The Name’s Grace

We’re going back to a tale from the days of yore, aka my time auditioning for shows. In the musical theatre world, it is not enough to be able to sing and act and look exactly like whatever the casting director happens to have in mind, one must also be able to dance. So when I entered the world of musical theatre auditions, I dreaded the dance call portion of any audition. I circumvented this disaster by only going after roles with no specified dance requirements. But I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I would eventually have to dance.

Enter my fraught year of sporadic dance classes.

I approach dance with the subtlety of a rugby player, that is to say with pure grit and low key aggression. I muscle and manhandle my way thorough the routine with the grace of a two ton bull and the equilibrium of a wounded bumblebee. In my limited dance training, I have never once successfully spotted, meaning any time I twirl, whether it’s once or thrice, I need to find a wall to stabilize myself. I do not mean to find a spot on the wall with my eyes so that I don’t get dizzy (that’s what happens in for real spotting), I mean a physical wall for me to fall into once I have completed the pirouette floor exercise. This is the only way I can reorient my eyes to a non-wibbly wobbly understanding of architecture.

I generally studied with this one teacher, let’s call him Steve, who taught Beginner Theatre Dance. I am uncertain what exactly they think “beginner” means, as everyone in the class had a solid 5 years of dance experience. They even had the fancy Broadway shoes that for real dancers buy! I shrugged and told myself, Well, Marebs, somebody has to be the worst person in the class. One time Steve advertised a class he taught on Tuesday nights. “It says that it’s ‘Advanced Beginner,’ but really it’s basically the same as this class.” And like the sucker that I am, I believed him. Steve was woefully mistaken.

I did try an easier class called “Basic Theater Dance.” The teacher began by forcing everyone to smile, which is a sure way to guarantee that I will refuse to smile for the entire 60 minute class. This guy, we’ll call him Darryl, led us through a warm up (word to the wise, dance class warm-ups always involve a million crunches). We then spent the next half hour improvising. Sweet, blessed Darryl led us in a series of exercises in which he would say things like “Move around like your favorite color. OK, now move around like your least favorite color. OK, now move around like a combination of the two!” The absurdity peaked when he said, “Move around like spaghetti. OK now move around like a meatball. OK now move around like the sauce. NOW YOU’RE ALL THREE!” Throughout all of this ridiculousness, Darryl made it his personal mission to get me to enjoy myself.

No, Darryl. There are some things that just cannot be.

I imagined myself in an audition, and when the casting director asked if I could do a pirouette, I would say, “No I cannot. I CAN, however, roll around like a meatball. Please hire me.”

So I went back to the more challenging class. I did improve a bit, in spite of barreling through the routines like a rhinoceros and frequently getting lost mid-routine. The best dancers tell a story with their movement. Mine said HELLO IT IS TIME TO DANCE SO HERE I AM DANCING AND I AM VERY SERIOUS ABOUT IT PLEASE STOP LOOKING AT ME. I think that I could have been sort of alright if I had stuck with it. However, if you have seen me dance (like for real, all out dance in a social setting) you can confirm that restraint and grace never enter the equation.

When one is faced with one’s limitations, it is easy to get discouraged. It took serious mental energy to not compare myself to all of the other dancers in the class, who were not only more experienced than I was, but also much more toned. They made everything look so easy, and they were able to implement the more nuanced instructions that Steve gave. When he said to accent certain beats, they knew what that meant. They seemed to have complete control over their body movements, whereas I felt like I was flailing around in the vague hope that my body was approximating the correct thing.

Maybe I could have learned to be graceful if I had stuck around. Is grace a genetic quality that you either have or you don’t, like a widow’s peak? Or is it something you learn? Sometimes I think being graceful is a product of being centered in your body, whereas I tend to be more frantic and in my head. I wonder if Jesus-y, spiritual grace works the same way. The graceful dancers weren’t just reacting or mimicking; they embodied each movement. They had the muscle memory of years of built up training. Whether they learned confidence through repeated discipline or through some innate instinct, they were effervescent in their pursuit of their craft. The dancers who were the most graceful were the ones who were joyfully putting everything they had into what they were doing. Except in Darryl’s class. Nobody looks graceful when channeling their inner spaghetti sauce.

Maybe I don’t have the disposition to be graceful, but I can learn to be grace filled (see what I did there?). I can slow down and act more deliberately, like I have nothing to prove. And I can learn to let that seep into how I view the people around me. What does it look like to live centered on the truth of God’s grace? Perhaps a small part of it means being OK with dancing like a lumberjack.