Dance

Dancing the Full Spectrum of Love

By J.C. Mitchell

It may be absurd to write about dance (and especially contemporary dance), for it is best experienced and felt, rather than described.  Therefore, I write this to encourage you to wrangle with the questions I see asked, answered, and asked again, through the human body.  Of course, if you are in the Pacific Northwest, this is a specific plug, but I hope others will find dancers and choreographers (and/or other artists) in their own local area to support the art and to support your spiritual growth. 

This weekend I will experience Whim WH’im, a contemporary dance company, starting with Olivier Weaver—the beloved artistic director--very emotional and vulnerable piece (per everything I have read and heard) and I believe you will simply be intrigued by the title: A Disagreeable Tale of Duplicity.  So while I encourage people to be more vulnerable, here will be twenty minutes of vulnerability in public, where we as the viewer can add our own layers of story. 

With Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Delicious Pesticides, the audience will get to revisit Pulp Fiction, where I hear the absurdity of violence will be explored (such as it was in the film).  To help with this, some of the movements are based off of the movements of insects as Annabelle shares with Victoria Farr Brown at the Whim W’Him Blog, “Insects don’t have an ego, […t]hey work together like one organism.”  Now are you intrigued, at an exploration of culture and violence, where we may be acting as one organism? This is only the conversation prior to these performances.

You may be into painters, playwrights, or filmmakers; for me, the idea an artist can convey a message (not just a story) without words is very special to me, as language is a struggle for my son, and even before him I had been drawn to this language, because it touches me in a way I can’t describe, which is of course apropos. 

Parents read a child’s body language, but my personal experience of having a child with communication delay has made this language of movement so essential.  From our parental hands being thrust towards a wanted cookie, to him saying, “I want cookie, plzzzz” we have appreciated this very slow dance and have learned communication can be clear without words.  We draw him into this world of language, with the appreciation of his own movements.

So while I can get up in front of a room and discuss and explain complex theologies, and explore these thought-provoking questions in essays, can I, like my son, delve into the inner emotions of humanity without words? 

The choreographers and dancers engage us to do just that, and I encourage you to not sit this one out (be it here in Seattle or in your area), for someone is dancing.  

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And yes we do slow down for some paintings, too! 

 

The Problem is the Answer

By J.C. Mitchell

I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, which for my family was more of an ethnic identifier than a faith community.  The church was there for special rituals in life, but it wasn’t until I lived in Ireland that I discovered a more intense relationship and thus I began my search for church in my adult years. 

I will never forget the great performances done by my peers in Connecticut through the Walter Shock School of Dance.  I had only participated in ballroom dancing, as everyone in my town of affluence did, but I simply enjoyed the larger theatric performances.  I can recall the time break dancers came to our school, and when we went to see a Soviet dance company share mostly traditional dances.  This started my love of dance that brought me to love ballet.

So both of these important parts of my life now were not part of my formative years.  Most people that love dance as an adult danced as a child, and constantly in the church I hear about youth church camp experiences and/or how one was raised in the church.  Neither of these is true for me, but that doesn’t make me any less of a fan, and the best fans are actually critics.  I think there is a unique perspective from those who discover church as an adult rather than those who have grown up with it. There is an outside appreciation that may be overlooked. The same may be said of fans of dance who were not dancers in their youth—there is something unique that draws them in.

Recently I was reading Jennifer Homans’ Appollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, and when I read these words about ballet, I could not help but also think of the church:

Today’s artists [PASTORS]—their students and heirs—have been curiously unable to rise to the challenge of their legacy. They seem crushed and confused by its iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own. Contemporary choreography [WORSHIP] veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation—usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lighting and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.[i]

I read this over and over, and I could not help but change the word artists with pastors and choreography with worship.  And I must say this applies equally to ballet as it does to the church.

Is this a pure coincidence? 

 Is this a problem of post-modernity? 

Is this a problem of consumerism? 

Is it a problem at all? 

Honestly I think there is more hope for ballet, for it is an artistic form that can explore the divine and humanism equally with no dogma, while the church has found itself stuck in a battle of dogma rather than following the one that preached against organized religion: that Rabbi Jesus.  But maybe we can take the forms and discipline of church, as with ballet, to new and very different ways we cannot even imagine.

Perhaps we can remember in both dance and church, but more importantly in life, what George Balachine asks, “Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”

 

 

 

 

 

[i]Homans, Jennifer (2010-11-02). Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (Kindle Locations 10507-10512). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Father's Day Dreams of Dance

I have so many dreams for my son: theologian and New Testament scholar are on the list as well as swimmer and ballet dancer.  The first two are because that’s the family business, since my wife and I are both ministers.  The swimmer is because he loves the water and he has flippers for feet.  The dancer is because he loves music and loves to dance, and spends hours in front of his reflection trying to get the choreography (sometimes his own) just right.  To be completely honest, I am also a very big fan of the ballet, not that I ever was a dancer, but I like to dance.

I was pondering these dreams for my son as I rode my motorcycle to a clergy gathering, and then pondered how the ballet dancer has something to say about the role of clergy.  As an ordained minister I am constantly reading and discussing the Bible and theology-- it is my vocation, just as a dancer lives and breathes dance.  Good dancers train and have great discipline, as do good clergy.

I want to be clear that the art form of ballet is not the same mission as the church.  It is quite different, yet the art of dance is something we all should do in some form.  We do have professionals that give their whole life for the performances.  Many of are influenced by music and great themes within humanity, and some even by the Bible.  To this day, my favorite interpretation of Luke 15:11-32, “The Forgiving Father” was created by George Balanchine with the music by Sergei Prokofiev and titled the “The Prodigal Son.”

As a fan that is moved by such powerful performances by the dancers and choreographers, I am influenced to dance in my own life as well, to read body language and to move to the music, all of which is important to life.  I would be so proud if my son became a ballet dancer.

Without these professional artists we would not have the great performances that remind us of the great beauty of the human body and music.  That is one role of the clergy.  We are to demonstrate the beauty of the divine--but I do not simply mean during worship, as if it is a performance.  While I am pretty proud of my latest sermon and worship service, my greatest work last week was being with a woman who died with her family and friends surrounding her.

I was present and demonstrated love of God, mainly with the help of the Spirit, but my words and stance help me open to the Spirit: it is a dance. I must admit these pastoral moments are very emotional and very difficult, and the more I experience and even practice for such events the more graceful I become.

I think of the dancer’s pointe shoes.  The first time, she (or he, but usually a woman) wears pointe shoes, the pain is probably the only thing she feels.  Slowly it becomes part of them and they are able to dance and experience the grace and movement greater than the pain.

As ministers (laity and ordained) we are called to demonstrate the Grace of God despite the pain of life and death. I can picture the “Father” God of Luke 15 dancing to his son, the same God at the table where everyone is invited. Our ministry must be on pointe, that we need to show grace and affirmation to everyone, which includes the LGBTIQ community, for the church has caused much pain, stayed silent to many deaths.  We need to move beyond casually observing to actively participating in the dance, and to participate means to include everyone.   It may be painful for the clergy to say this (we may be afraid of losing membership, financial contributions, or other fears) but we must lead the church to the Grace of the Table, now.

My dream is to see my son dance.