On Wednesday evenings I make the trek across D.C. to the campus of American University and Wesley Theological Seminary to fill the dance hole in my life in an audited course called Embodied Prayer. This class explores the use of movement as a form of worship and prayer, which, though movement as worship is a concept as old as worship itself, is new to me. Since dance came back into my life as a high schooler, I’ve felt that when I dance, I feel the most open, free, and mindful of the world around me and within me. And yet until this month, the concepts of movement and mindfulness have existed fairly exclusively in my mind. The two hours I spend each week in a spacious classroom with six seminary students (most of whom have little dance background), walking, bending, posing, and turning is changing the way I see movement in my life and bringing me closer to God.
Each class for the first six weeks corresponds to a theme from a “rhythm” of prayer written by our professor. Two weeks ago, we explored the idea of “letting go and allowing” by practicing a trust walk, in which one partner at a time lets go of control by closing their eyes and allowing their partner to lead them in movement around a space with one hand on their back and one holding their hand. I was the first to be led in my partnership, so when the time came I let my eyes close, held out my hand, and tried to open myself to the experience. The music began and my partner directed me gently, both of us tentative as we became accustomed to our roles. First, she led me in a wide circle around the edge of the room. With my eyes closed, I felt my other senses heighten, attuned to the rustles of the others in the room, the scuffs of feet on the carpet, to the feeling of the solid floor beneath me and the subtle shifts in my partner’s hand signaling the direction she next wanted to move. The music picked up, gaining a steadier rhythm, and slowly my steps, mimicking my partners’, became a jaunty waltz. Then, a breathtaking moment of weightlessness as my partner lifted her hands, one at a time, to switch to my other side. Trust and momentum carried me through the split second of aloneness, until her hands once again grounded me and guided me forward. Too soon the song came to an end, we slowed to a stop, and I savored how light I felt, how encircled and supported.
The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever done as a dancer. Yet I realized that the peace I felt in the moments before my eyes opened mirrored the sense of grounding and calm I often find when I improvise freely to music. The trust walk exercise is a beautiful metaphor for God’s guidance in our lives, a powerful way to practice feeling God’s presence. So I’ve been wondering if maybe, all along, the improvisation I love to do was my body seeking a way to feel the presence of God. When you’re living simply in a big city with few connections to local dance networks, it’s a bit difficult to find ways and spaces to dance affordably, so I haven’t been improvising as regularly as I was last spring and summer. Still, I’m finding ways to listen to my body and to God in the spaces I have available to me, and as the weather grows warmer, I’ll venture outside more (my favorite place to dance!). Stay tuned for movement exploration videos as I delve deeper into the spirituality of dance!