Dancing For Joy
by Shannon McKee
I’m not sure when it was that I stopped dancing. Not with a company or with a performance group or in clubs, but just dancing–in the kitchen on a cool evening, in my polyester nightgown, moving to Whitney Houston. I know why I stopped, though. It likely had something to do with maturity, with growing up, with advancing to more important things, like anxiety and stress and looking respectable to peers.
Last fall, while studying abroad in a small Italian village, I lived in a renovated convent with seventeen artistic, intelligent, and passionate students. Free from the perks and pitfalls of technology, we were forced again to imagine.
One October evening, I heard music coming from the end of the hall. Intrigued, I strode down the long corridor, opened the door, and discovered two of my friends in this state: lights off, music booming, moving their hips and spinning liberally around their tiny room. I paused, stepped inside and began to move with the beat.
That first unselfconscious dance of my adulthood set my feet in a spacious place. In that moment, I realized there was no standard to be met; no committee stood in the corner, rating the point of my big toe. I threw perfectionism aside and took hold of delight.
Now home, I make sure to dance at least weekly. Truly, you can catch me if you ever stop by! You’ll find me often in the kitchen, playing Bethel or Bruce Springsteen, dancing made-up ballet, finding my way into praise.
But it upsets me that dance is no longer a distinctive part of my culture. Gradually, we’ve come to think the art belongs only to professionals, club hoppers, wedding-goers and children. But dance– whether amateur or professional, ballroom, ballet or crump– should be standard to us, because it ushers into freedom. It liberates us from the confines of strict movement, from using our bodies only to achieve tangible outcomes– hanging up the clothes on the line, pushing the lawnmower, writing the to-do list.
When we dance, our movements take us out of the ordinary, which are no longer executed with a task in mind, and we come to understand without thought that we were created to be. Our leaps and whirls begin to imitate both the disappointments and the deep pleasures of our hearts. And somehow, in the act of zealously moving our bodies, we are able to forget them.
If, as Paul writes, we don’t fight against flesh and blood, then the actions of our bodies must matter in the spiritual realm. If the body is capable of leading us into evil, then what if the body is also capable of conquering it? Joshua walked around Jericho, and walls fell; Elijah laid his body atop a dead boy, and the boy rose bright-eyed to life; Jesus refused food for forty days and opened the gates to His ministry.
Who knows what a midday jig might do. When God “turns our mourning into dancing,” He frees us from a despairing spiritual state by way of a physical one. When we dance, we engage in spiritual combat. We battle for joy.
The summer before my junior year of college, I coached a volleyball camp for high school girls. One afternoon, I happened to notice the court across from me, where an incredibly intense game was unfolding. During a break in play, the entire team stood huddled near the net, seriously discussing strategy for their next set–except for one girl, who clearly carried no more anxiety about the next game than about what she would eat for dinner afterwards.
Right there in the middle of the court, and with all her might, she was twirling.
Shannon McKee majored in English writing at Messiah College. She now cares for youth who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border unaccompanied by their parents. She enjoys black tea with cream more than most things, adores her one-year-old niece, and would like to fly kites more frequently.
Image above is from here.