I am no dancer. When I was eight I begged my parents to let me have ballet lessons like my younger sister. She was graceful and elegant and artistic. I was not. A year later my parents bribed me to stop ballet, offering me violin lessons instead. I must have been truly dreadful for them to think that listening to beginner’s violin practice would be preferable to watching me dance. (It was a good call – I turned out to be a pretty good violinist.)
As a teenager I regularly attended charismatic Christian worship services and events. I could cope (just about) with the speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge, people being slain in the spirit etc. But I cringed at the sight of people spontaneously dancing in worship. I was an inhibited introvert, deeply embarrassed on their behalf, wishing they would just sit down and not draw attention to themselves.
In 1995 a friend took me on a Christian healing conference. I had been ill with ME for eleven years, and had spent most of the previous seven more or less housebound, able to do little other than lie in bed or on the sofa, needing a wheelchair to get out of the house.
At the conference almost everybody was dancing. Except me. I was lying on a bed at the back, my body unable even to sit up most of the time. Middle-aged men were prancing around the room looking more than ridiculous and I was desperate to join in: to have a body that could do that; to experience the joy and the freedom I could see on their faces.
On day three, following a lot of prayer and ministry, I was convinced that I would be able to dance that evening. The previous day I had tried to stand and sing. I could do one or the other briefly but every time I opened my mouth my legs gave way. That evening friends helped me up, I raised my arms, felt a new strength in my legs, and I danced.
Mine is not a tale, as yet, of miraculous healing. But since that night, whenever I have been able to, even for a moment, I have danced in worship. In better periods I have been able to dance briefly at some point most weeks, for a few minutes at least . At other times I have struggled to walk in and out of church, but, as the music started I have been overcome by the irresistible urge to dance. Then, as I have stepped out in faith, trusting God to enable me to do the impossible, he has met with me. Dancing became an act of faith, of trust, of worship – giving all, risking all, for God.
At times I could dance despite the weakness and pain. At others, as I danced, I was liberated from it, given, for those few moments, a foretaste of heaven, freed from the usual limitations of my physical body. Sometimes I paid a heavy price for my moments of dancing. Other times it lifted me physically and mentally as well as spiritually.
In recent years my health has deteriorated again, and dancing, even briefly, has become nigh on impossible. But now, even though my body refuses to cooperate, I dance in my head. I imagine myself dancing. Sometimes, while lying down, I can move my feet or my hands in time to the music; occasionally I stand up briefly from my bed and raise my arm, even if it is only seconds before my knees give way.
It is still about faith, and trust, and worshipping God. But, in addition, dancing, even if it is only in my imagination, is an act of defiance: a declaration that illness does not have the final word.
There are moments of life, and joy, and freedom to be found even in the darkest depths of sickness and pain, and I will seek them out.