Melissa Hardy - God's creature - skilled with dance.

interviewer: j. harms

harms: Melissa, are there any mercies of God that you have seen and enjoyed because of your love for and time in dance?

hardy: I have seen God's mercy to me in that He allows me, a sinner, the pleasure of dancing.

harms: What pleasures do know when dancing, whether you are studying, or practicing or presenting?

hardy: I love to dance. I love to commune with my Maker when I am taking class, rehearsing, choreographing, performing, teaching or privately dancing my praises to Him. I thought about each of these modes of communion with the Lord and was convinced that taking class was one of the most pleasurable times of dancing. Why? Someone else creates steps that are unique to his/her own body (in modern dance there is no set vocabulary of movement as there is in ballet) and then teaches them to me and the other students, highlighting certain technical points. I am only responsible for two things: learning the exercise or phrase of movement, and rejoicing in the Creator of these unique movements (which may be very different from the type of movement that He usually gives to me through my particular body--limber hips, weak arms, short achilles tendons, flexible back). It is a joy to try to reproduce the movement of another dancer’s body, realizing, “Wow, God made people to move like that too!”

This pleasure in God’s creativity and the wisdom with which he made the human body is only increased when I look at all the dance forms of the world and see the variation of form, timing, rhythm, energy, use of space, and so on. I had the opportunity to study Uighur dancing in XinJiang, China and was amazed at this highly specialized cultural dance form based on principles completely foreign to my training in classical Western dance (ballet, modern, jazz). The variation in dance styles and forms can be appreciated by observation, but my sense of awe in these differences is heightened when I really try to understand the differences in my own body.

So I worship God as the Creator of dance and all that it includes: gravity, ball and socket joints, hinge joints, swing, suspension and release, weight, loft, muscles, bones, tendons, eyes in the front of my head (but we can move backward too!), music, breath, sweat, balance, skin that feels the surface of the floor and the drape of the clothing and the touch of other dancers, fulcrums for lifting, arabesque, head spin, chug, fall, lift, wiggle, pirouette.

I would like to note as a side comment, that I believe God created all movement. All movement? Yes, all movement. Movement is amoral just like sound; it only takes on morality and meaning within a culture. Here’s an example. Stand with your arm stretched out in front of you with your palm up. Then move your hand from horizontal to vertical and repeat this gesture several times. In American culture this movement means, “Come here.” If I do this gesture toward someone in China, however, they may be offended as this is a way to signal a dog, “Come.” Let's try another. Push your lips out for a second and then relax. In many Asian and African cultures this means, “over there” or “that.” But in American culture it looks like you want to kiss someone. So all movement only becomes moral or immoral once it is placed within a cultural context and therefore it is not problematic (in fact, it is honoring God) to say that God is the author of all movement.

The pleasure of rejoicing in God’s creation of dance is not only experienced in class, but is always present when I dance (or watch dance, or talk about dance, or do this interview) in communion with God. I mentioned earlier that I had decided that taking class is one of the most pleasurable times of dancing for me; but when I began to contemplate the joys of dancing privately before the Lord, choreographing through the Lord, exercising a spiritual gift of teaching in the Lord, being committed long term through rehearsals for the glory of the Lord, testifying of God’s goodness in my life through performing...I began to think each one, in turn, is the most pleasurable!

I would like to mention two of these avenues in more detail. First, dancing privately and spontaneously in worship to the Lord.

Recently, while praying with my husband after a long and exhausting day, I felt the Lord prompting me to get up and dance my praises to Him. The dancing was very simple and it didn’t last very long, but it was a special time of worshiping the Lord and of giving from my lack (my body was very tired and sore). But why do I say ‘privately’? Sadly, there are very few places where I give myself freedom to abandon myself completely to my desire to worship the Lord through dancing. Sometimes when the church of Christ gathers together to worship Him, my heart responds to Truth in a song lyric with, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and I want to leap and gallop and wave my arms in response to that Word; but I do not want to be a distraction, I do not want to draw attention to myself. So I raise my hands and sing loudly and sway a little and long for heaven where I will not quench the Spirit or fear man, and where my dancing will not cause anyone to sin.

Secondly, I must say that choreographing dances based on the Bible for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom is indeed a time of sweet communion with God. When the Lord gives me a vision for a dance about Him, it feels like a wonderful invitation to be with Him. Its like He is saying, “Come here, Melissa. Look at this picture of a wonderful meal. I’m going to show you how to make it. I grew the vegetables and made all the ingredients. You just need to follow my instructions. Some of it will be difficult, but I will be with you.” And then, working in the kitchen (dance studio) with Jesus as He unfolds His plan is so full of sweet aromas and laughter and the joy of learning that I almost don’t want it to end. But I do want it to end, because I want to be faithful in the task that he has given me.

harms: Has your involvement in dance worked your spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading your Bible, growing in the knowledge of God, setting aside your glory in order to know Christ's glory in you and through you, etc....

hardy: Yes! I believe God uses the process of dance-making to teach me truths from Scripture in a profound and lasting way. Prayer and meditation on God’s Word in the Holy Spirit will always bring insight and understanding, but as I labor to make those spiritual truths physical and visible I am powerfully affected by them. Some dances take several months of rehearsal before they are completed and therefore meditating weekly on something such as ‘freedom in Christ’ has a profound impact on my soul.

Working professionally in secular dance companies has also been a means of grace as it causes me to rely on God’s Spirit and be constantly in prayer and in the Word. I need to be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. I imagine this is the same with any professional field.

harms: Here's a two part question. (A) As you are in the Word of God and see that you are one of many in the body of Christ, and you see that Paul says that each person is a necessary member of the whole (1 Cor. 12), where does that push your thoughts regarding what faithful obedience to God looks like for you as it regards your role in the edification of the body.

And (B), if you would, address your role in the body of Christ, as you are growing in the understanding of what that means and how that looks, regarding these themes: humility vs. pride; serving others vs. looking to be served. Because the flesh will hear Paul say "no one is unnecessary" (I Cor. 12:22) and will demand to make itself "necessarily known" which is not at all the same as seeking to humbly serve the body from a motive of, "I am to be faithfully obedient to God with His portion for me in the body IN SUCH A WAY that the body would be edified."

hardy: I am encouraged to serve as I read that none are unnecessary in the body of Christ. An eyelash seems insignificant, but without a hundred eyelashes the eyes’ seeing would be impaired. My role in the edification of the body is not limited to the arts, but because of the ‘arts’ focus of this interview, I will respond accordingly. I am currently offering free dance classes at Bethlehem Baptist Church for believers and non-believers--all are welcome. I feel that God has called me to minister to dancers by giving them training in technique and composition and mentoring them in a theology of dance as worship. It is my hope that these classes will edify not only the students that attend, but also their families and friends, as we suggest a redefining of historical ideas about dance in the church. This ministry requires weekly faithful obedience to God. There are dozens of temptations to discontinue this ministry, but faithfulness in this circumstance requires that I exercise my spiritual gifts and lead where no one else is leading.

Perhaps from the standpoint of humility vs. pride, it is a blessing that dancing is ‘in the basement’ (both literally and figuratively) at my local congregation. I don’t feel prideful to be a dancer rather than a nurse or a preacher. I do, however, ask the Lord for humility when I meet other dance leaders in the church who may be lacking in training and technique; because it would be easy to take pride in those differences, but “what do you have that you have not received? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7).” Also, and more importantly, it is the heart of the worshiper that is pleasing or displeasing to the Lord so I want to worship with a humble heart and I want not to judge another’s worship based on outward appearances (for God looks at the heart!)

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