On Dancing Well

By Jim Tune

Reflecting on her years in the grip of alcohol addiction, author Glennon Doyle Melton said that when she finally got sober, she dreaded weddings. She would try to look busy, reapply lip gloss, and make numerous unnecessary trips to the ladies’ room in order to avoid the dance floor. The dance floor, sober, was a terrifying place to be avoided at all costs.

During her drinking days, Melton was the first and last one on the dance floor. That changed during her first years of sobriety. In a post on her popular Momastery.com blog, she comments wryly, “Thirteen glasses of chardonnay doesn’t make a girl confident and sexy, but it sure makes a girl think she’s confident and sexy. Sober, though, I was too self-conscious to dance.”

Henri Nouwen used to publish some of his diaries under the title, “On Mourning and Dancing.” The title was appropriate because the diaries chronicled much of his own struggle to give public expression to what was bubbling up inside of him and, at the same time, observe a sensitive self-consciousness.

June17_JT_JNIt’s not always easy to find that delicate balance between healthy self-expression and unhealthy exhibitionism. I’ve seen just enough of Dancing with the Stars (my mother is a fan, OK?) to see how exposed and self-conscious even very famous people can be on the dance floor. For some, it is a boost to their popularity, while other “stars” only accelerate their descent into obscurity. It’s hard to dance well.

Sometimes a person’s dance step is choreographed by his or her inner struggle and by where his or her internal compass has been set: too self-aware, too cautious, too insecure, and we see a dance that is halting, self-conscious, and apologetic. But let the dancer not be self-aware enough, and we’ll see a dance that appears free and uninhibited, but ends up revealing too much.

Even the most mature and secure of us can be swayed in our moods and our actions by the affirmations and rejections we meet in our daily lives. Inside of our families, friendships, places of work, and our churches, we are constantly meeting either affirmation or rejection of some kind. For the most part we are powerless to protect ourselves against how this affects our psyche and our emotions. Lots of affirmation and we become full of ourselves. Too much rejection and we can withdraw to hidden emptiness. It’s hard to dance well.

And so we should accept this struggle as a given and not be too hard on ourselves and others. We’re human, and so we need to forgive ourselves for stumbling in our dance steps, even as we forgive others for acting out in the same ways we’ve done on life’s dance floors.

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