Why my daughter’s dance recital made me cry (And it’s not what you think)

Dance crying

I suppose there are a few reasons that one might cry at a children’s dance recital.

I have been to a couple of recitals, for example, where I could have cried from how impersonal, mechanical, prematurely sexualized, commercialized – and therefore boring and joyless – much of the show felt.

Of course, it would be more common to cry at a dance recital from parental pride at watching one’s own child perform. And I can’t deny I was proud this weekend when my sweet girl took all her courage in her hands to push through the heavy red curtains before a packed auditorium and sing ‘O Canada’ acapella – and beautifully – to open the show. I must admit, though, that I was too busy nervously pacing backstage to feel weepy! However once back in my seat, my Mummy-presence no longer needed in the wings, the graceful dance that she and her two ballet classmates had spent months working on did wrest a few tears from my eyes.

But it was something else that had me wet-eyed and choked-up during much of the show. To start with, the atmosphere of this recital couldn’t have been more different from those joyless ones I’m trying to forget. From the moment that the audience first clapped, cheered and whistled for my daughter’s brave and beautiful opening song, there was a sense that everyone was rooting for everyone else’s child as well as their own. As a friend put it later: “Everyone had fallen in love.” And we had; it was one of those wonderful moments where a different sort of spirit invades a group, creating a harmonious and loving whole from the disparate parts.

The tone of the recital was set by the fact that, on top of the choreographed and practiced numbers, each performer – from the very youngest to the most experienced – was given the chance to come out one after another and do a little solo of their own creation. This allowed them to enjoy stringing together their own moves, and aimed to encourage confidence in performing, but mostly it gave each of them a chance to shine. For just a few moments the spotlight was theirs and theirs alone, and the applause belonged only to them. And it was a beautiful thing. Because the aim wasn’t polished choreography or ‘perfect’ execution but celebration of the individuality of each perfect-just-as-you-are human being, and of the joy of a body moving to music. Sometimes the wonderful dance teacher would pick up a tiny stagefright-struck youngster in her arms and spin her around in the spotlight before carrying her off-stage. How can you not cry when the least and littlest are treated with such tenderness and dignity?

My wet eyes turned to tear-stained cheeks, though, when a young woman who would be considered considerably overweight by most standards came on stage to perform a solo ballet routine to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t expect what followed: she was graceful, strong, poised, and beautiful, and her dance was poignant and inspiring to watch. Again, though, what moved me most was that she was being given the chance to shine – and, oh, she did! – when our twisted culture would usually disqualify her body from the realms considered ‘beautiful’ or worthy of being watched and admired. Another shame-faced confession: if I saw her walking down the street I am sure that ‘graceful’, ‘strong’, and ‘poised’ would not be the first descriptors to pop into my twisted mind, just as they are often hard words to access when I evaluate my own larger-than-‘normal’ body. But right now I’m fighting tooth and nail the warped perspectives I’ve picked up along the way concerning body shape and weight (mine and others’) and their correspondence with beauty, strength and worth. I need to do this for my precious daughter, and for me. And I’m just hoping that I, that we all, can get our grubby little fingers off ‘beauty’ and let it be the indefinable, inexpressible, surprising gift that it is! At one point in the show Dear Husband turned to me and commented how amazing it was that the girls were such different shapes and sizes – all different and all beautiful. And at what age does that stop being true? Who are we to think we know what and who is beautiful or not? And who am I to judge my own attainment of beauty/perfection/worthiness/… [fill in the blank] measured against some nebulous and perverse ‘norm’?  Can’t we stop all the judging and dividing and just dance?! We were made to dance! We were made for joy… We were made to shine!

As this unknown girl moved her body so exquisitely to the stirring music, the tears streaming down my face reflected sadness for the deception and pain our cultural norms and notions can inflict on so many of us (whether ‘skinny’, ‘fat’ or somewhere in-between), and grateful recognition that those norms can be quietly but powerfully challenged by a single courageous human.  But they also expressed a hopeful longing for the ongoing healing of my own wounds and distortions.

And that’s as good a reason as any to cry at a dance recital, don’t you think?

 

Rachael Felicity Grace: Old name, new blog, ongoing journey

 

I love my name.

(Now)

But I didn’t always.

