Dance, Transcendence and Moments of Recovery

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a blog entry for Transpositions, the official blog of the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews.  I was thrilled and honored - my first "official" blog post outside of Bird and Babe.  The entry was published a few days ago and can be found here.  I am grateful to have been included and asked.  Because the text was a little edited, I have decided to include my original entry down below.  Enjoy.  Photo credits:  Benjie Lasseau, my friend and fellow dancer.

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When I moved to California about three years ago, I could hear neither myself nor God.  Just two weeks prior, my husband and I were residing in Oxford, set to return to America and make our “new” home in Illinois.  I had grown up in that state, had been away for the greater part of ten years, and was excited to return.  Instead, we were led to San Francisco for reasons particular to each of us; mine included hearing the concept “to heal”.   I had no idea what kind of healing I needed or if it was even about me.     Photos_Series_c Upon crash-landing into San Francisco and not being able to orient myself, I decided I needed a retreat.  I would go to a place that had been a source of constancy for me over the years:  Rivendell.   The five silent days praying about my vocation in SF were grueling but also mysteriously glorious.  Gratefully, a very clear encouragement arose:  I was to “be” and to dance (among other things).  I had known that I was a dancer since I was four even though I went on to train in karate for the next 17 years at the encouragement and sometimes mandate of my father who was also my coach.  I knew how to train my muscles, but I didn’t know how to open my heart.   

Photos_Series_b So, by faith, I entered a very unknown land:  an intentional time of doing “nothing.”  I went against the undercurrent of cultural, familial, and even personal expectations for myself.  I found more of my identity in Christ than I had previously.  I danced, wrote, and simply was.  I moved, reflected, and prayed.  I embodied concepts, expressed, gave, and was open.  (And I tried hard not to turn this into something “professional.”)  Gratefully, I had a friend and guide, Jim Houston, to talk through my ideas and reflections, hear heart cries and questions that arose from dancing and other things from the season.

Photos_Series_d I initially explored European-American based movement like ballet and contemporary modern, and then included other dance forms outside of these, such as Afro-Cuban.  I was a complete beginner in classes, but I moved well and could sometimes hang in advance classes due to my extensive experience in (1) knowing my body and (2) doing karate, which is also a total-body art form like dance.  Soon, I began to experience “moments” of transcendence—something previously outside of my paradigm yet common in the dance world.  I began to wonder, are these actually moments of transcendence or actually moments of recovery, as in recovering something lost that is a part of our humanity?  Does this shed light on a different way of knowing ourselves, our surroundings, and God?  A way of healing?

Photos_Series_e        About a year and a half later and out of solitude, I felt a nudge to apply to PhD programs.  Initially, I was hesitant.  Through crafting my research proposal though, I could see that I was excited to study formally what I had embodied in order to see if it held up:  dance allowed some kind of knowledge to be gained about myself and God in a deeper way, perhaps a way that is diminishing against the backdrop of a more data-driven society and its quest for “knowledge.”

Photos_Series_g Over these past three years of living in the mecca of tech start-ups, much has arisen out of nothing, as only God can create ex nihilo.  I’d like to think that simply being and dwelling in Christ, that being encouraged by Jim and shaped by the Holy Spirit, have encouraged me to live more fully into my personhood and creatureliness—confronting and healing from my own bents and distortions.  This, I believe, illuminates the Hebrew word levav, a word that refers to the faculty of mind, emotion, will, being, and the inner—my word here—radiance of a human.  My hunch is that this isn’t just limited to me or fellow dancers, but that it is a vital part of being an integrated, healed human.  This needs recovering. 

Photos_Series_f Jessica Lipps (M.A. Regent College, B.A. Trinity International University)  has been on the Jr. US Karate team, earning multi-national and international medals.  She continues to explore the somatic realm dancing, doing neuromuscular practices, and volunteering with hospice.  Ms. Lipps has deferred entry into her PhD program at the University of St. Andrews until Sept 2015, and in the meantime, may be found walking the streets of San Francisco with her husband Jonathan or writing at birdandbabe.com, her blog about living an integrated life.