Twenty-six years later I still remember a teenager dancing. He was maybe 13 or 14, and one glance told me he was not the coolest kid in the lunchroom. He had a few unshaven wispy whiskers and a ragged haircut, and his bland t-shirt and shorts weren’t from the expensive shop at the mall. We were at a festival in a park, and a few sat in a drum circle, tapping out a beat on conga and bongo drums. I stepped close to listen, to fold my arms and observe the spectacle of the collective beat. I looked across the circle, and here was this kid dancing. He closed his eyes and moved in subtle movements. He wasn’t twirling in big circles or bouncing around; he was just, eyes-closed, hearing the beat and gently moving to the sound of the drums. I thought at the time he was probably teased at school; I remember what middle school and high school were like. I probably would have mocked him if I was in the eighth grade with him. I looked at him, dancing to the beat that resonated with his soul, and I was jealous.
I remember the middle school dances, standing with my friends off to the edge. It was so much effort just to get out there, barely moving back and forth while looking down at the ground. I didn’t dare dance too hard because I knew, if I stepped out of the most minimal of dancing, I’d be laughed at, and in the social order of eighth grade that was a death sentence. I didn’t have the inner I-don’t-care to just dance. Whatever dance in my heart that wanted to come out was put deep in the storage locker of my heart. “Don’t do that dance,” I told myself, “because the pain is too great if you do.”
My little son loves dancing. He just knows that dancing is moving around to music, and that’s what he does. He twirls and runs, pumping his hands up and down. There’s not a care of what another thinks of his dancing, he just does it, moving around to whatever music is on. I see him dance and I wonder, “How long can he do that before he’s made by another to feel silly for it?” I watch him, too, and wonder when I lost that, the ability to just love the music and dance; when did I have that shamed out of me? Now I wonder, too, how much I long to get that back; how much of my adult searching is only to find that carefree dance?
I remember a night where I didn’t care. It was two years after my kidney donation; my recipient had a party and dance two years later to celebrate the event. They had a band for the party, and the band was good. The music started, and people went on the floor, and I remember saying if there is ever a night to dance, then this is it. We did, friends and family and my recipient’s big Greek family all on the floor dancing. It was life, joy, and health we danced to. The band played one of my favorites, Barry White’s I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, and I remember spinning in joy, finding again that self-assured recklessness that was shamed out of me so long ago.
There’s a beat deep in your heart, calling you to dance. Somewhere in there is a joy that you were told to lock away. The dance happens to the beat of creation, the inner rhythm that was placed in all our hearts that taps along to God calling all of us good and loved and blessed. If you can hear that song that plays in all of us, if you can tune your heart to its rhythm, you’ll find your feet (even if it’s only the feet that move in your heart) moving to dance.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict