Hear the words of the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack and Sons of the Desert.
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance… I hope you dance…
Toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children often have access to creative movement, dance, and theater classes. As children become teens, the academic and athletic demands on their weekly schedule can squeeze out time to express themselves through dance. This year, my daughter returned to in-person high school as a sophomore. She took the last required P.E. class in the form of a year-long yoga program. I was thrilled that she could learn sun salutations, practice resting poses, experience meditation, and teach poses with her peers. She took this time to exhale from the daily academic load and smoothly reenter a high school social life, one she had only experienced online as a freshman. Her exposure to yoga brought us closer as we could share our curiosity about yoga.
I have been teaching and practicing yoga in San Francisco for twenty-three years. When my daughter was young, she attended a few of the prenatal yoga, postnatal yoga, and general yoga classes that I taught in studios or on retreats. I taught one-off yoga classes for her preschool and elementary school friends and parents. She observed people doing self-care as they stretched and relaxed in calm environments. How does this relate to church or raising a family in the Christian faith? Taking time to honor your body, breath, and mind is prayer. We are made in God’s image, so caring for our earthly bodies is giving thanks to God. When we are sensitized to how we breathe, think, and move during the day, we can make better choices about using the energy we have.
Last Sunday, Andrea Polites and I danced for the Calvary Chancel Choir Spring Concert entitled “With a Spring in Your Step.” The program was a “highly-varied selection of dance-infused music from all over the world.” When I found out that this concert would feature dance melodies, I asked if any pieces could be danced on the chancel. Michael Conley, Calvary Director of Music, replied that “A Glad New Song” by Gwyneth Walker would work as it was the “only piece on the program that isn’t about dance and rhythm or in the form of a dance.” Andrea, a long-time professional dancer and teacher, worked with me to choreograph the piece. We look forward to dancing it one more time this coming Sunday, June 12.
The special part about dancing on June 6 was that the concert fell on the Day of Pentecost. In the past, I danced at Calvary on Pentecost at the request of then Director of Music, Alden Gilchrist. Over the years, I choreographed solo pieces for the Bach “B Minor Mass: Gloria,” “i thank you god” by E.E. Cummings, and another New Orleans style medley. I wonder why many churches only feature dance on The Day of Pentecost? The Holy Spirit is with us every day and we are called to breathe and move. Why is liturgical dance usually performed only by one or two people and not modified for the congregation to move as they are able in the aisles? Dance is ancient and generated by community. I experienced much about group and solo dance/storytelling/art through the InterPlay Leadership Program founded by Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter. We connected deeply by witnessing each other’s stories, movements, and stillness. I have transferred that approach to the classroom, camp, and outdoor programs.
During Calvary Sunday Studio, we have mini-dance parties, walk/run the labyrinth, or use scarves and bells. Children naturally want to move around and dance. They love making their own shapes during freeze dance. They imagine being bigger than the room or smaller than a seed. Children are invited to see how they have control over their bodies and that they can safely try and explore new movements. I remember working with Calvary youth and teaching them dance movements to “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” which we performed in a circle in Calvin Hall. Dr. Laird Stuart was there and commented after we were done, “That is an example of why youth leaders are working with youth and I’m not.” It was a funny moment. It also made me think that in the past pastors were not trained to focus on movement and dance to encourage fellowship or foster community.
I remember dancing at San Francisco Theological Seminary arts workshop week with Carla DeSola, liturgical dancer and founder of Omega West. She taught us to ground ourselves with our bare feet on the sacred ground, trace the physical space, and truly feel what the music was conveying. We created a candle dance in the SFTS Chapel which was such a moving experience. I wanted more of that.
Barbara Richard and I used to host Dance Meditation in the Calvary Lower Level over the years. People would come to the Calvary space and explore the 5Rhythms developed by Gabrielle Roth. They are: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness. I found so much complexity as well as joy through this approach. I also attended Erin King’s Pilates classes for many years in the Calvary Lounge. We shared in a weekly community. At one point we created a weekend retreat to do more Pilates together. One can attend Bible study, Pilates, or a volunteer opportunity outside of the church and do the holy job of witnessing oneself and others doing God’s work.
I invite you to find a physical practice that helps you feel some sense of liberation or freedom. Jesus calls us to be free from things that hold us back from connecting directly with God who is always there. Dancing helps us celebrate, release, prepare us for rest and let go, so that we can connect more fully with the divine. We can engage our freedom to advocate for the safety and autonomy of others. Breath, prayer, connection with others, and movement requires our physical presence and gives us life abundantly. Dance on!