 

And that, in a nutshell, is why I’ve chosen to start a new blog space with a new-to-the-blogosphere but 39-years-old- today-to-me name!  My lifetime journey of shifting feelings about my name – a story for another day? – largely mirrors my feelings about myself. For most of my life I would say I haven’t liked myself all that much, and definitely not LOVED myself very well. But over the years my capacity for self-love and self-acceptance has slowly but surely been growing as I have been loved well – by family, friends, and God. I have gradually, GRADUALLY, learned how to accept and internalize a little more the love I’ve been given, trusting it (mostly!) to be real love that I am worthy of, and not just well-meaning but misguided charity or codependent neediness masquerading as love!  {I know, I have issues… That’s why I’m doing this!}

It’s definitely an ongoing journey – I think I still love my name more consistently than who it designates! – but thank goodness that love never gives up. Because… can I tell you what I believe? That all those small choices to love each other and love ourselves really do make a difference over time, even if sometimes all we are aware of is the brokenness, the apparent lack of love, or the bottomless pit that never seems to get filled. At the moment I’m feeling the difference those small choices make, as if a watershed moment is approaching and I had better get ready. For the last year or so I’ve been sensing a significant shift in how I see myself and how much I can love, forgive and accept myself, and I’m basking in the corresponding ability to enjoy my life and be more present to people and events. But I know I’ve still got a long way to go… Some mornings I still wake up feeling inexplicably loveless, unloved and unlovable; the difference is that I now know my feelings aren’t always the best truth-tellers out there (!) and I’m determined to learn how to live more wholeheartedly in the unshakable truth of how deeply loved I am, as we all are. Hence a new blog for a new leg of the journey.

It was the desire to really learn to savour life that pushed me to start my first blog, as a way to notice the everyday gifts of life through slowing down enough to write, and as a way to both process and chronicle my learning curve. It’s been good. (Though admittedly sporadic!) And now – with a blank slate on a new blog – my desire is to take this journey a step further and really learn to savour myself: Rachael Felicity Grace!

Just the fact that a big part of me cringes as I say that is indication enough of why I need to write about this, journeying through the baggage that would still have me believe that learning to love and delight in myself is 1) self-centred, unholy and ultimately unloving and 2) (not at all disconnected to #1) a foolish and pointless endeavour due both to my inherent unlovableness (sorry Spellcheck, it should be a word!) and the dire needs of the world and people around me. But here’s another thing I have come to believe through my own lived experience: that the world IS in dire need of compassion, and that I am in no position to give it if I don’t have compassion on myself.

I have heard countless talks or sermons in which it has been pointed out that implicit in Jesus’ Great Commandment to “love our neighbour” is the mandate to love ourselves. But I wonder how many times I’ve really believed that message? It has sounded to my self-despising ears like a selfish cop-out at worst or an anachronistic, ill-advised wish-dream at best. And yet haven’t you found this puzzling equation to be true yourself? That real self-love only leads to MORE love for others and for God, and on the cycle goes? And, conversely, that trying to ‘love’ others when you hate yourself – or because you hate yourself! – just gets very sad and futile, or very messy and painful, very fast? I have! Even “loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength” has been – and continues to be – impossible for me when I have no clue that this God loves ME first! And so, more and more, I really ‘get’ Bernard of Clairvaux’s (12th C) mysterious ‘Four Degrees of Love’ from the inside out. I used to think that attaining “Love of God for God’s sake” would be the ultimate realization, and of course it trumps “Love of self for self’s sake” and “Love of God for self’s sake” because it means having reached the highest level of selflessness and Other-centredness possible. But Bernard describes the highest degree of love, one step beyond loving God for God’s sake, as “Love of self for God’s sake!”

What?! And YES!! Though I don’t completely comprehend this rationally, I can feel its truth in my core. (Can you?) And that’s what I want.

 

So this is me.

Rachael Felicity Grace.

And this is my space to write about who I am, what I love and what I don’t love; and what it means to love (myself and others and God), including the all-important but challenging journey of loving and caring for my body; and what it looks like when I don’t love me and those around me and can’t feel that I am loved or lovable at all; and what the heck I can do about that! My hope is that writing regularly and honestly about these things can be significant both as a mini ‘coming out’ about who I am and what’s important or difficult for me – which helps hammer another nail into the coffin of my shame issues every time – and also as a context to connect with others in a way that encourages me and you, and lets us know we are not as alone or different as we imagined.

So. Maybe you are exploring some of these same things? Want to join me?