I’m learning to dance. I’ve always loved to dance, even since I was the little girl in shiny gold shoes tearing it up at my uncle’s wedding. True story. I did tap and ballet for about a year when I was four. Since then, it’s been all about freestyle. I have rhythm, which helps a lot, and I make it up as I go. Even when I had a partner, dance never united us.
When I was in college, I had a great group of Catholic friends. One Saturday night, we took the Metro to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. for free salsa lessons at a nightclub. That was my first real experience of social/ballroom dance, and it was glorious. My moves finally had a purpose. I had a plan. Everything started to click.
Last fall, I participated in dance lessons hosted by Single Catholics Serving Central Texas. I’ve lived in Texas for almost five years, but that was my first introduction to two-step, believe it or not! I was also able to reignite the smoldering embers of my collegiate salsa fire and learn a few new salsa patterns. It was a particularly special experience though, because, now that I have several more years of an active Catholic life under my belt, I can see the connection between God and dance much more clearly.
Matt Mordini of the Theology of Dance Institute in Illinois has put the basic elements of dance and the link between dance and God better than I could ever hope. His speaking style is a bit rough, but his message and dancing are on point. Take a look:
As Matt explains, dance has three parts:
- the leader,
- the follower,
- and the music.
The leader initiates, pursues, and has a plan. He is thoughtful, gentle, and attentive. He can’t do the pattern on his own, though. He needs someone to follow it.
The follower receives, returns, and carries out the plan. Matt makes a better point in his explanation at 2:44 than in the demonstration at 2:28. I do follower patterns on my own and find them quite fun, and Bethany looks quite pretty twirling solo. The key is in her initial hesitation. Did you catch that? She has to get started on her own and measure out the space herself. Even when she stops moving, her feet are positioned waiting for the next pattern. Women will dance without men, but the dance is not complete.
The leader and follower are defined by their relationship. They need each other. You can’t lead without someone who will follow, and you can’t follow a nonexistent leader. However, without music, one pattern, one time, is all you see. Music inspires new patterns, keeps the dancers moving, and complements their steps.
Without all three of those parts, dance is just not the same. The parts of dance correspond to the persons of the Holy Trinity. The leader initiates, much like God the Father is the creator of all things. The follower responds to the leader’s direction, just as Jesus delights in doing the will of his Father. The music guides and sustains both leader and follower, giving them energy while holding a rhythm of its own, just as the Spirit of love sustains both Father and Son while existing as its own person. Together, the three persons of the Trinity form one great dance of salvation and love.
For most of my life, I was a follower without a lead, just grooving to the music, as a single girl is prone to do when there’s music for dancing but no one to dance with. I look fine dancing alone, and I have a good time, but there’s always been something missing. I get tired of making up my own moves. I can never quite figure out how to combine them. And on the off chance that I am out dancing (such as at a wedding reception) and I am invited to dance, I don’t know how to follow!
When I decided to start taking dance lessons last fall (and to continue now in the spring), I had a mission. I wanted to learn how to follow. I have had some bad experiences that I don’t want to repeat. I can only blame so much on having a weak lead—or worse, a too-strong lead. (There is such a thing. Imagine or re-watch Matt dragging Bethany around, but imagine what it would look like if she was stumbling along. That was me with a competitive-level dancer once. Not pretty.) I needed to get the footwork drilled into my brain, learn to recognize signals, and treat my own problems.
I’ve drawn a number of lessons from learning to dance. Here are just a few:
- A strong lead is nice, but you have to know how to follow, too.
- A woman who is asking a man to dance is basically giving him a job. If he can’t lead, it doesn’t much matter whether you can follow.
- A follower who tries to lead herself (a.k.a. back-lead) is denying her lead the opportunity and right to lead. He’ll never get better if you don’t help/make him try.
- I take big steps when I turn. I’m learning to take smaller steps.
- Leads tend to bounce, shake, or do something “noisy” with the connection much too soon. There is style, and there is noise. No style and no noise together is better than either noise or style.
Overall, I am finding great joy in the vulnerability and freedom of allowing myself to be led and learning how to follow. I’ve been searching for this expression for a long time.