“Oh Woman, come before us, before our eyes longing for beauty, and tired of the ugliness of civilization…Dance us the sweetness of life. Give us again the sweetness and the beauty of the true dance.” Isadore Duncan
On the morning of September 15, before the Brave On guests began to arrive, I stood in the main gathering space of Goei Center. Sunlight streamed through the windows and fell onto the aged hardwood floors. People bustled in and out, attending to last-minute details. Round tables were set with white cloths, freshly cut flowers, and custom-made journals, which offered the lovely invitation, “Engage the hope of your heart. Experience your Father’s love. Enter the tent. Come.”
My nervous energy led me to a corner in the back of the room where the sunlight seemed to pool. I paced in circles as I slipped between prayer and practice. In less than three hours I would be standing center stage, delivering words I’d been cultivating for months. As I whispered these words, I looked down at my feet. For the first time I noticed that my shoes looked like ballet slippers; they felt like them too. As my feet moved along the light-soaked planks, I felt the urge to dance.
I used to dance.
I began dancing as a young girl, with weekly ballet and jazz classes. Leotards and pink tights filled a drawer in my dresser, and a trunk in the attic held my old recital costumes. Eventually I earned my coveted pointe shoes. I continued dancing until halfway through my high school years, when I traded my ballet slippers for a set of pom-poms. After a year on dance team, I stopped dancing, except for late-night excursions to dimly-lit clubs during my college years. Then, after college I stopped dancing altogether.
I stopped dancing.
Last fall at the Allender Center’s Story Conference I penned the words, “I had been a dancer…I gave it up.” In the dark of night as I made this confession to my journal (and later to my story group), I knew that I was naming something significant.
I was finally being brave enough to admit my love-hate relationship with my body and explore where it originated.
I knew all too well the many ways I despised my body. Words like “clumsy” and “weak” had spilled onto the page. My thoughts turned toward the fifty pounds that I’ve repeatedly battled during the past two decades. Fatigue, vertigo, aches, and pains came to mind. However, God asked me to look beyond all of this and peer into the shadows to see where the story of my body changed. When did I stop feeling at home in my body?
As I entered my story, I saw that I had given up more than merely dancing. I had given up grace, beauty, strength, and self-expression. I believed it was no longer mine to offer. I had also given up the hope that any of this could be restored. In her beautiful book Embracing the Body, Tara Owens writes, “Believing our bodies to be painfully incapable of certain types of redemption cripples us to the possibilities God has for the whole of us, bodies included.” This idea was an epiphany: my hatred toward my body was hindering the work of God in my life. In an act of surrender and repentance, I invited God’s redemption of my heart, my story, and my body.
This redemption has unfolded on the yoga mat, as I rediscover breath and grace and strength. It has come in a ballroom dance studio, as I look at a stranger’s reflection in the mirror and admit that, yes, that courageous woman is me. It has come in moments of prayer and worship as my heart connects to my body—energizing my legs, my arms, my hands, my voice. I lift on my toes and sway, and I raise my arms almost involuntarily. As my heart moves through postures of joy, petition, and praise, my body responds. I am learning to live in this truth: “Every part of my body bears the mark of being the temple of God” (Dan Allender).
When the time came for me to speak at Brave On, I responded to the invitation: “Engage the hope of your heart. Experience your Father’s love. Enter the tent. Come.” I stepped onto the stage of the Goei Center, stood in the spotlight, and danced.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 23 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.