Dip and sway and one two three and swirl and brush and watch your toes. The couples swirled about the room tentatively, watching each other closely as they attempted not to run in to the other people in the room. It was an evening ballroom dance class at the local community college, and no one with the exception of the instructor really had any idea what they were doing, my friends and I least of all. Linda and I had decided it would be great fun to take a dance class, and, of course, we couldn’t take it by ourselves. We had to find boys to go with us! So together we wheedled my brother and one other boy from our Bible study into taking with us. “Come on,” we coaxed, “It will be fun!” And with surprising ease we won them over. Showing up for the first class, we realized that the four of us (of whom I, barely twenty, was the oldest) were the only members of the class under the age of forty-five, but we (at least Linda and I) were determined to have fun anyhow. So we learned the waltz, the salsa, the foxtrot, and the tango. Only one class each, a mere taste of what each had to offer. We danced our way through the cha-cha and the mamba and, my personal favourite, the swing. Ultimately, we came away knowing a little bit about everything but not enough about anything, and with disuse even that little bit of initial knowledge soon disappeared. However, dancing did help bring home to me some important truths. For, as I learned the rules of dance, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the core principles of dance and some of the important principles of my walk as a Christian.
First, dancing is awfully difficult when you don’t know the steps. Starting out, I felt awkward and embarrassed. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I stepped on my poor brother’s toes as often as not. However, I purposed to learn the steps by listening to the instructor, paying attention to what he said, and practicing at home as often as I got the chance. Over time, this led to improvement, and by the end of the class I was able to pick up even new dances more quickly based on the knowledge I had acquired. Similarly, in my Christian life I have had to learn the steps of walking with Jesus by studying the His Word (the Bible) as well as listening to other learners who are farther along the way than I. In this way I learn the basics of the dance He is calling me to and begin to understand the basic principles of the rhythms and steps through which He might lead me. As in dancing, this starts with the basic principles which, for dance, are where to put your feet, how to place your arms, how to listen to the music, and for Christianity include such basic concepts as our need for redemption and the grace and forgiveness of Christ. Over time, though, as these basics have been mastered more can be added to them and more difficult steps can be learned, more difficult theological concepts wrestled with. As my mom always says, God won’t show you the next thing until you’ve been obedient in this one.
This leads me directly to my second principle which is that in learning to dance I had to learn to follow my brother. This was difficult since I was pretty sure I knew what we were supposed to be doing better than he did, and I’m not too used to letting my little brother call the shots. However, the styles we were learning dictated it. You see, with the exception of a few set dances, most ballroom dance styles require the guy to call the steps. As I quickly learned, there is a very good reason for this. Namely that in most ballroom dances the girl (that would be me) is facing backwards. What this means practically is that if I tried to lead the result was almost certainly either crashing into another couple on the floor, a wall, or some other such obstacle or great frustration on the part of her partner as he tries to maneuver her around these obstacles when she won’t follow. Therefore, even when I knew all of the steps available to me, I had to learn to accept that I did not know the direction or order of the steps until Mitchell communicated them to me. Christianity, too, instructs that I must learn to follow. Again and again in Scripture Jesus calls me to “follow Him,” to “die to myself,” and to completely surrender my will to His. This is still something I struggle though, especially in those times when I haven’t heard anything and feel like a decision needs to be made right now, but I have learned (the hard way, unfortunately) that not waiting is frequently a far worse and more painful decision than deciding to go ahead and take the next step on my own.
This leads to the third principle. In dancing in order to follow my brother I had to learn to listen to his lead. This was at times a very frustrating phenomena when he wasn’t very good at communicating changes in direction in any manner other than yanking me suddenly to one side or the other or at indicating a shift in step besides simply stepping on my toes when he (seemingly randomly) switched steps. Over time, however, we learned to work together, and I could tell by a slight pressure of his hand in the small of my back that we were now going to shift to the right or by an incline of his head that we would be shifting to a turn step rather than a box. Similarly, I have learned in my walk with Christ the importance of learning to listen for His voice when I’m trying to make a decision. However, in order to do this I have to learn to hear His voice. As Jesus says in the book of Mark, his followers are recognizable by the fact that they hear and obey his voice. This comes, once again, through prayer and Bible study, through studying what He’s like and how He speaks and so familiarizing myself with Him that as soon as He begins to prompt my heart I recognize it as Him and not something else.
The fourth principle of ballroom dancing I learned was that I had to trust my partner. Our instructor emphasized repeatedly that in order to follow properly I had to lean back in to the support of Mitchell’s hand to such an extent that if he were not to hold me up I would fall. Otherwise, our instructor declared, he would be unable to truly lead. For me, this was by far the hardest lesson to learn. I was petrified to put myself in a position of uncertain footing where it felt like I might fall at any moment, and I would hold my body entirely stiff or else simply refuse to lean. My brother kept reassuring me that I could trust him, he wouldn’t let me fall. But I…. Well… Let’s just say I wasn’t so sure. Finally, though, I began to get the hang of it, resting my weight back into my brother’s hand. And, lo and behold, when I did so listening to and following his lead became exponentially easier. Rather than having to try so hard in order to feel when he was leading me one direction or the other it became second nature as my balance followed and depended on his own. In the same way, I know that I can never truly follow Christ until I give Him my everything, leaning on Him so strongly that I would entirely lose my balance without Him there to steady me. Just as this was the most terrifying part of dancing, it is the most terrifying aspect of my life as a follower of Christ. In general, I prefer to have a safety net and to keep certain things in my life that I tell him, “No, Lord, I’ll do anything you say except that.” Or “You can have all of me except for that little piece.” But that’s not true following, and I know it. Because, just like in dance, true following, full following means giving up my own sense of balance and trusting that the One I’m dancing with won’t let me fall. As my dance instructor reminded me so many times, “Fear of falling adds nothing to the dance. It only stilts it and keeps it from being everything it can be.”
As I write these pages I am transported once again to that little room in the back of the gym and the dance classes we had there. I feel once again the frustration of trying to understand, the slowness of our progress, and the dissatisfaction when, no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t quite seem to get it. However, I also remember the feeling of sheer joy and pleasure when we finally got it right, becoming one unit as we moved across the floor and dancing in unison with the music with my balance resting totally on his hand and my skirt twirling around my legs as he spun me out and back in. It is similar feelings which I enjoy in my relationship with Christ. Yes, just like in dance, my learning curve is sometimes slow, and I struggle to learn the steps. I get frustrated with myself for my failures and am resistant and fall. I miss steps and stumble and generally make a mess of things at times to the extent that I just want to quit. And, sometimes, no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to get it right. There are days when life is so dark that I can’t see His face to reassure me and my heart is so numb that I can’t feel His hand guiding me, when the tears run down my cheeks because it just hurts so badly to move, to breathe. But at those times I remember the moments of Beauty, those moments of inexpressible Joy which take my breath away with sheer wonder at the beauty of my Savior, the love He has for me, and the delight He takes in me. And I keep dancing.
27 March 2011
This is another piece I wrote for creative writing. It's actually a revision of a blog post I wrote a couple years ago: extended and molded a bit, but still recognizable. However, regardless of whether you were reading my blog way back then or not, I hope you enjoy this. :)