It was Beyonce first, or The Black-Eyed Peas. We stood there in awkward lines, moving our legs, our feet, our hips. We smile tentatively and look down.
They call it “Movement to Music” time. The word “dancing” is too intimidating for people who think they must be perfect. Maybe they were wise. I can’t dance worth anything, but moving to music I can handle. The recreational therapist tells us that even moving a little bit, our feet or our hands, will get the endorphins going. It is another thing we do to not slip away again, like eating and drinking water and getting fifteen minutes of sunshine for the Vitamin D.
We stand there, and then we hear it. The drum beat. “Mmmmmmm…” And then singing: “Down, down, do your dance, do your dance…”
We jump up, beaming. We are no longer in the locked ward. We are bridesmaids at a wedding, wearing our satin at prom, singing with the kids in the car. We are at a quincenera, at a basketball game, in our friend’s living room on a Friday night. We do not move to music. We dance.
“Now walk it by yourself, walk it by yourself.” We dance, shimmy. We move our hips like teenagers.
We move one way, then another. “To the right, to the right, to the right,” we sing along, out of shape, out of our minds, out of breath. There are bandaged arms. Some of us have expressionless faces, and others have just finished crying.
I flash a smile at the young man with gauze-wrapped arms on my left, the one who has tried seven medications. He has a baby and a girlfriend at home to get better for. The man to my right has dark sunglasses, pale skin, a face that looks burned. He says he is a special envoy to Fidel Castro in Cuba. He dances stiffly along with us. Behind me, an African-American grandmother with a flawless perm and a flat affect. In front, the pretty mother of two and the bandaged EMT. We are the dancing wounded.
Cupid sings, and we dance. Right now, we do not dance for the endorphins or because they tell us so. Right now, for one moment at least, we are glad to be alive.
On the first day of my preaching class that spring of my sadness, our professor, Chuck, had us dance. He set up a boombox and blasted James Brown in a windowless basement classroom. “I feeeeeeeeeeel good,” James Brown crooned. “I knew that I wouuuuuuld.” We got up from our seats and danced until we were out of breath. We did the sprinkler, lassoed each other, danced with each other or by ourselves.
When we finished, Chuck told us, “We have just performed an exorcism.”
Maybe the demons of self-importance and seriousness, perfection and self-hate flee at laughter. We have learned our first lesson in speaking good news. We dance the demons away.
Five days out of the psych ward, my friends and I dance again.
My friend Gillian has written a seminary parody of Britney’s “Womanizer.” Fifteen of us spent a couple days in the mountains, and I could hear Gillian and Laura laughing in the basement as they choreographed a dance. We sang our lyrics, recorded them in iMovie.
When we drive to the school to record our video, I feel nothing. I do not want to be here, dancing. I want to go back to bed.
But for three hours, we dance. One of us scouts out the library to make sure the librarian is busy, and then we jump up on the tables to the Reference Room, the quietest room in the building. It is the place where you write your papers and prove that you are smart enough for this place. It is quiet here. You cannot crunch your Cheetos too loud, or someone thinking Very Serious Thoughts will give you a glare.
There is no one here today. We stomp on the tables. We laugh. We twirl around carrying thick Bible commentaries. We move our hips and move our bodies. We sing along to our prerecorded tracks. “Sermonizer, sermon-sermonizer, you’re a sermonizer,” we sing, loud and raucous.
One by one, we exorcise those rooms. The Reference Room first. We move upstairs to a classroom where I had felt confused and small as people name-dropped Wittgenstein and Karl Barth and Slavoj Zizek. Then downstairs, to the chapel where I preached a sermon that had kept me up at night for weeks, a sermon that I was sure I would fail at. That sermon ended up being beautiful, but afterwards I convinced myself that it was a small thing, like washing the dishes or filling up the car with gas.
We exorcise the rooms where we learned that we are not enough, that we should always be doing more, that our voices are small, that we don’t deserve to be here, that there isn’t enough praise or love for all of us.
We sing. We put on clergy robes from the sacristy and dance in that chapel. We dance well, and we dance badly. We laugh the good news.
I am not well yet, but I dance. I twist my hips and move my body. I do not want to go back to bed. For a moment, I am glad to be alive.
I laugh, and the demons flee.
This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email orsubscribe in a feed reader. Or “like” the blog on Facebook. (We’re all about options here.) And thanks for reading!