Taking Time to Dance
OF A DANCE MOM
By Jessica Olivito
There’s something emotional that happens to me when I watch other people dance. At first, I simply thought I was a proud mama who loved to watch her little ballerina twirl. But soon, I noticed that the alligator tears continued when I would watch other people dance. I remember thinking, "What’s wrong with me? What are all these emotions about? Why am I always tearing up when I watch others dance?”
It’s safe to say that I wasn’t much of a dancer as a child. Needless to say, I never received any formal training or had much personal interest in this beautiful art. My parents weren’t dancers either. I remember thinking that I lacked both the coordination (and the rhythm) for it…so I pretty much gave up on the idea of dance before even trying it.
As one of the “chubby” girls in middle school, I’m sure my low self-esteem also attributed to the situation. At this age, dancing would have drawn way too much attention to my flawed body - so the bottom line was this: there would be no dancing. By high school, I had convinced myself that I was too fat and too awkward to dance in public, and by college, I remember getting drunk to have more “courage” to dance.
Of course, there were also some dance memories from my wedding. First, I became emotional when slow dancing with my father because I realized that I was no longer his “little girl.” Then, I remember my shy, younger brother hitting the dance floor (which threw our whole family for a loop) as we watched him perform a “full-on” choreographed routine to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. I will never forget the laughter that billowed from our reception hall as we watched my brother let loose. It was freeing to watch my brother dance.
Five years later, my daughter Morgan was born. By her third birthday, it was obvious that she had a passion for dance. As soon as she was old enough, her father and I anxiously enrolled Morgan into competitive dance where she began developing skills in many different genres: ballet, tap, modern, jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop. There, Morgan spent 10 years growing in skills and agility. In her prime, she was dancing over 20 hours a week after school.
Looking back, God really blessed us with the perfect dance instructors for Morgan – people that were not only strong role models – but were also teachers capable of providing both the love and the discipline she needed (while her parents selfishly chose to focus on the aftermath of their messy divorce instead). But for Morgan, dance was more than just an escape from her broken family – it was a place of pure solace and unconditional support – a place where she always felt accepted, loved and valuable (at a time when her mother was incapable of fulfilling the role). And for this, I will always be thankful to Turning Pointe Dance Company.
But most of all, I am thankful to God for bringing reconciliation and restoration into my life. In exchange for these newfound freedoms, I felt empowered to dance without reservation (or worry) as to whether people were laughing at me or with me as I worshipped. And yes, I’m fully aware that my dance style still closely mirrors Elaine from Seinfeld, but I consciously choose to dance anyway - in spite of my imperfections and lack of professional training.
For me, dancing became an important act of worship and a provided me with a new way to express my freedom. And without God’s grace and mercy, I’d still be in bondage today - selfishly “stuck in my own head” fixated on my past. So for this reason, I’m no longer afraid to dance in public. Instead, I rejoice in the freedom that Jesus provided me.
In recent months, the Holy Spirit has given me more insight as to why I tear up so easily when watching other people dance. For me, I guess there's just something special about corporate dance (regardless of the genre or song). Maybe it's just the spirit of cooperation that happens right before our eyes? Or maybe it’s the presence of pure unity – that happens through the cohesiveness of their movements as we watch the "body" physically come together for a greater purpose? To me, that’s what makes corporate dance so magical.
I’ve also come to learn that God loves dance (because He talks about it in His Word). And while it may have taken me 40 years for me to appreciate the importance of dance in my life, I now recognize its supreme value from the perspective of worship. Dance is an extension of my soul and a personal expression of my freedom in Christ. For me, it’s an opportunity to truly worship my Father in a state of pure gratitude.
For almost a year, the subject of dance has been close to my heart, but because of my lack of “training” about the discipline, I’ve felt unequipped to write about it. Yet God kept encouraging me to study what His Word said about dance and prompted me to feature some guest writings about dance. As a result, I invited two other insightful writers into the conversation. My prayer is that our writing "collectively" causes you to think a little deeper about the role that dance (and worship) plays in your life. And just maybe… there might even be a few brave souls out there willing to contribute to the conversation (by adding their personal sentiments about dance in the comments section below).