I like telling people that I started dancing when I was in the womb, that I’m pretty sure my mom gave birth to me as I was in the middle of a salsa double spin, making me literally born to a salsa beat.
It’s no news to those closest to me that one of my greatest joys is to dance, especially to Latin music. Though I’m convinced my dancing days began somewhere between an umbilical cord and an amniotic sac, my earliest memories of dancing were with my mom.
Often, my mom and I danced in the living room in our pajamas, with me in knee-high socks, to artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Eydie Gormé, the Gipsy Kings, and more. Those are some of my best memories of my mom. I’m sure that’s because I love my mom, but also—that dancing is, oh so good, for the body, mind, and soul.
And science confirms it! Dancing is one of those fun things that offers so many health benefits. In dancing we can find a healthier heart and lungs; increased and improved muscular strength, endurance, and motor fitness; stronger bones; better coordination, agility and flexibility; increased physical confidence; improved mental functioning; and greater self-confidence and self-esteem.
It’s a very communal activity and can help us make friends. We also release chemicals that are good for our brain when we dance, chemicals that increase our joy, emotional contentment, ease, and energy.
For a dancing nut like myself, this is a total ‘win-win.’ Dancing is fun and helps us stay healthy and maintain overall wellness. Picture a time when a song you loved the most was playing, and you became so captured by the music as you swayed, swung, and shimmied. Aren’t those good memories that bring you peace and joy, helping to remember the good times in life when you took a second to “just be,” smell the roses, and go with a good beat?
In today’s fast-paced and hyper-productive society, we all crave opportunities to slow down and savor the marrow of this gift called life. And I’m here to preach that dancing can be a great way to do it! It has positive effects on our health and can bring us joy and peace.
Now, while I believe everyone has the power to let go and move to a beat they love, I know some will always run away and in the opposite direction of a dance floor. I’ll humor these objections while saying that if it’s not dancing, there’s an active and fun activity out there for all of us that works to promote our overall health – and God wants to meet us in those places.
I learned early on during those childhood experiences of dancing with my mom in the living room that dancing would be one of the ways I created and expressed myself. I developed a love for music and a passion for moving creatively to different beats.
However, I had always carried some kind of guilt about dancing, especially salsa dancing, as I started to go out more as a young adult. An elder disapproved of me going out dancing, suggesting it was not of God and unpleasing to Him. I followed this line of thinking until I eventually realized this is not true. Dancing is an art and can be a beautiful creative expression that reveals the beauty of God. Dancing can even lead us to greater holiness if it leads us closer to God.
After this realization, I began to dance more and more. I fed my desire to dance and express myself creatively on a dance floor. Dance became something that opened up new doors for me. I met new people, developed relationships, gained confidence, became more physically fit, and relieved stress. Above all, I encountered God in a beautiful way, a very human way.
I began to realize that God is my father and the most intimate member of my family. He is in my every day and acquainted with my everyday life. God is also my maker. If I happen to have a lot of creative bones in my body, ones that tend to manifest wildly on a dance floor, He must have something to do with it!
As I dabbled more and more in this hobby that for the longest time I believed was a vice, I discovered that for me, it was a road towards greater intimacy with God. It was a road towards improved health, an activity I loved to do, where I was moving my body, sweating, burning calories, building muscle, toning, improving balance, making friends, and falling more in love with a God who had given me this wonderful gift!
Salsa dancing has always been my favorite form of dance. I also enjoy merengue, bachata, cha-cha-cha, and others, but salsa is “numero uno.” I would dance different songs with different dance partners, and enjoyed the dancing so much. I felt freedom, energy, goodness, love—all these beautiful fruits that seemed too good to be found in something like dancing.
I also started to pray while I was dancing, praising God, and thanking him for the gift of dance.
I started to imagine Jesus as my dance partner instead of the person standing before me. Jesus, who held me by the hand, led me into dance moves and twirled me in salsa spins. It was a beautiful prayer and blessing. God showed me that He is the one who gifted me with dance, the enjoyment of it, the talent for it, the opportunity to do it. And in enjoying the beauty of this creative gift, I was able to draw closer to Him in a new way.
I slowly learned, and am no doubt still learning, that God is filled with a lot more goodness than I thought, and likely will ever fully understand. He designs us all uniquely. We have our gifts, interests, tendencies, and though they do not determine who we are, they help paint the picture of who we were created to be.
My creator knitted me with a lot of creative material. It’s in my DNA. And when I am more in sync with the way I am created, I am more fully alive. St. Irenaeus and St. Catherine of Siena shared similar wisdom, suggesting that “the glory of God is man fully alive” or “become who you are and you will set the world on fire.”
If we ‘set the world on fire’ and give glory to God, I think we are in the right place of health and wellness. I feel so fully alive when I am dancing. I am filled with joy. I am grateful. And I am disposed to love those around me. I believe I become a more authentic version of myself, and because of that, I give glory to God in these moments. What things do you do that make you feel this way?
Dance is a beautiful way to express and create. Bringing people together, it is central to many cultures and celebrations. It can sow love. Dance might not be something we associate God with that frequently, but He always reminds us that He is in everything, and everything good comes from Him.
Like all good things, too much of them can become a problem. There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine, but five glasses later, I am in T-R-O-U-B-L-E. The same is true for my passion for dance. I’ve had to learn how to not allow dancing to consume me. I believe this struggle applies to many areas of our lives, especially as we seek to be physically healthy and fit, and develop fuller lives.
I went through stages where I dedicated so much time to dancing that I had to pull back and remember that God has to be the center of my life, and not dance. I was on a dance team once, a period of growth where I was deeply challenged and gained confidence, but also spent 6-8 hours per week in dance practice. I was proud of myself for taking on this new endeavor but knew something was missing. I had these nagging questions that wouldn’t go away. “What are you trying to prove? Why are you doing this?”
I realized that I was seeking to find my identity and worth in dance, that I had let it consume me. And I took a step back. Too much of any good thing can become a problem for us. And that’s OK. We learn to put things in their proper place and remember that I am made for God alone. Everything else is good and a blessing, but no one and nothing else can replace God for me. I believe the same is true for most things in our life.
If I haven’t succeeded in winning you over to the dance floor just yet, that’s OK. There’s something active that you love to do, that helps you stay healthy and makes you giddy inside. Go do more of that thing, and while you’re doing it, thank God for it. Praise Him for it. And let other people see how good God is to make you happy with that very good thing He gave you.