Let It Be A Dance: Reflections from your Southern Region Staff Team

From Natalie Briscoe, Co-Lead for the Southern Region

I began ballet lessons when I was 3 years old. I remember begging my grandparents to allow me to stop playing softball - where the shirts were always polyester, the sun was always hot, and the dust was always in my mouth - in favor of the beautiful tutus, pointe shoes, and air conditioned studios of ballet. They relented after only 7 months of constant pestering and were finally swayed when I pointed out that the ballet studio was much closer to our house than the softball field. Convenience always wins when it comes to after-school activities.

And oh my goodness, I LOVED it. I loved the leotards in different colors. I loved my hair in high, tight bun. I loved the way my arm looked when it swept above my head. I loved the sound of my feet when I returned to the ground from a grand jete, and I loved the smell of the wooden floor when I lay my cheek against it. It was like finding a home I never knew I was longing for.

I continued to dance all the way through high school, even spending 3 months with the American Ballet Theater in New York as an apprentice dancer during my junior year of high school. It was during this time, in residency at age 16, after dancing for nearly 13 years, that a new dimension was added to my practice by the instructors at ABT. In addition to 9 hours per day of studio time, a cardio practice that involved running at least a 5K every morning, and strength training three days out of the week, dancers were required to take classes including the history of ballet, ballet theory and philosophy, and biology and kinesiology.

Now, did reading about the past ballet greats and how this art has developed and changed over the years make me have a better fifth position? No, of course not. Only practice will make you have a better fifth position. Did studying diagrams of the body’s musculature directly lead to my acquiring more muscle tone? Again, no. Will listening to the composition of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker help me learn the choreography of these dances? Obviously not.

But - did learning about the history and philosophy - nay, the theology - of ballet deepen my practice and give me a deeper appreciation for this craft? You bet it did. It also helped me to understand exactly why the steps were what they were, why the counts were set in such a precise manner. I had a deeper connection to the craft, a deeper relationship to the art. I felt the weight of the centuries of ballet in my feet as I slipped on my shoes, practice or performance. And I knew I wasn’t dancing alone, ever.

It’s the same with Congregational Leadership. No matter how early we started, or how long we have been practicing, we always have more to learn. No matter how much we may love Unitarian Universalism now, learning more about it deepens our relationship to it and gives us better understanding. Only the practice of leadership - the movement of our own selves through community space toward the building of a more beloved community - will make us better leaders. But we can learn what we carry with us when we pick up that mantle of leadership, and it makes the position richer and more meaningful. And we can find that we are never leading alone, ever.

From Connie Goodbread, Co-Lead for the Southern Region

I love dance. I love to watch all kinds of dance - ballet or modern - I love it all.

When you sit in the front row of the theater, you can see all of the details of the costumes and each dancer’s moves and wobbles. You can notice the placement of each hand, the flicker of each eye.

When you sit in the balcony, you see the kaleidoscope of the choreography and how each individual dancer fits in with every other dancer. You can see the bigger picture, the way the dancers move together to create one body of motion. One story.

I wish you moments of being in the middle of the dance, noticing the details, creating the nuances, partnering in movement to create something larger than yourself.

And I wish you moments of seeing the patterns that are created by the body of dancers, of stepping back to see clearly the larger story of the dance. I wish for you the wide perspective, and appreciation of how each dancer has an important role in creating the larger whole.

Both perspectives are vitally necessary in leadership. One is not better than the other; both views help you to participate in and experience reality. The point of getting the view from the balcony is not to stay on the balcony or to critique the efforts of others, but rather to get the bigger picture and then get back to the dance floor, to perform your part - the role only you can do.

From Kathy McGowan

My experience in dance goes back to my time as a professional performer. No, wait...I actually took my first ballet class in kindergarten. I hated it. I did not think I was very good. Fast forward to my high school years. I knew I was a good actress and singer but I did not think I was a good dancer. My drama teacher saw in me something that I did not see in myself and he cast me as a lead dancer in the chorus of a major dancing musical. Well, I had to figure it out, and I did. If he had not challenged me in that way, I may not have had the professional career in the theatre that I so enjoyed.

Good leaders see leadership in others. They nurture them, challenge them, help them to grow.

From Nancy Combs-Morgan

Movement, including dance, are essential to my spiritual expression. From swaying back and forth, to circle dance, to individual interpretive movement, they all add up to my whole self-expression. There is an ongoing potential for spiritual communities, groups of souls in deep accord, finding ways to creatively express that which is central to their understanding of community, as demonstrated in music and movement.  Actually, I have a dream of Unitarian Universalist communities coming together throughout the week with multigenerational movement, music, and message. I call it the 4M’s -- it has the potential for amazing multigenerational embodiment of joy, and even lament. So, the next time you encounter me in a worship service, I will be the one in the back swaying and raising my hands in movement, join me!

About the Authors

Natalie Briscoe

Natalie Briscoe is the Lead of the Southern Region's Congregational Life staff team.

Connie Goodbread

Connie Goodbread is serving Unitarian Universalism as HOPE for Us Conflict Engagement Team Director. Connie served as Co-Lead of UUA Southern Region for three years.

Kathy McGowan

Kathy McGowan has been on the Congregational Life Staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association since 2013. In that time her areas of focus have been in systems thinking, theology, conflict, intercultural sensitivity, and staff supervision. She is one of the primary...

Nancy Combs-Morgan

Nancy Combs-Morgan has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for 26+ years, including 6 as a Director of Religious Education, and 20 years on UUA district and regional staff.

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