“We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.” Martha Graham
Dance As A Physical And Spiritual Practice
The practice of dance is one of the most rigorous and spiritual disciplines that exists. Like all practices, the more one learns, the more expansive are the results. Each step along the way yields riches of the physical and spiritual kind that not only strengthen one’s dance skills, but which enhance all aspects of life. Beginning with this post, I want to use the practice of dance as an analogy to the practices that can enhance our lives spiritually.
From 1960 to the mid-1980’s, I trained, performed for four years, and taught modern dance. Its gifts were abundant! Dance taught me about inner and outer strength, how to balance and center my body and mind, and the value of flexibility. Learning the value of daily dance practice and seeing that it could result in my accomplishing something I thought I couldn’t do taught me why it is so important not to give up when life becomes difficult.
Learning modern dance was enormously challenging for me. As a child, stricken by rheumatic fever and a heart murmur at four years of age, I was not allowed normal physical exercise, nor was I able to study ballet, which was my dream. Fortunately, I out grew the heart murmur and at sixteen, my high school offered a modern dance class which I quickly embraced. It was tough for a weakling like me, but with time I developed muscles that gave me strength and some shape to my skinny body. This was the time of Marilyn Monroe and years before Twiggy’s shape became the ideal.
Choosing Physical and Spiritual Health
Without physical strength, we cannot enjoy the activity of life, but we also need inner strength. A few years ago when I fell on the ice and sustained a broken elbow and two pelvic fractures, I went through months of physical therapy determined to return to my former state of activity. What I found shocking was that, according to my physical therapist, most people stop doing their exercises as soon as they leave the rehab facility. As a result, they never fully recover, choosing to remain disabled rather than be disciplined and committed to their healing.
With any injury or challenge, we need the inner strength to persevere and take responsibility for doing all we can do to overcome the challenge. This is how we grow in confidence. What dance taught me was that even when a new dance phrase was difficult and I struggled to perform it smoothly, if I kept going, it would eventually get easier, and one day it would flow effortlessly. There is always some challenge in learning something new. If we avoid everything that is difficult in life, we miss wonderful opportunities that, through our perseverance, will empower us. We all feel more confident when we have successfully overcome a daunting obstacle.
Both inner and outer strength require practice in life as in dance. By practicing, we develop experience, find new ways to solve problems, feel more confident, and grow in awareness. We can’t learn to dance without dancing. When we choose to develop strength, we are choosing to become an “athlete of God.”
When have you been an “athlete of God” lately? How do you practice?
In 1960 Martha Graham, choreographed a dance called “Acrobats of God” in which she celebrated and made fun of dancers and choreographers. Look here if you’d like to see a video.
© 2011 Georganne Spruce