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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Part 1: Empty

This is the beginning of a series on my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth.

I stared at my half eaten taco and a queasy feeling came over me. I listened to my friends laugh and chat and I watched the game of Ninja in the corner but I only felt worse.  Tears entered my hazel eyes and I felt like crying. But I didn’t know why. Everything was fine, great actually! Throughout the past 2 months I had made accomplishment after accomplishment: I’d performed my eleventh play, completed grade 10, written a book, sung and played at recitals and professed my faith. My social life had been soaring in every place, I was well-liked wherever I went, and my relationship with God was better than ever. To top it all  off, I was now in Mexico, a place that I’d imagined all year, on a trip that I’d dreamed of doing my entire life.  But even so, I felt drained, famished, empty.

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I threw my plate out and darted up the red, brick stairs of the YWAM base and into my room on the third floor. But it wasn’t my room, it wasn’t my home and I saw that as soon as I flung the door open and my blurry, tear filled eyes saw two of my friends sorting American money, strange pieces of paper to my Canadian eyes. My emptiness only grew.

Embarrassed, I ran into the bathroom, locked the door, and planted myself against the it. I knew my friends were talking about what to do but I couldn’t hear them. All I could hear was a voice inside of me saying: “Why did you come on this trip? Didn’t you know that you wouldn’t be strong enough to handle it? You should have thought about it more. But there you go again, making the same old mistakes. You are so stupid.” These words drained my already empty soul.

By and by, my friends talked to me, asked me what was the matter and if they could do anything to help. I said no, I was fine. I lied. They didn’t believe me, I could tell. They invited me to get smoothies with them, they told me that they loved me but my heart remained empty.

I looked in the mirror at my tear-stained, sun-burned, blemished face and I only cried more. I felt ugly and that made me believe the lies I’d heard earlier. As I washed my face and applied foundation and blush, I asked myself again and again why I had come on this trip at all. I asked God why He had sent me but I couldn’t hear anything back. I looked back at my make up covered face, but only felt emptier.

Later, I flung myself on top of my sleeping-bag-covered-top-bunk in utter despair and misery. I cried again, clearing the make up off my face. I asked God where He was again, but He didn’t seem to answer. I asked myself why I was here once more, and the same lies blocked my memory. The emptiness prevailed and I let the tears fall.

My youth leader came in to get something from her bag and noticed me buried in my sleeping bag. She asked what the matter was and I told her that I was resting. She asked why I was hiding my face from her. I didn’t answer. She climbed the ladder and talked to me, she comforted me but I was still drained, still famished, still too empty to find my way out.

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