Two to Tango ~ Dana

Last weekend I completely stepped out of my comfort zone and, at the age of 38, performed the Argentine Tango in my first dance recital.

Here’s how it all came about. A very good friend of mine is a professional ballroom dancer. In fact, he and his professional partner recently came in 3rd in the world in an international competition in Amsterdam. I met Jaime when my husband bought us West Coast Swing dance lessons for Valentine’s Day before we had kids. Since then, Jaime and I have danced on and off, just for fun, in my living room and have become dear friends. This last October, we were talking about my birthday and how I was struggling with the recent loss of my father.

“Remember the part in the movie Evita when the couples are dancing the tango, clinging to each other in their sadness after her death?” I asked him one night. “Can you just come and dance with me? Can I just cling to you and cry and tango?”

Without a second thought, Jaime said to me, “I’ll do one better. I will choreograph a tango and you and I will dance it in honor of your father at the studio’s showcase in January.” I sobbed.

Now, let me represent my Long Beach State Volleyball girls and say that I can dance… up in the nightclubs. If you were out dancing on Second Street in Long Beach some time between 1995 and 1998, we probably danced together, especially if you were at Belmont Station. You would have noticed us, me and my 6 foot and above teammates. But let me be the first to tell you that dancing out there is WAY different than dancing in the ballroom. Way. Poor Jaime. There’s probably nothing worse than trying to get the nightclub dancer out of a girl. And to be honest, I didn’t realize just how much I really needed to learn.

The first day that I came to the studio, it was pouring rain. Jaime was waiting in the dance room, dressed in slacks, and a vest and tie. He began teaching me the Argentine Tango and I cried. A lot. Over the next weeks and months, we met every Wednesday. Every Wednesday he showed up for me, taught me, let me cry, and demanded my best, for me and for my father.

Luckily I understand what my body is doing, but at almost 40, it can be hard to make my knees do what I want them to. When did start to move like an old lady? My favorite thing that Jaime says to me is, “Ok, do it again, but this time don’t make it look like you’re in pain.” Damn it.

All week long I had been filled with emotion: love for my dad, sorrow for missing him, gratitude for Jaime’s friendship, nervousness for wanting to do well.  Saturday night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on television. Near the end, as Harry is preparing to face his enemy, he is surrounded by his parents, and others, who have died. He looks at his mother and says, “Why are you here?” and she looks at him with love and says, “We never left.” I looked into the darkness, hoping to see, perhaps, my dad sitting in the leather club chair across the room. I whispered, “Are you still here, too?”

Sunday was our big day. With perfectly coifed hair and gorgeous makeup, I stepped onto the dance floor with my darling friend. We danced to “Milonga del Angel” by Astor Piazzolla, a beautifully sad and mournful tango song.

Fast, sharp, explosive steps and kicks, followed by slow, passionate accents and movements, characterize the tango itself. I can still hear Jaime’s voice from rehearsals, “Slow, slow, quick, quick, up… and… fast, swivel, swivel, swivel, stop!” And so goes the dance of grief. There are times of rage, of desperation, of explosive pain; and there are times of quiet sadness, of nostalgia. And it’s often surprising to me how intertwined they all become.

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So I had my dance. I had my Evita moment and clung to my partner in sorrow. And it was life-changing.  My family and my friends, who have been so unfailingly supportive the last eight months, surrounded me once more. And by becoming vulnerable, by opening my wounded heart for others to see, I invited in healing. I invited in love. By allowing them to carry me through the hard days, I find the strength to carry on.  And I was again reminded that love goes on living, long after the body dies.

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And to Jaime, thank you. Thank you for your generosity of spirit. Thank you for your grace and elegance. Thank you for your professionalism and your amazing talent. And mostly, thank you for sharing all of that with me, dear friend. I love you.

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Dance for God ~ Jen

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I never wanted Kate to dance.

I want her to smash volleyballs down the line and laugh.

I’m not kidding. Because that girl who uses her height and strength to pound a ball into the floor—that girl will not get pushed around in this world. That girl will never be a crumpled heap in a corner because of what the world did to her.

But Kate doesn’t like balls. Or smashing anything. Kate wants to dance.

So last summer, I found a dance studio in town and signed her up. It was disorganized and a bit silly, but that was ok with me because I wasn’t too serious anyhow.

I sat in the waiting room, watching my daughter on a tiny tv, listening to the other moms. They were much as I expected: catty, gossipy, whispery. Overly concerned with how big or small their daughters were in comparison with the others. The hip-hop music coming out of the big practice room was questionable. We won’t be doing hip-hop, ever I thought. One day we got an email reminding us that if our small children were a nuisance in the waiting room, we were expected to leave. I heard from a friend that some moms actually ran a dad and his toddler out the door one night.

I felt uncomfortable, but at the Christmas recital, Kate nailed it and had a wonderful time. “I LOVE dance!” she told me. We stayed.

Then in late January, the recital costumes were posted. I needed to pay $90 for something that I did not feel was appropriate for my 5 year old. I looked at what the older girls were expected to wear and saw my future—it had less and less material with every passing year. If she wanted to be serious about dance, this was not a place I was willing to make that happen.

I went home and Googled “Christian dance studio” out of desperation.  I didn’t even know if such a thing existed. But it does, and right down the road from our town.

We made the switch. At the first class, I sat in front of a giant window with my daughter just on the other side. Her teacher had the girls sit in a circle and hold hands.

Then they started class with a prayer.

God sent me more Grace than I knew I needed. I wanted her in a place where modesty and grace were important.  I got a place where moms and teenagers study the Bible at the studio; I’ve seen beautiful dancing to Christian music and watched kind young ladies and men mentor the little ones around them. My toddler is welcome here, with her sticky fingers and her wobbling walk. People just move around her, patting her head as they go by. The peaceful moms have smiles for every child, not just their own. I don’t sense competition, only the commitment to hold each other up. Conversations center around home school and church groups and praise choirs.

They are serious about their dance at this place, too. All the instructors are professionals, and they use the American Ballet Theater National Training Curriculum. I don’t know what that means, but there are dancers on pointe. The music is clean and Christian, even the hip-hop, and the dancers work very, very hard in their classes.

This last weekend was the recital. I knew it was going to be great. I told everyone they were going to see some beautiful dancing to great Christian music. A visual feast.

I wasn’t wrong. But I was far away from right. That’s not what happened in that theater. It wasn’t dancing.

It was worship.

The little kids were adorable in their costumes, stumbling through their dances while trying to wave at their parents.

But the older dancers, they knew what they were there for. They didn’t just dance to the songs, they felt the songs. They praised God with their arms and their legs and their spirits. They weren’t dancing for us. They were dancing for Him. And they lifted us up with them in praise and joy.

This is light years away from “Dance Moms” and mean girls.

This is about growing the gifts that God gave Kate in a way that glorifies God. This is learning that being on stage is not for her or about her, but for others, a service, a witness. This is about working for God and not for applause.

And because they were dancing for God and not themselves, they were calm, confident, spiritual.

Now I want Kate to dance with all my soul. Or at least stay with this studio long enough to learn that whatever gift she has came from God and should be offered back to Him in service and witness.

Because it’s not winning that will hold the evils of the world at bay. It’s not physical aggression that will stop her from being a crumpled heap in the corner.

That’s not what kept me safe, either.

It’s God. She has to keep her eyes on God.

www.dunamixdanceproject.com