Joining the Dance

Dance is one of those words that evokes a visceral response inside me – simultaneous anxiety and longing, joy and fear. I grew up in a family and church culture that frowned on dancing, so I didn’t learn to dance when I was still young, free, and untouched by shame. It would have been so much easier.

By the time I met my husband in college, I’d only attended a handful of school dances, where I spent most of my time standing against the wall, yearning to be either asked to dance or free enough to just start dancing anyway, partner or not. I’m still not sure to this day what possessed me to go to those dances, I think it must have had something to do with attending school in the age of Footloose and Dirty Dancing…where even the uncool kids magically learned to dance. I recognized in Chris the possibility of someone with more courage to try new and uncomfortable things, and a tiny seed of hope began to grow in me that someday, somehow, I too could be gliding gracefully across a dance floor in a handsome man’s arms.

There is something so alive and beautiful and moving and celebratory about dancing that nothing else conveys.

This is the realization and longing that gets provoked inside of me every time I bump up against the word. I’ve been to countless company Christmas parties, Journey celebrations and weddings where dancing was the highlight of the event. I find myself, too often, still standing against the wall, (or glued to my chair at a table a safe distance away from the dance floor.) I want to dance, I long to dance, maybe I could learn to dance…I can’t dance. No fairy godmother or light footed, bad-boy protagonist has come along to magically transform me into a confident, graceful figure on the dance floor. And so the voice I have considered most credible is the one saying, “I can’t dance.”

Fast forward a couple decades, and Chris and I finally take the proverbial leap and sign up for a community ed dance class. I remember feeling nervous and yet almost giddy each night, so full of hope that finally, we were going to get this. I remember laughing together a lot that last night, catching each other’s eyes as we performed the prescribed steps around the tiny, elementary school gymnasium. We exchanged words about how much fun we were having, we marveled at the possibility that we really could do this, and then, feeling brave, I suggested we ask for help with the one part of the step we kept stumbling on. One of our instructors came over and watched us try to move through the sequence a couple times. Then she stepped back a bit, shook her head and said, “I don’t know what to tell you…you know, some people just don’t get it” and walked away.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that class other than walking slowly, in silence, to our car. Inside, my stomach churned, my chest felt tight, and I could feel the sting of tears beginning to build. I berated myself for daring to hope, for actually believing I could be graceful, most of all, for being stupid enough to ask for help, thereby offering another a front row seat to my shamefully clumsy attempts at dancing. I know evil came for us that night. Its hatred of our delight in each other was palpable, those sacred moments of shared celebration and freedom that were partly about the dance, and mostly about something so much bigger.

Several years have passed since that night, enough time that my resolve to join the dance and laugh at evil is greater than my fear. Our boys have actually become really good dancers, and Chris and I joke that since they came from us, it must be in us somewhere! Last night, our son Matthew coached us through some swing moves in preparation for a Christmas party complete with a live big band straight from Chicago. I felt the familiar nervous and giddy energy building in me; he encouraged me kindly to relax and just have fun with it. I caught my husband’s eyes again, our smiles speaking the depth of love and hope each of us was feeling in that moment.

And then he dipped me, and I remembered to put the right leg up and lean into him just so… and it was magical. The magic lingered as a few short hours later, we gathered at our house to celebrate the engagement of our oldest son, Tim and his fiancée Anna. Knowing the proposal was coming; I’ve begun to imagine their wedding and the celebration it will be. I’ve watched them dance playfully together many times, so picturing them on the dance floor at their wedding is not hard.

And this is how I know that hope is real: I am picturing myself there as well. I am holding those magical and yet real moments from last night, moments I can return to when I start to retreat towards the safety of the wall, and instead listen to the whisper, “I want to dance, I long to dance, I love to dance.”


Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity.  Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.