You Shall Pursue

August 29, 2012

God in the Dance

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 4:53 am

One of the things I am most excited about moving to Philadelphia is the great swing and blues dancing community here. I have been a dancer since I was three years old, mostly ballet, modern, and jazz. I first discovered swing dancing in college, and then blues dancing in 2011. That discovery has changed my life and given me a hobby that is very odd for a typical rabbinical student.

Here’s the thing about blues. It is an extremely sensual dance, performed in close embrace (think tango). Here is a video:

See? This is what I do with my free time. Not necessarily the style that you might pick out for a rabbi, and yet I can’t think of any other type of dance that feels as naturally spiritual as this.

There’s a tremendous amount of power in dance, something that I think Judaism as a whole neglects. A study that I learned of recently showed that the brains of dancers are like the brains of religious people, bigger and more capable in the areas that indicate spirituality and connection. While I get a tremendous amount out of other ritual, I find that dance is an especially important part of my spiritual practice.

Dancing in general, and especially with a partner, leads to these fabulous moments where it is just you (and your partner if you have one) and the music. Everything else falls away and you are left with a tremendous focus on the minutiae of your body and the music. You learn the feelings of small muscles in your legs, arms, core. You close your eyes and focus on your partner until you can feel each small articulation in their back. And then you start to play. Building from these small delicate articulations, you move bigger and smaller, up and down, creating a moment of perfect artistry that is just for you and the person (or people) that you are dancing with. The most beautiful thing about social dance is that it is ineffable; you will never dance the same series of steps twice.

As goes dance, so goes God. Each Amidah has its template of prayers to move through, but the prayer is never entirely the same. Each High Holiday season, each Passover, each moment of quiet personal contemplation requires a stilling down to breath, and a moment of dialogue and searching between you and your Partner, the Divine. We as Jews speak of God as lover, parent, king. But I also like to think of God as dance partner, someone with whom I do not hit every step perfectly, someone with whom I always need to be focused and on my toes. But if I am listening, than the dance will guide me to a moment of perfect bliss.

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