“For what I am doing, I do not understand, for I do not practice what I will to do, but I do the very thing I hate.” – Romans 7:15 (MEV)
Despite being a novice dancer, I am blessed to lead a dance ministry at my church. And despite being in my 50’s, I thought it would be a great idea to enroll in a dance academy to improve my dance and choreography skills. You may smirk, but I actually am not the only one over 40 in this school, thank you! 🙂
This isn’t a typical dance school. This is an organization of worship arts ministry education in the dance styles of ballet, hip hop, modern/contemporary, liturgical, the use of props and mime ministry. Students range from the age of 3 and up and are at all levels of experience and abilities. Our leader is an ordained minister but is actually Alvin-Ailey-Dance-Theater-good. She felt led by the Holy Spirit to peel away from the secular world of dance and into using her talents to serve God and uplift the broken in spirit–dancers and viewers alike. Missy is ever encouraging, exuberant and vibrant (like her favorite color, yellow). She obviously loves God and loves people. Hers truly is a sacrifice of personal, worldly success for the Kingdom of God.
So here I am, giving it my all to the uptick in rehearsal sessions from once per week to three times as we prepare for the annual spring dance benefit concert. Now, I can be quite expressive in free worship dance, but when it comes to learning choreography, I am, shall we say, a slow learner. Thankfully, our “run-throughs” are videoed and shared among the students so we can practice on our own outside of the studio.
One recent Sunday evening, we were starting to work on adding formations to our ballet piece. This piece is beautiful. It is simple, but very expressive and moving. If it was a modern or contemporary dance, I’d have fewer issues with it, but with positions being as exacting as those in ballet, I am finding myself struggling with this untrained body of mine at a really embarrassing level. This is a loving and caring group and nearly everyone has his or her own personal bugs to work through with the choreography, so there is no ridicule or judging side-eyes. The embarrassment I have is all on me. I would remember certain sequences and forget others. I would lose my form. I would forget what was just taught to me. To further exacerbate my experience that night was when I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I felt a jolt of shock at how I looked lumbering heavily across the floor with my hands appearing large and wide, opposite the elegant lines of almost everyone else. Kind of like a buffalo with fins. I was in tears by the end of rehearsal. I hung my head. Another very talented instructor patted me on the back after she had been dancing her heart out in my formation group, trying her best to queue me, sequence by sequence to no avail. Maybe I was just tired (it was the third practice session of the day for me), or maybe I’m just not good enough. I tearfully told Missy I would not be dancing the ballet piece.
She wouldn’t hear of it. She asked, “What do you need from me to make this happen?” “Ballet really is hard!” “Everyone was struggling!” “What can we do for YOU?” She offered extra practices and pushed back when I told her she had enough on her as it is (she is a working, married mom of two little ones as well). She hugged me and got me tissues. This is not what you get in “regular” dance classes. This is other-worldly stuff: God’s business. There are plenty of dancers in the piece. She could have easily released me and gave me an at-a-boy for effort, but she didn’t. She extended grace. I was overcome by grace. I then felt a different kind of embarrassment for caving into my feelings of defeat. This is not the behavior of a Christian who has “already won”! I thanked her for her patience with me and we scheduled an extra session for the following Saturday.
It occurred to me as I walked from the dance studio to my car feeling fully loved, what the Apostle Paul wrote in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans about being dead to a life of sin and the push and pull within between living righteously and giving in to our carnality. On that dance floor, despite being fully aware of the order of movements and combinations, I failed to execute them correctly in my untrained body consistently. As a sinner, despite being saved by my confession of the birth, miracle-working life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I still sometimes fail to execute righteous living in my body on this earth. Jesus knew this war would be waged within His Believers in this world. That is why He graced us with His Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-25). No, I cannot dance our concert to perfection today. I need practice and lots of it and just like I need the Holy Spirit to operate within me as I minister through dance, I need Him to operate in my life and to guide my daily choices from moment to moment.
That evening in bed, as I propped up my sore feet and swollen knees, I praised God for how He reveals His love and concerns for us through the people and circumstances around us. Yes, I will take advantage of extra practices. I will practice at home. I will practice in my head as I drive. I will practice in my kitchen as I cook and clean. And in between, I will daily admit to God that I can neither minister through dance nor live to His glory in my own power. If I did, I’d end up doing the very things I, as a child of God, hate. I need You, Holy Spirit. Amen.