How Ballet Has Made Me a Better Catholic

Friday, December 16, 2016

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes.

When I'm in seasons like this one where I'm going to a different rehearsal every night and wearing my many hats, the lines between my little life categories start to blur. I start dancing in my theater rehearsal, praying while I sew ballet costumes, and slipping into my British accent for this play while in mass. 

I believe I haven't been as successful compartmentalizing my life as I wanted to believe. Things have been bleeding into each other, and that's actually a good thing. In particular, I think dancing Ballet over the past year has actually made me a better Catholic. Here's why.


Always Returning to Basics

Something I think a lot of cradle Catholics struggle with is forcing ourselves to re-approach things we think of as Catholic basics. There's an, perhaps unconscious, assumption that we have concepts like the Trinity down since "we covered that in 3rd Grade CCD, right?"

In Ballet, no matter if you're a 4-year old pre-ballet student or a seasoned Principal dancer, we all take class and we all start that class with plies. Yes, they will be harder and longer combinations the more experienced you are, but the basic bones are always there, no matter how long you've been dancing.

The basics aren't basic because they're easy but because they're fundamental. Everything else will not make sense without them. While Catholic theology might not be the kind of physical impossible that a Ballet would be without a firm grasp of tendu and plie, you are probably making logically impossible leaps by not dealing with those basics. 


Respect for Tradition

Here's something crazy about Ballet - we have no standard notation system. There is no universal method for writing down ballets. What you see performed on stage has largely been memorized by the dancers and taught to them by a ballet master who in turn memorized the ballet from their ballet master. This means dancers have a deep respect for that linage of teachers who have carried down ballets, many over centuries.

It suddenly becomes so much easier to accept the teaching of the Magisterium when you at least have access to documents of councils and the homilies of the Church fathers. 


Identities are Information Not Predestination 

When dancing with others, as you're likely to do, at some point you get to know them better. You might find out more about their past, political leanings, preferences, and quirks. In ballet, that is at most just information about your fellow dancers - not a determination of their limits.

I've seen so much unfortunate pigeonholing of fellow Catholics merely because they're not exactly what you expected them to be. Ballet has been a great practice in seeing people for who they are, but for also expecting them to grow and develop - what we're supposed to be doing as Catholics anyway.


Daily Leaps of Faith

There are things in Catholicism and Ballet that can only be prepared for and controlled up to a certain point. This was really hard for me. I'm very Type A and I like to know how things are going to turn out. 

Even the best dancers can only control certain turns so far. There is a point where you just have to go for it. I don't have complete control over things like the results of discernment, but I have to get better at rolling with what comes out of prayer.


You Need a Mix of Old and New

We are no longer in a world where the different schools of Ballet are developing in isolation from each other. The internet has been a boon to Ballet students who can now take advantage of the wisdom of professional dancers via Youtube and seek inspiration via Instagram. This also means that the traditions of each style are often getting mixed with the training in other forms of ballet and other forms of dance.

Catholicism is experiencing something similar. It's far easier to be exposed to the traditions of other Catholic rites now more than ever. We have blogs where families are allowing intimate views of how these traditions play out, Youtube channels of musicians letting their faith shape their music in beautiful ways, Etsy shops where creative Catholics make the fruits of their labor available to others.

None of these developments mean we are abandoning the traditions of the past - we're finding ways to integrate the tradition into the world we have now, while remaining distinctively who we are.


No One Else is Just Like You

Yes it's totally a cheesy Disney movie line, but it's true. It's truth shines out when you start dancing something as technically demanding as ballet. 

Most of us have really weird body things going on. Fact. 
For me it's *very* hyper extended legs, double jointed all over the place, and very flexible feet. I'm like a rubber man toy. This is not from training, I seem to have just been born this way. It gives me unique challenges (like closing my legs in fifth position. Like, ever.), but it also gives me the ability to create some really beautiful lines.

The same holds true for Catholicism. My mind and spirit have their own quirks. I love practices like Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, and living the liturgical year. I struggle with silent adoration. Turning my mind off is a massive act of will for me, but I have friends who find this to be the most effective way for them to pray. That's ok, we have different paths but the same goal of heaven.


Never Done

Do you know what the best dancers do every day? Practice. Ballet can always move forward, steps can get cleaner, deeper, more extended. Every time a ballet is danced it will be a little different, connections between partners can always become deeper, and artistry grow ever more embodied.

Same with your faith. We call the mysteries of the rosary mysteries not because they are ungraspable, but because they can always go deeper and lead us in ever stronger relationship to God.


  1. These are great!! I am not a dancer, but I like how you've drawn parallels between one joy and another. Also, I love #6!! May we all keep in mind the notion that there is no one else just like us...

    1. A friend told me once that her philosophy is that everyone has something about them that makes them fascinating. Their "thing" is something that brings them joy, and if you can find that person's thing you will be fast friends.
      I think that's absolutely beautiful so I'm trying to be open about my "things" of ballet, Catholicism, and performing and hoping that helps others share their joys.

  2. This is so unique and I love how an opportunity and talent like ballet has helped you grow in faith! God works in so many amazing ways!

    1. Doesn't he though?
      I'm a big believer that Catholicism is not meant to be kept in it's box only to be taken out for mass on Sunday. It (should) inform everything I do, but sometimes it takes some reflecting to notice it.


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