Dancing in the Darkness {The Grove: Dance}

A year ago I found myself in a deep well. This well was so deep I couldn’t see the sky. Even if I could have seen it, I wouldn’t have tried to look up. That’s how dark it seemed down there.

In the midst of this darkness, a friend invited me to attend a dance class with her. I hesitated. I didn’t have the right clothes. I didn’t have enough time. I wouldn’t know what I was doing; I might embarrass myself.

My friend told me I could easily find the appropriate clothes, and that it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing. Her whole life, she said, she’d never been an exerciser, and she could follow along in class. She assured me I could too. She gave me the courage to try.

That first class found me in tears. I don’t remember what happened. I only know that whatever the teacher (who is a believer) was saying, it matched what God had been teaching me in my prayer times. The second class was the same as the first: more echoes of the whisper of God. And more tears.

The third class, same story. Clearly dance was touching deep, tender places inside me, but at least by that third week, the tears didn’t take me by surprise as much.

I’m a “words” person. Words are how I communicate with the world. They’re how I communicate with God. They’re how I communicate with myself. But after this last year, more and more I find myself agreeing with Jacob and Sarah Witting in Skylark that “sometimes words aren’t good enough.”

Dance speaks a different, wordless, type of language that wordy people like me need. We need to come back to ourselves, to live in our bodies again. Too often I live solely in my head. Thoughts, especially of the dark dreary kind, circle round and round and never find a resting place.

I’d been disconnected from my own body for so long. I didn’t know any other way to live. By the 5th grade I was already stuck in my head; I had already intellectualized everything. At church, women’s bodies were something to be wary of, an ever-present temptation for men. In my own life, a small set of breasts had still attracted the attention of a predator at church and church camp.

These early experiences taught me that the body was sinful, and we must transcend it by the Spirit. The body did no good, only bad. By the 9th grade I had developed an eating disorder. Is it any wonder?

But reconnecting with my body was what dance class was about. Because in that deep, dark well, something was missing, and that something was me. I had gone missing. And in some mysterious way, I met God on the dance floor and came back to myself.

I still remember the first time I could actually execute the turn I’d been practicing unsuccessfully for weeks. I felt a thrill that my body, not just my mind, could learn something new.

I still remember the first time I could actually look at my face in the mirror. All the other experienced dancers were looking in the mirror, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It seemed vain somehow.

I still remember the first time I implemented a correction on the first try and started to think, maybe I can trust this body of mine. My body had seemed so untrustworthy for so long.

A funny thing happened when I started trusting my body: I became frightened. I had never trusted it before. Trust was what I’d been working towards, but the first time I felt it, it was so unfamiliar that it scared me.

I still remember the class when the teacher kept insisting that we “take up the space.” That we enlarge our movements and really take charge of the dance floor. It made me think about all the ways in which I live my life small, not daring to take up any space, physically or metaphorically.

This was an entry point into the rest of my life. I’m a writer, but even words were lost to me in that dark time. I had shrunk into myself, and I barely wrote anything that year. I wasn’t taking up space anywhere. But dance class challenged me to change that.

Attending class each week got me out of my head and into my body and – importantly – into the company of other people. Because sometimes healing isn’t a solitary venture. Healing is something that happens to us when we’re with people.

Sometime in the course of the year I stopped feeling ashamed of where I was (it’s easy to feel discouraged when you look at others much more skilled than yourself), and I began to better accept myself where I was.

My favorite part of last year’s dance classes, by far, was dancing to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t contort my body into many of the movements, and I could barely remember the order of the choreography. But this one thing I remember: “I once was lost but now am found.”

During this phrase we would fall to the floor flat on our backs, and then reach up for God. We repeated that movement over and over again throughout the spring months. There was something about confessing my lostness and declaring my foundness again and again that undid me every single week.

I knew I’d been lost that year – lost in anxiety and depression and health struggles and poor emotional choices. I lay on the dance floor the same way I lay at the bottom of the well – alone and in need of help. But each time I danced this song, I was also reminded that I had been found by a loving Father. There were times during that year when I refused to talk to God because He wasn’t healing me fast enough. Yet through all my confusion and stubbornness, He still found me.

Somehow week after week I met God on that dance floor. I never expected to meet God on a dance floor. I expected to meet him in an early morning quiet time. Or maybe a mountain top, or an ocean front. Certainly not a sprung laminate floor.

We broke for the summer and returned to class a few weeks ago. Those first few classes were enough to remind me that I am still a beginner. But you know what? That’s ok. When I first started dancing, the instructor told me that “dance is a journey.”  It’s not about arriving or finishing. He repeated himself to me just last week: this is a journey.

I’ve been on a healing journey this last year. Maybe you’re on a healing journey too. Maybe you need physical healing. Maybe you need emotional healing. Maybe the healing is slow in coming. Maybe you feel God is too slow in healing you. Sometimes God heals us in big, sudden ways in an experience or an event, but sometimes He heals in slow, nearly inconspicuous ways.

And sometimes He reaches down into a deep, dark well and week by week gently pulls us up.

And then we see the sky.

And then we dance.

The Grove

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4 Comments

  1. Amy Young September 27, 2019

    Elizabeth, I can’t stop thinking about this post . . . which is a sign that you hit on something AND that I need to pay attention. A year ago last summer I was also in a valley and had the idea for a book but I could not write. I could not focus on it. I remember going to a local writer’s group and saying I needed to be around them and hear what they were working on because my words were blocked. The book would not let me be a part of her :). There is something about our bodies and community that God uses to hold us when we can’t . . . and slowly bring forth something new in us. Thank you for sharing friend, I wish we could dance together 🙂

    1. Elizabeth October 3, 2019

      Yes, I love that — everything works better when we do it in community, including creativity!

  2. Shannon September 27, 2019

    I love this so much! I’m a words person too and so much in my “thinking” and emotions that I need outlets (nature, hiking, friends and coffee and books), but I had a long hiatus from dancing.Though I grew up taking dance classes and performing, it wasn’t until later when I wasn’t dancing that I realized that it was such a life-giving and freeing expression for me. Even as I now awkwardly relearn and attempt to move my stiff limbs, by being cries that I need movement, aka dancing. I have been part of many times where God has brought healing to people through dancing (and watching dance), both emotional/inner and heart. Love you, Elizabeth, are on this journey that includes dance. Keep Rocking It!

    1. Elizabeth October 3, 2019

      I love that you’re getting back into dance, and I love that you’ve seen this story of healing play out before. I am sure you have many inspirational stories to tell!

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