For the week ending 14 March 2009 / 18 Adar I 5769

Dance, Dance, Dance

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Orna in Toronto

Dear Rabbi,

Before I became religious I used to love to dance very much. As I spent several years trying to catch up on Jewish learning and then became involved in shidduchim and marriage, I didn't find an opportunity to pursue dance within the religious community. Now that I'm married and with a child at home, I find myself longing to dance again but I'm not sure if it's appropriate and conducive to spirituality. On the other hand, I feel that my inactivity is weighing on me in more ways than one. What should I do?

Dear Orna,

Don't let this question weigh you down. Dance is a great thing, and as you'll see, not only for physical health and personal expression, but also for spirituality.

But first, you should know that it's very common (although not necessarily ideal) that people put aside significant interests of theirs while becoming religious only to reintroduce them into their lives later on. As you say, you had a lot to catch up on Jewishly speaking; and preparing for marriage and building a family is no small task either. But now that you are settling into married religious life, it is essential that you pursue your love for dance for your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being – for your sake and for your family’s.

Judaism views exercise as being important. G-d gave us our bodies as vessels and instruments for performing His will. Neglecting the body is tantamount to saying "I am not interested in fulfilling G-d's will in the best way possible, with vigor and alacrity." Rather we are required to preserve our health in general, and to be in good physical shape in particular, so that our bodies and limbs as vessels and instruments are primed for the service of G-d. On a purely physical plane, then, dance is a great work-out and therefore an ideal way of fulfilling the Divine command to "guard your health".

The command to guard one's health is just as applicable to one's emotional state. In order to properly serve G-d a person has to be stable and happy. Interacting with other people properly and contributing positively to our surroundings is also dependent on being content and emotionally well-balanced. In so far as dance is an excellent way of connecting to, and releasing and expressing your emotions and inner core, dance will invigorate and charge your emotional plane with joy and positivity. This will contribute to virtually all spheres of your life.

Lastly, Judaism views dance as a venue for spirituality and Divine inspiration. When a person walks, one foot always touches down before the other lifts off so that he's always touching the earth. In dance, each step propels one away from the ground and earthliness into the air and spirituality. The body leaps after the soul into a realm that transcends the physical. Particularly when the motion and rising of the body is accompanied by and alights the moving tones of music, the soul can elevate to realms of inspiration and prophecy. In fact, Jewish teachings even speak about tzaddikim attaining these levels through dance.

So you see, dance is not only appropriate, but desirable physically and emotionally, and is also inherently conducive to spirituality. Since you have reasonable access to an Orthodox community you should be able to find a women’s dance group which would be appropriate. Within that context any genre you like is fine: classical, ballet, jazz, modern, folk or even freestyle. Dance for your body, dance for your feelings and dance for your soul. In this way you’ll “dance with G-d”.

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