talks of la romanización y las romas. And she rolls her r’s so beautifully. Again and again and again. I know I shouldn’t be jealous — she is from Argentina, after all. I was born and raised in Canada with English as my only tongue for the first fifteen years. But I can’t help but wish I could speak Spanish as well as mi professora.

I don’t know why or how exactly that this language became my love. It started as duty then grew into interest and then fell upon passion.

But sometimes, I feel that this passion is purpose less. I’m studying theatre. I want to be an actor. I cannot see where Spanish will fit into my life right now. And I can’t speak well — my upper-level class is killing me slowly, I leave every class discouraged, and I can’t roll my r’s.

I don’t remember learning how to talk. I’ve always been able to speak, as far as I can remember. But now, as I sit in class every Tuesday, its like I cannot talk again. I struggle to produce what I want to say in words. I open my mouth but nothing comes out…

I feel stupid and awkward. Like the cat’s got my tongue and walked off with it. I am humbled, quiet and down trodden.

And I’m realizing that’s what learning a new language is about. Its about being humbled. Its about learning how to learn. It is re-learning how to be and speak and live.

And that is hard. Difficult. Impossible, almost.

But it is necessary for me, I’ve decided. As hard as it is. As humiliating, as agonizing, and as much as it makes me cry every Tuesday night.

There is something magical and strange that keeps me there, sitting in the spinny chair, uttering words that don’t make sense, sputtering mistakes, and trying to roll my r’s.

And so, even though it doesn’t entirely make sense, I will stay.

Por siempre.

The Sound Of Laughter

When I was a little girl, I distinctly remember people telling me to smile more. I don’t think I was a particularly grumpy child, but sometimes, I guess, I just didn’t look like I was having a great time.

Later, in my mid-teens, I went through a depressing and hard time. I don’t remember if I smiled much then, but I know that after I “cheered up,” I made the effort to smile. I thought maybe people liked you better if you did.

Last year, my department gave me an award for smiling. It read: “for always having a smile on your face no matter what you are doing.” I didn’t understand it. Since coming to university, I barely remembered smiling or making the effort to smile.

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Needless to say though, last year — my first year of university — was an absolutely transforming time. I changed in ways I never though possible. I began healing for issues I didn’t even know required help.

I learned to use my ‘real voice’ when I act. I never even knew I had a “storybook-not-really-Elizabeth” actor’s voice.

I discovered impulses. And I tried very hard, over many tears and several revelations, to go with my impulses when acting.

I found the odd yet beautiful art of failing boldly. And slowly, I began to try to fall flat on my face and pick back up again.

Looking back, I wonder if it was from these strange yet lovely lessons that I learned to truly smile.

Because yesterday, I noticed that I was laughing for real. It wasn’t fake or forced like so many other occasions in my life have been. It was natural, brilliant, loud, free.

And sometimes I smile randomly. Things make me smile. People make me smile. I don’t even think or try. It just happens.

And my voice sounds and feels so calm. Not held back, but open, clear.

The commotion, somehow, created peace. The mess became beauty. And sorrow is fast turning into joy.

There are still hard things in this life. There always will be. Life can still be a daily struggle we try so hard not to fight. But, I have learned that there is hope beyond the shadow and life beyond the grave.

I have discovered the sound of laughter — and it is the most beautiful sound in the world.

He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:5