If you’ve never seen the movie Strictly Ballroom, I recommend that you remedy this oversight immediately.
It’s hard to explain why I love the film. It has something to do with the fairy-tale feeling it evokes, with its over-the-top costumes and generalized insanity. It has something to do with the fact that it’s a family favorite, that I grew up quoting it.
But it’s more than that. I love Strictly Ballroom because it’s a story about active rebellion and the gift of doing things differently, getting perspective and attending to the essentials, and celebrating and accepting people as they are. It’s what A Wish Come Clear is all about. (Except around here, we have no feathers on our attire.)
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, a brief synopsis: Scott is a ballroom dancing champion, the son of ballroom dancing champions who have trained him to be the best of the best. Fran, by contrast, is a beginner who stumbles around ballroom class in giant glasses and oversized t-shirts. The pair have one thing they have in common: they both want to dance original steps and ‘break the mold’ of current ballroom dancing. When they dare to dance ‘their way’, it changes everything.
However, the reason I’ve been thinking about the film this week isn’t because of the main characters. It’s because of the Grandmother.
At first glance, Fran’s Grandmother doesn’t look like much. She’s poor. She’s also short and Hispanic, with grey hair and black glasses. She lives on the fringes of society, out by the train tracks. She’s not fashionable or glamorous, but still, there is something about her.
It’s the Grandmother who helps Fran convince her father to let her dance. It’s the Grandmother who brings Fran a beautiful dress to wear. It’s the Grandmother who teaches Scott about real rhythm, how to feel it in his feet. And most of all, it’s the Grandmother who dares them both to be brave.
And for that reason, she has become my favorite image of the Divine. Imagine: God as a little Hispanic Grandmother, an unassuming woman who has life-giving force in her. A woman who lends her support at key moments, changing lives with the truth she embodies. “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived,” she says.
And when Scott and Fran are about to dance their ‘forbidden’ dance, they hear the Grandmother’s voice in their minds. She tells them, “Listen to the rhythm. Don’t be scared.”
I’m thinking of the Grandmother because I need her wisdom. This week, I began sending out a book proposal, a project that I’ve been working on all summer. I’m proud of this writing, and I’ve received encouraging feedback thus far. Yet I’m scared of vulnerability and rejection. This is somewhat ironic, given my subject matter.
My forthcoming book is about my friends at L’Arche*, vulnerable people who have had more than their fair share of rejection. As such, the book is an act of defiance; I want my friends with special needs to shine. I want many more people to see their beauty, their strength. So I’ve made a commitment to see this project through.
As such, I have to push aside the fear and dance. For me, that means that I’ll keep submitting my proposal. ‘Dancing’ in this way brings me to the liberating realization that, in the end, it’s not my business how people will judge me. Instead, it’s my business to listen to the rhythm.
Like the couple in Strictly Ballroom, I’ve put together something that breaks society’s rules, something that comes from the heart … and it’s terrifying. But then I, too, hear the voice of the Grandmother. As I listen, I realize: She sounds like my friends from L’Arche.
Many of L’Arche’s members are like the Grandmother: aged, poor, foreign, and marginalized by society. But like her, they are also young at heart, rich in welcome, wise in words, and audacious in spirit. And they are the ones I will choose to listen to today, because we always have a choice. We can choose the loud, feeble din of our own fear, or we can choose the quieter, stronger voice of love.
For me, the voice of love sounds like my friends at L’Arche. They are the point on which my story turns. And today, they tell me …
Listen to the truths you know in the soles of your feet.
Listen to the steady thrum of stories in your being.
And when you do, you won’t have to be afraid.
You’ll just dance.
How might you ‘dance your dance’ this week? Join the conversation in the comments section below!
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*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.
“Imagine: God as a little Hispanic Grandmother…” Great image of God. Being of Mexican descent, I can vividly imagine this. If you’d like another interesting image of God the Father, read “The Shack” by William Young. Try God as a cross between Della Reese and Oprah!
Many thanks for your posts. You are remarkably insightful.
Oscar, thank you so much for your comment and the book recommendation! Blessings right back. 🙂
Nice yoga position! Wow!
🙂 Why thank you, Melissa! It’s one of my favorites, ‘Extended Side Crow.’
Thank you for such an insightful article. I really admire how you are able to pare down and see the lessons in everything that happens to you, or in old and dear movies, as in this case.
Also, I want to wish you the very best with your book proposal submissions. I believe your book would be a world changer for many people, and I am really rooting for your success in getting it out there.
I can also vouch for “The Shack,” so if you do get an opportunity to read it, please do so. It’s a little rough emotionally in some parts, but well worth the read.
Impressive yoga position, too, by the way. I can’t dance standing up, let alone sideways, lol.
Wow, thank you, Renee! I really appreciate the vote of confidence. 🙂
Oh Caroline, this is such beautiful post…but then again, all your posts are!
I love your dancing paradigm and I too feel how important it is to listen and get absorbed in the rhythm of life and not to worry how people might judge us and just dance away. And yes, adding some original and fancy moves definitely helps 🙂
What an exciting news about your upcoming book! I can understand the feelings of a possible hesitation when launching a book, especially for a writer who opens up her heart like you do Caroline. But that’s why this book is beautiful, because it’s written with your heart and about the people you love.
my best wishes
PS. Wow, that yoga position is amazing Caroline! All I can do is a headstand, and with added years…it might not be for much longer 🙂
Hahah thank you Metod! I can’t wait to share the book with you. And a headstand is impressive!
Thank you so much for writing about the strength in moving ahead in the rhythm, taking the steps needed. The little grandmother is indeed the nudge for change- someone who realizes truth and wants to encourage with it. (Love that movie!) Look at you in the yoga pose! (didn’t you once say that you hated plank?ha!)
You are so welcome, Mom! I always think of you when I hear that wonderful Grandmother line, “Hot Stuff can shake his tail feather, but he knows chickenshit about rhythm.” I can practically hear your laughter just thinking of it!
And yes, I’ll admit, I did once say, “Plank? Plank sucks!” 😉
Your blog helps me put things in perspective
Thank you, Don! That’s lovely to hear. 🙂
Pushing your ‘fear aside and dance’ sounds like the way to go! Someone once challenged me to consider what would be the worst thing that could happen if I did (or didn’t) do a particular thing. That thought “what’s the worst that could happen” has stayed with me and I find it a great process to use to think things through. When I do stop and consider I have always, (to this point), summoned up enough bravery to go ahead with whatever it has been that I was fearful of!
I look forward to seeing your blog each week, now it’s time to go and ‘just dance’…
Great question to ask yourself, Bronte! My friend Jen Gresham (http://www.everydaybright.com) has students in her No Regrets Career Academy actually create a “post mortem”; that is, they outline their feared worst-case scenario in detail, and thereby come to the same realization that you have: that you always have options, and that often the consequences loom much larger in one’s mind than they would in reality.
Hope you have a wonderful week of ‘dancing’! 🙂