Have you ever received a gift so special and precious that every time you saw it or used it, you couldn’t help but smile and think of the person who gave it to you?
That’s exactly how I feel about dancing. With every plié, port de bras, or waltz across the floor, I can’t help but smile, thanking God constantly for this precious gift that is nothing short of a miracle in my life.
Yes, miracle. Not just because ballet is arguably one of the most physically difficult and demanding performing art forms (and I’m fortunate my body can even move in such unnatural ways), but because even after 18 years of dancing–and struggling to dance–I’m still just as in love with it, if not more so now than before. It’s a miracle because dance is the one thing I feel certain I was created by God to do. And I’m doing it.
It’s interesting, there are many people (I was one of them before) who believe dance has very little to do with God or miracles. Dance, especially ballet, is about pushing one’s physical, emotional, and even mental limitations, constantly reaching for a ceiling of perfection that doesn’t exist. In essence, it is an art form in which the dancer strives to BE a god, not believe in God. The idea is to be completely self-motivated and self-reliant, capable of mastering the most exceptional physical tasks by sheer willpower alone. You work your way up through practice, not prayer.
At least, that’s what I thought. Even after being Christian for so long, I used to see dance as distinct from my faith, that I could somehow compartmentalize my life into two separate realities: one was God-centered; the other, self-centered. But that kind of mentality only led me to further disappointment, brokenness, and pain: No matter how hard I worked or how much I strived in dance, I–and those around me–were never satisfied with what I could accomplish. I could always be better, stronger, skinnier, prettier…I was never enough.
But God was. In time, despite my hurt and frustration with dance, God showed me a different way. He showed me the true beauty of dance, measured not by how well I met others’ (or my own) expectations, but by how much He delighted in me. He showed me how fulfilling dance could be, not determined by the sound of others’ approval, but by the sound of His voice saying, “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased” (ref. Matthew 3:17).
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the film Chariots of Fire (1981), following the story of two very gifted, very different track athletes who competed in the 1924 Olympics. At one point, Eric Liddell, the Christian athlete who is preparing to do missions in China, shares with his sister why he runs:
“I believe that God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt […] You were right, it’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”
I said before that the mentality of dancers is often, “practice, not prayer.” But what if practice is prayer? What if dance is not a lifestyle or idol that competes with God, but an act of worship that honors Him?
Maybe that sounds too complicated or too religious to you…but the truth is, it has made me fall even deeper in love with dance (and with life) than ever before. It is a truth that encourages me to know my worth is in something greater than others’ expectations or judgements, and humbles me to know I’m dancing for some One other than myself, One who eternally delights in me.
And that is truly a miracle.