Tag Archives: body image

Dancing to Freedom

Dancing as worship. Dancing as expression. Dancing as movement. Dancing as communion.

Self-awareness.

To dance without being seen. To dance alone in the dark. To dance in a room full of people. To feel isolated and in community.

The beauty of motion.

Dancing is something I take pretty seriously.

When I say dancing, I don’t mean structured dance class or ballet. I mean hardcore on-the-dance-floor-looking-kind-of-crazy dancing. The kind that a lot of people are scared of. I take it seriously because I love it, but I don’t take it seriously at all because I am not in the least concerned with how well I dance. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

It’s hard for me to pass up an invitation to dance, but don’t get the idea that I’m any good. I’m pretty terrible, more of a flailer than a dancer – all elbows and knees and sweaty forehead – and yet I can’t seem to get enough of it. The melding of a good beat with the muscles and bones and tendons God has given me, all moving together and freeing that tightness we all feel but not all of us are aware of. The tightness of holding too much. The tightness of long weeks of doing what we should, and yet still feeling a hole.

I went to a dance party just the other night filled with boys and girls and hipsters and intellectuals and agnostics and Christians and people who drank and people who didn’t drink. Some made only a brief appearance in the dark basement with flashing lights and sound mixing, standing a good head and shoulders above everyone just long enough to decide “dancing wasn’t for them.” These people promptly turned around and headed back up the wooden stairs to resume investigating the link between “What is life?” and “What is art?”, all while consuming (perhaps) a little too much alcohol. Then there were the boys who would’ve done anything to dance with a girl, sneaking up to them, touching their hands, their arms, hoping that at least one of the feminine among them would comply. This crowd, though, would have none of it, and alas, I found that the genders do better mixing at senior centers than they do at a vastly Christian dance party.

Darkness, lights flashing, faces distorted by the sharpness. Bodies I recognized and bodies I didn’t, shaking and moving in a freeness some only dream of.

I danced and thought, this is when I feel free. I’ve been searching for those moments more often lately, trying to understand why I feel trapped and how to stop feeling that way. One of the boys at the party hadn’t danced in forever and he looked so nervous (and quite stupid, frankly), with his arms close to his side and his feet shuffling awkwardly on the cement floor. I leaned in to him and said above the music, “Just pretend no one can see you. That’s the best way to dance.”

He looked at me, and excitement mixed with the fear in his dark eyes.

I don’t know if he tried it or if it worked, because I moved away from him to another group of friends across the room.

That, though, is seriously some of the best advice I can think of. Pretend no one’s watching. Just dance. Just do what you want. 

There’s so much freedom in it.

I love reading books on issues I care about. Last night I finished one that’s gonna stick with me for awhile: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I’d heard the author, Peggy Orenstein, on Diane Rehm a few weeks ago, and the title is what hit me first. A+ for grabbing attention! I immediately requested it through inter-library-loan, and just now got it two weeks later.

Let’s just say I whipped through this book so fast I couldn’t believe it when I came to the end. Orenstein does exactly what the title suggests: she delves into a lot of questions I have about raising (and, really, of being raised myself) in a culture that tells girls what to like, how to like it, and that anyone who does not like it is weird. This is not a new idea, of course. There have been social norms since there was such a thing as society. The difference now, according to Orenstein, is that the media and advertising play a new role in the creation and maintenance of those norms. It is a first that marketing has targeted such a young audience, but, one could argue, it still isn’t that audience that is buying merchandise. The parents continue to make choices for their children, but it is becoming increasingly hard to toe the line of “healthy consumerism” and overboard.

I have always shied away from things overtly girlie. Pink and sparkles and jewelry have never been my thing. Another aspect Orenstein touches on, though, is body image. It’s surprising how much this is linked to the early commercialism geared towards young girls and how we teach our daughters to become women. Like most women around the world, I have struggled with my body image since I was fairly young, and I am only now realizing how to handle it in a healthy way. So as I read Orentstein’s section on body image, I expected to shake my head as one who has been through it already, one who has come out on the other side.

This is the blurry line, though. I read this book with the interest of an outside observer, but instead of coming away from it seeing things more clearly, I found myself with a new (and largely subconscious) focus on my own body. Instead of seeing myself as free and learning about how I’d been enslaved in the first place, I was thinking with every bite, with every glance in the mirror, Shoot. Cut it out, Cath. Instead of freeing myself, my knowledge was starting to re-entrap me.

My first thought was that maybe I should stop reading books like this, books that make my hyper-aware of myself and things I struggle with. I know, though, that this removal of self from reality is something I am too quick to run to (i.e., my declaration of living on a farm without electricity at the age of six). The bottom line is: I still think knowledge is worth it. I can’t stop learning and changing how I think because it makes me momentarily relapse into whatever it is I’m reading about. I plan to read books on issues that are upsetting, things that I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with, even though I know this might mean I think about it more. Even though it might mean I find myself mired (again) in my own sin. It’s a balancing act, really. How to ponder issues and learn, while remembering that we are not above falling into the same old  traps.