As a child, I created my own dance routines to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” using flashlights for special effects. So I was not surprised when, at the age of 23, I found my way to Nia: a combination of dance, yoga, and martial arts. In a South Austin studio, I was invited to “play like a child”—and I looked around, self-consciously thinking, Is this for real? People of all ages, sizes, and colors were moving, dancing, galloping, playing, and laughing with joy. Their energy was infectious. As I slowly began to join them with the moving of my feet, the deep breath of my body, the circling of my hips, and the shimmying of my shoulders, a slow, wide smile spread across my face. Before long, I knew I was home.
Since then, I have danced in church fellowship halls, at youth camp, in my own backyard, in public parks, in my living room, in a sanctuary, at community centers, and yes, even in my office. Sometimes the dance involved my whole body; other times, only my breath. Dance is movement, so the flow of breath in and out offers the simplest, most basic dance move.
As I write these words, I cannot divorce dancing, breathing, and moving my body in sacred ways from what is going on in the world. Our black and brown brothers and sisters continue to be killed. Police officers are slain. Terrorists leave bodies mangled and dead. As I read the news, I feel my body caving in on itself. I grieve, feeling helpless and alone in the face of terror and fear.
In these moments I turn to breath, to dance, to movement. The mind, body, and spirit, after all, are not disconnected; the mind does not float above, severed from the heart. The spirit touches not only the heart but also the feet, the hips, and the arms. As breath comes in, the chest expands. As breath goes out, the shoulders relax.
In the midst of violence, terror, death, and my own relational worries, I play a hopeful, upbeat song. I reach for my son, lift him into my arms, and begin to dance. The next day, I place my feet flat on the floor, open my hands on my lap, close my eyes, and breathe—in and out, in and out. When I open my eyes, I feel lighter and freer than I have in days.
Some people may think that hand and body movements or breath practices don’t seem to do much for anyone except the person doing them. However, I hold that these simple movements are the seeds of loving the world, one another, and ourselves in ways we long to be loved. If change does begin with us, then I pray that we find our dance, our movement, our breath—inviting change, creating joy, and increasing love—in and out, in and out. It’s that simple. It’s that profound.
Claire K. McKeever-Burgett is ordained clergy in the Alliance of Baptist tradition. She teaches dance, yoga, and barre in Nashville; is mother to her beautiful son, Wade; and enjoys spontaneous dance parties.
DECEMBER 4, 2016
NEXT DAY STRETCH
Today, in the midst of all that is happening in your life and in the world, try placing your feet flat on the ground and your hands on your lap in an open, receptive position.
- Breathe in your fear, discomfort, anger, sadness, grief.
- Breathe out all you want for yourself, your family, your friends, your world.
By breathing in whatever you feel, you claim your feelings, admitting that they exist and that they matter. By breathing out what you want for yourself and the world, you are able to dream and envision a new reality that begins with breath, movement, air, and power; that fuels hopes, ignites dreams, and sustains prayers.
Breathe in and out for a few minutes. When you feel complete, gently open your eyes and trust that your breathing is your prayer and that the God who is love not only hears you but also breathes with you and within you—in and out, in and out.