Learning about Spanish culture was one part of my college summer school program in Madrid, Spain, and that meant churches, museums, bullfights, and flamenco dances. There were also many visits to nightclubs—called discotecas—but I don’t think my professors considered those part of my cultural education.
I thoroughly enjoyed every museum and would gladly return to Spain to see more art, but I could have done without the bullfights (they were quite gory) and after about ten churches, I was pretty much churched-out. Flamenco dancing was in its own category though.
Those women in red, flounced dresses, spinning and stomping their feet, touched something deep inside me.
While I sat still in rapt attention, seemingly quite contained, everything inside me was exploding, and I was joining in the dance.
I could imagine myself dressed in a flamboyant red dress, flipping the hem back and forth, creating the impression that I was in perpetual motion.
My love of dance goes back to my childhood when I took tap and ballet classes at the local community center. I was the self-conscious child during recitals whose movements were restrained. On the outside, I was timid and shy, afraid of drawing attention to myself for fear of being criticized. Deep down, I was tapping up a storm and my ballet moves were swanlike, but that movement stayed inside.
Neither tap nor ballet lasted long. I didn’t know how to explain what was happening on the inside, how the dancing was giving me the opportunity to be free, how those tiny movements of my body were amplified on the inside. My mother thought it was a waste of money since I did not seem to be having fun.
In her thirties, a friend took tap dancing lessons, and I went to her recital. She wore a Carmen Miranda hat and danced her heart out. She inspired me to take belly dancing classes, which I did for several years. I thought of it more as exercise than dance, but I did buy a red hip scarf with gold coins dangling from it.
Fortunately, these classes were in a room with no mirrors, so the only image I had was the one in my mind, and in my mind, I was one great belly dancer! The teacher encouraged us to make dramatic movements—hips swaying from side to side with a little oomph for emphasis. It was tremendous fun, and it helped free me to let what was inside out.
A few years ago, I saw Riverdance in Dublin, Ireland, which included flamenco dance. My reaction was the same as it had been thirty-some years ago. I was swept up in the movement and could imagine myself dressed in red, swaying rhythmically.
Dance has always touched something deep inside me. Whether I am distressed, sad, or even happy, I find that dance can help me express my emotions. At home, I often turn on music and dance. It is a great stress reliever, and it helps me get in touch with my body. When I can let go of my inhibitions and let my body move freely, I can also let go of tears. Dance is cathartic.
Madeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake, and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.