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My Experience of Discovering SPIRITUALITY OF BODY through Dance

My search to understand my particular religious experiences began some years ago when I began religious formation with the Society of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ). My novice directress introduced me to a circle dance in a community gathering and prayer. Circle Dance.There are two purposes to a circle dance. It can be use for social gatherings or community prayer. Using dance as prayer was a new idea for me because I did not think that we could use dance as a way of praying. In my previous experience, dance was a performance of steps and movements that followed a particular music for public entertainment.(1) At the beginning I felt strange, stiff, uncomfortable, shy and lacked confidence.

However my confidence in using my gift of dance grew even more when I responded to a call from the FCJ General Assembly to present the story of the FCJ’s foundress in a creative way. The dancing of Marie Madeleine’s mystical experiences proved to be a powerful experience. By doing this presentation I deepened my understanding of the life of the FCJ foundress and integrated this into my own life. The movements and symbols that I used in dancing were the means I used to express the fruits of my reflection. I began to wonder how my simple and spontaneous movements could bring people to such an indepth experience. It seemed that movements came naturally from my inner self through my imagination and body. I experienced the Holy Spirit helping me to overcome little by little my feelings of shame, distrust of my gift, my discomfort with my body, my fear of negative comments and my nervousness.

I discovered that through movement I could easily experience God and when I shared a dance prayer in community, it touched other people and helped them to experience God’s presence. It was by following my inner spirit that led me to use movement in my personal prayer and in community prayer. I began to use movement in my personal prayer. I explored different ways of using movement which were based on Ignatian method. I developed some ways of prayer such as stillness through movement, body awareness through some gestures, using movement in contemplation and meditation. I also created interpretative dances to express my prayers and reflections. Thus the Holy Spirit who lives within me taught me how to pray and how to share this gift with others. Furthermore, through dance prayer I explored a new reality of my body.

I found out that through dance prayer the movements of my body communicated something about God. I began to be attentive to my body. Movements became the expression of my whole being before God. I learned a new way of communicating with God which was not necessarily verbal or mental as I had previously learned as ways of prayer. I began to experience God’s presence in myself not only through mental activity but also through and in my whole body. There were some movements in my prayers which expressed something that I was not aware of and later I understood my situation. I realized that my whole body is a source of knowledge which goes beyond mental or rational activity. My whole being and not only my mind record all my experiences and God who lives and dwells in me is beyond the scope of my intellect. God is present and moving in my body. Movement was therefore very powerful for me, because it taught me about God and God’s revelation. One thing that surprised me was that I did not learn all of this from someone, or from books, or from my religion classes. I only listened and followed something that was stirring deep inside me. I believe it was the Holy Spirit. It was purely the work of God in me. It was a free gift from God, which encouraged me to explore and to understand more about God and myself. The gift of dance prayer helped me to overcome my insecurity and distrust of myself and led me to grow towards mature and healthy self- image.

The process of receiving and sharing the gift of dance as prayer was not easy or without problems. I learned in the novitiate to find God in every thing. I could easily find God in nature, or in events, but it was not easy to find God in Teaching dance to young people.people, especially those with whom I had difficulty in relationships. The most difficult was to find God within myself because my sinfulness, weaknesses and limitations made me feel unworthy. The biggest block was my attitude of distrust of myself. If people asked me to do dance prayer in a group, I often felt anxious that my dance would not be beautiful or would not be helpful for prayer even though I had experienced the work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I hesitated to take risks to initiate sharing in a group because I was afraid of rejection or negative comments. The insecurity that often blocked me from sharing came from distrust of myself and from my poor self-image. I thought that since my gift came only from personal experience and not from a course in spirituality or from someone who was an expert in dance prayer it could not be good enough. My attitude of distrust also manifested itself in feelings of shame and discomfort with my body. I often thought that I was not beautiful because some parts of my body were not perfect. However the gift of dance prayer led me gradually to a deeper experience of God’s love. The love of God helped me to appreciate my beauty, my body, my talents, and gradually to accept my whole being despite weakness and limitations.

Irene leading a procession into the church.I gradually appreciated myself when I was invited to share my gift and to teach dance prayer and liturgical dance to some groups of young people. This also led me to an appreciation of others and to trust to the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit in the community of faith. To teach dance as prayer meant to facilitate others to have a similar experience of God as I had. It was so grace filled and powerful to experience God working within a person or in a group of people. I saw the beauty of the Holy Spirit creating gesture and coming to life in the movement. I experienced God touching the inner person and freeing people from different kinds of blocks which imprisoned them. Through dance prayer I experienced God’s healing touches, peaceful reconciliations, joyful encounters with God, hearts longing of God’s love, souls release of anger or disappointment, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit which teach how to pray.

I was amazed how the Word of God from Scripture is made flesh in a person or a group through its dramatization. The invisible God found its face, its hands, its feet, and its body in dance prayer. I witnessed how dance prayer deepens people’s faith and transforms their lives. People became full of joy, freer, more creative, more spontaneous and more confident. I began to share my gift more often in the community on some special occasion and in the church because I believed it comes from the Holy Spirit and that She is the True Dancer in the universe. I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God through this process of dance prayer and liturgical dance.

(1) Definition of the word “dance,” in Collins Cobuild: English Learning’s Dictionary, ed. John Sinclair (London:HarperCollins, 1994), 231.

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Ang aming Samahan ay may layuning purihin
       ang puso ni Hesus
           sa lahat ng kapangyarihan niya.     (Marie Madeleine)