The Sacred Choreography of Ballet

By no means am I an expert in the art of watching and understanding ballet.  However, after watching the Grand Rapids Ballet this afternoon, something struck me that could also describe the nature of sacred community.

The dancing is exquisitely choreographed.  The partners or the group of dancers jump together, rotate together, legs move together, arms move together, and most importantly, they come down together.  An individual dancer moves precisely to the music.  From a purely physical point of view, the most exciting and crowd pleasing part of the ballet is the individual who jumps the highest or has the physical ability to perform the greatest number of tricky maneuvers while flying through the air.  However, doesn’t the beauty of the ballet depends on the most physically powerful dancers reining in their talent, a kind of tzimtzum, a contraction in their powers? An individual dancer who jumps so high that he gets behind the music is no longer beautiful.  One of a pair or group of dancers who shows off her speed, throws off the balance of the entire ballet.  One might say that when a group of people are on stage together, there is an aspect in which the group is only as strong as its weakest link.  The strongest leapers gauge their jumping to match the weakest leaper.  However, there is another way to look at a ballet company.  Each of the dancers on stage has a unique set of strengths.  Some have more physical size, some have more power, some have more balance, flexibility, speed, coordination.  I noticed that in the three weekend performances, some of the principal roles rotated from once dancer to another.  Some roles stayed with the dancer most suited for them, but other roles were played equally well, even if slightly differently, by a variety of dancers.  A ballet company becomes a sacred community when each member appreciates the choreography of the whole and serves the whole with humility.

Within a religious community, there are people with identifiable and unique talents.  However, for a group of people to pray together in a traditional Jewish community, those who can read prayers, read Hebrew, most quickly need to hold back; those who can sing the loudest need to restrain their voices so every voice can be heard; those whose knowledge of the liturgy is most fluent need to let other people claim a role in participating in the service.  A community is not qualitatively better when the “weaker,” less knowledgeable, people stand aside for the more qualified people to take over.  Less fluent people are not a weak link in a sacred community, because we presume that each person has unique gifts that only he or she can contribute.  It is not a harmonious community when a small elite group shuts down the participation of the rest of the people.  A community becomes sacred when each member appreciates the choreography of the whole and serves the whole with humility.

4 thoughts on “The Sacred Choreography of Ballet

  1. As a dancer, therapist and member of the Jewish Community, I so identify with these insights. Your ability to articulate them and share them is so valued.


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