This past weekend, I attended a unique mix of a Latin-Iraqi wedding in Ohio where the bride and groom were dance-mobbed by the bridal party and family when they walked into their reception. Aunts of the bride trilled their celebration while holding up pearl-decorated scepters and circles (traditionally these were swords and tambourines). Realizing it wasn’t going to stop soon, the rest of us (mostly people who graduated from a conservative Christian college) gravitated to the middle of the room to join in the whooping and hollering.
We danced for an hour at least. When the happy couple tried to sit, their friends picked them back up and carried them to the middle of the room. The aunts started a big circle and taught us how to two-step, Iraqi-style.
In most midwestern weddings I attend, the bridal party is announced, promptly seated, and then served food. I’ve sat at head tables where other bridesmaids and I have deliberated about if we could stand up to find the bathroom. Dancing usually comes after dinner, more of an expected activity than a celebration.
I mean, it is a celebration, but not the same as this latest wedding. The bride’s family celebrated with their bodies first, toasts and words later.
Maybe I’m late to the dancing party. I grew up in West Michigan, where dancing was okay inside the home on Saturday nights when the radio station played “Solid Gold Saturday Night” playlists. But the most dancing I did outside the home was in wooden shoes around tulips in May and I was forbidden to use my hips. Then came the conservative Christian college, where I couldn’t dance unless it was square-dance choreographed.
In other words, dancing wasn’t an expression of emotion. Dancing was something you just did to the right music. An activity.
As argued in the movie Footloose, the Bible does say that David danced–with the tambourine, no less. Dancing is a bodily expression.
I wonder if in the Cartesian divide between the mind and the body, we’ve also forgotten how to celebrate with the body. I, at least, dance like a self-conscious robot, still throwing in steps from the Dutch Dancing (‘cuz that’s all I know).
So at this wedding I wondered what it would look like if I too celebrated with my body. If I danced my happiness at my friend’s wedding, what would it look like?
It didn’t look like the self-conscious two-step I started with, that’s for sure.
It looked like letting my inner yogini out.
No, I didn’t break into Warrior II on the dance floor. I’m not that removed from pop culture.
When I first started practicing yoga five years ago, I had to realize that I had a body, that my body was valuable and to be respected, that my body had a lot of wisdom, and that my arms could and should be raised above my shoulders.
Yoga taught me that I had a body, and that that body was part of me.
So by the end of the six-hour reception, I was celebrating with my whole self, not just my head atop a body.
On the drive home, I wondered about other actions with the body: like body prayer.
Sometimes at my church, I lead body prayers in which I give movement to a liturgy, and I guide the entire church in standing, opening the heart, forward folding in a bow before God.
I wonder: when I lead these prayers, is it just another activity? How can we connect our minds, bodies, and souls in prayer?
If I prayed with my body today like I celebrated yesterday, what would that look like? To celebrate? To mourn? To thank? To petition? To praise?