Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Dance, Martha Graham, and the Theology of the Body

Happy World Ballet Day!  Enjoy this (very old) dance picture!

I've been dancing most of my life, and still take and teach classes.  While my favorite style to dance myself is tap, when I learned it was World Ballet Day today I remembered something I wrote before my blogging days connecting dance with theology, and thought I would revisit these thoughts and share them with you.

Our bodies are beautiful. They are an integral part of us and a gift from God. The way our bodies are made and how we use them show truths about God's nature and His plan for human beings. This is the core teaching of St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Though most often used to teach about the meaning of marriage, (very beautifully I might add. When I first heard about these teachings in relation to marriage I was blown away!), the teachings of the Theology of Body apply to everyone, regardless of age or marital status, after all, we all have bodies. Due to the fact that people often abuse the gift of the body, there is a school of thought that demonizes the body; treats it as something inherently bad that we will be freed from when we go to heaven.  This couldn't be farther from the truth. We are not souls trapped in bodies, we are embodied souls, and the Catholic Church teaches that after the final judgment our bodies will rise and be joined with us in heaven.

How could a Catholic dancer not  be excited about these beautiful teachings about our bodies! Dance is one of the  ultimate expressions of the incredible miracle of our bodies and the truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. There are many benefits to dancing; including physical fitness and improved memory and cognition, but in the end there is no real purpose to dancing like there is to things like math and reading. No real purpose except a pure celebration of who we uniquely are as humans. The beauty of great works of art and music are often used as proofs of God's existence, and I believe the beauty of dance falls into that category.

Take a look at this video of ballerina Polina Semionova dancing to Herbert Groenemeyer's  "Demo (Letzter Tag)." This piece in particular always points my thoughts to God. Not only does Polina dance exquisitely to a beautiful song, but she dances in an empty auditorium with no audience, no sets or spotlights, no fancy costume. It is all about the simple joy of dance. You can see the beauty of even a simple step or reach of the hand. Often, when I need a reminder of God's existence in our world, I pull up this video.



I first started  making these connections between dance and God when I was looking up dance quotes to share with my students. When looking at what Martha Graham, a very influential American dancer/choreographer often referred to as "the Picasso of dance," had to say I found that many of the quotes resonated with the Church's teachings. Not only about the body, but about bearing crosses, and the meaning of true freedom. I do not know what  Graham's commitment to her faith was, so I don't know how much she connected her thoughts on dance and the human body to God, but even if the connection was not consciously there, it shows how the natural order of our world points to the Truth. Here are some of my favorite Martha Graham quotes.

"Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths." 

"The next time you look in the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way  the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist. Think of the magic of that foot upon which your whole weight rests. It is a miracle. And the dance is a celebration of that miracle." 

"I did not want to be a tree, a flower, or a wave. In a dancer's body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from anther planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being."

"Freedom to a dancer means discipline. That is what technique is for - liberation." 

"You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost."

"The body is a sacred garment."  - St. John Paul II would agree!

St. Vitus, patron saint of dancers, pray for us!

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