I danced in the morning when the world was begun,

And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun…

–Sydney Carter, “Lord of the Dance”

         The ballroom dance lessons were given by Miss Aguiar, our junior high music teacher, once a week at the Kailua Community Center.  Her name was exotic to me–not commonplace like Ikeda, or Chang, or Kamalani, or Dawson.  A tall woman who dressed like a bird of paradise, she would tap the floor with her heels: forward, side, together, back, side, together.

“Gentlemen, Gentlemen,” she would say, “Lead!”  I was so self-conscious and intimidated I could not lead, nor could I be led.  One of my partners, a beautiful Samoan girl whose surname was Dawson, and who was surrounded by crinoline, would take my limp hand, which had fallen irritatingly low on her waist, and slide it forcefully higher on her back.

It was no use. I felt so betrayed by my adolescent body. I felt ineffectual, awkward, eager, mechanical, unresponsive. Why was it that I feared and mistrusted my own body?  Why was it that I felt so ungentlemanly–ugly, lacking in rhythm, paralyzed–when everything around me moved with a rhythm and a beat. Trees tossing and leaning in the wind, birds exploding out of a bush, stones pushing out of the ground, clouds streaming overhead, mountains reaching for the heavens, galaxies expanding into infinite space, all luring me to move with vigor and joy in a sphere of resonance and responsiveness?

These patterns and rhythms bind me to the heart of creation and urge my whole body to express the full range of emotions to which I am subject.  Why am I sitting here so paralyzed by fear and mistrust?  I could be vibrating to nature’s tuning fork, resonating to the joy and pain of the whole creation.

Miss Aguiar ran us through the gamut of dance steps–the fox trot, the waltz, the rumba, the tango, the swing–all of which were beyond my adolescent capabilities. It wasn’t until one of my friends taught me the Hawaiian step–left foot forward, right foot back, left foot forward, right foot forward, left foot forward, right foot back–that I was able to get out on the dance floor in high school.

II

         Before my wife Joan and I went to seminary and became ordained ministers, we both had stressful jobs. To relieve the stress and because we enjoyed it so much, we went dancing practically every weekend. We’d show up wherever there was a live dance band–at the Elks Club or the White Mill–order a coke, then hit the dance floor. We danced every waltz, foxtrot, and swing. We sipped our cokes when the band played a polka or a tango. Then we’d be back on the floor again, spinning to the waltz, Hawaiian-stepping or magic-stepping to the foxtrot, or jitterbugging to the swing. As the music carried us away and I whirled Joan around the other dancers, there’d appear this beatific expression on her face. That expression made the evening for me. We were fully exercised and happy by the end of the first set, after about forty-five minutes to an hour, and we’d say our goodbyes to the band and our fellow dancers and leave for home.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Joan and I’d get into frustrating arguments about dancing. For some reason she believed that I was a great dancer. Perhaps she came to believe that from watching me on the dance floor, at some business party or other, dancing in the crowd where I thought no one was watching me. I had it in my head that I didn’t know how to dance, but when I was on the dance floor and got started, I loved to move about, step this way and that way, and even twirl my partner about.

I really believed that I didn’t know how to dance, but Joan thought she was married to the best dance partner in the world. She didn’t mind being the first ones on the dance floor. She’d drag me out there, in the glare of the lights, and with every step, the words would come out of my mouth, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” It was the “I-can’t-I-can’t waltz” that I led her in, and it infuriated her.

“I see you dancing with others,” she’d say, “but you don’t want to dance with me.”

“That’s not true,” I defended myself. “I just don’t know how to dance.”

“Yes, you do!”

“No, I don’t!”

That’s how the argument went. “It’s my feet, it’s my body,” I’d say. “I should know whether I can dance or not!”

Finally, in frustration, she challenged me, “Okay . . . if you can’t dance, then let’s take some lessons.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s!”

We took not just one lesson, but several, and soon the “I-can’t, I-can’t waltz” was no more, and became “I could have danced all night and still have begged for more.” And one band we danced to began to greet us as we came in the door with one of our favorite songs, “Cab Driver.”

III

          Hearing the music and moving my body to it in dance, I learned, are two separate matters. For most of us, we need to be taught to breathe and to move our arms, legs and bodies to become fully alive on the dance floor and in life. This is what I believe: As spiritual beings, we want to feel it all, the hope of tender new beginnings, the confidence resulting from mistakes overcome and other growing pains, the triumph of deeds accomplished, and the sorrow and feelings of abandonment that come from disappointments, death of loved ones and other losses.

I want to be like King David, dressed in a linen ephod, circling and leaping with all my might, giving no thought to what others might think of me, whether they see me as ungainly, undignified, or shameless.  I breathe, feeling the clouds roiling overhead, and I know that breath is a precious gift. My heart pumps blood to my lungs to absorb oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. I grow older and feel the strength of my prime in each inspiration. I grow older still and feel my strength wane in every expiration, my grateful heart, body and mind blissfully attuned to the moon and the stars and the sun.

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