Ruane Remy

Prayer in motion

  • August 8, 2014

I looked over at Santos, my dance instructor; he was pouring sweat. I prayed to God I didn’t look the same. The sun was beating down on us and on the blacktop roof where we danc ed salsa. We were at Hav an a Nights, one of the parties Santos and his crew hosted in the summer, bringing a taste of Cuba to Toronto. Our backdrop: the downtown skyline.

At the time I was a newbie salsera full of insecurities, full of doubt. But somehow, in the midst of that packed rooftop and surrounded by the almost deafening music, I went into a type of trance. I no longer cared how well I danced or how I looked. My mind was clear and I was not afraid. All that mattered to me was motion, the music and the dance partner I trusted. What salsa lacked in physical relaxation, it made up for in mental relaxation. I knew I had found a new passion.

That was four summers ago and now Havana Nights patio parties are no more, but they mingle in my memory with what a Catholic friend once told me: he said dance is like a prayer.

Pope Francis’ favourite dance is tango. Beyond that, I had no clue what dance had to do with faith, until recently when a new friend from a different Christian denomination helped the prayer clouds part in my understanding of ways to worship God.

If you’re feeling moved by the Spirit and the music, he said, then move, dance. Other Christian congregations do. I pictured a great song rising from the vocal chords of a gospel choir in praise of the Lord. In that case I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit still. But I told him that North American Catholics aren’t known for dancing in church. Can you imagine grooving to Gregorian chant or watching Fr. So-and-so bust a move behind the pulpit?

In African Catholic congregations, dance is part of worship. I watched Fr. Alex Osei, a priest at Holy Name parish where African Catholics congregate in Toronto, speak to the CBC about how in Africa every action — walking, smiling — is a gesture of thanksgiving to God and that’s what his parishioners bring into church. The parishioners dance from the beginning of Mass to the end. The drum beat certainly helps. Even the kids who serve at the altar get in on the action.

When I dance, I am thrilled to be alive. It’s a celebration of life and in the process, a gesture of thanks to He who gave me life, whether I consciously realize it or not.

With the perfect dance, as with the perfect prayer, I let go of all my cares and worries and am temporarily free of burden. I am light on my feet. I may not be ready for dancing in the pews just yet. But if dance in its purest form is truly a prayer, then let the Holy Spirit be my dance partner.

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