In February, I had the honor of attending the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress for the first time . Not only are they the biggest Catholic gathering in the United States (aside from Papal visits) with over 25,000 people in attendance, they also do one thing that many other big events don’t – dance. They dance in all their main stage events, concerts, and even liturgies. I even got to dance during two of their smaller daily liturgies (maybe 1000 attendees as opposed to the 10,000 that the arena at the Anaheim Convention Center can hold). I have dreamt of going to Congress for the past year ever since hearing about it, so an event like this should have excited me, right? Well, it did, but … Something wasn’t quite right. On the plane ride to the West Coast, I took out my journal, writing and talking to God: “I barely registered that I’m off to LA Congress … Am I even excited? I mean I am but … I’m just hoping that I haven’t lost my love for doing this […] ” Well soon enough, excitement was about to turn its head towards me. I would learn a lot about trust during this weekend, and I would be reaffirmed in my love for all of this.
Embrace Trust: What Happens When You Lose Your ID
The excitement began when I lost my ID. I was at the hotel, frantically searching for my driver’s license, until I gave in. You see, this is not exactly something I could never have imagined; in fact, I just thought of it the morning of. Suddenly I realized two things: 1) Be careful what you wish for because God will make it happen (whether it be excitement or losing a driver’s license); and 2) I guess I’m not an adult. This was the perfect time to go into full-time panic mode, but there were other things at hand. The fact of the matter was I needed to get into my hotel room and get to rehearsals ASAP. Before I knew it, I was embracing trust before I even remembered that that was the theme of the weekend. This issue was sure to take up a lot of my energy and headspace, but as luck or God would have it- I was surrounded by the best people in the world! Even at home- I’m grateful for my parents for all the trouble they went through to make sure I could get back home!
Embrace Trust: Making Connections from Strangers to Friends
I was invited and generously sponsored to attend LA Congress by fellow liturgical dancer Betsey Beckman of The Dancing Word. We have actually never met before, just a series of connections online through the Sacred Dance Guild. Betsey has also supported The Moving Prayer in the past. I was really excited to attend and was even more excited when she invited me to dance with her! She even introduced me to the dance group for the Young Adult Mass. It’s kind of crazy and a bit daunting to not only connect with a group of people but to learn their choreography via video then dance with them, but I was up for the challenge! I realized they placed a lot of trust in me, but also, I realized I placed a lot of trust in them!
I love meeting new people but am very cautious about entering social circles, especially ones that have been established. Here I was, about to join in dance with people who have been dancing together for years! They had to trust me – to learn the dance moves and hopefully fit in with the group. But I soon learned that fitting in meant more than just dancing well together. Especially, after losing my ID and with no one I knew around, I had to trust these strangers to be empathetic with my situation and hopefully to be of help. This may be the quickest I ever opened up to people and sought such big help, but I am glad I did! I’m glad I trusted in God and in these strangers who have now become friends. It was fun, seeing not only how our bodies and movements connected but how our spirits and personalities connected. For being the “new kid,” it felt rather welcoming – the kind of welcome you hope the Church would carry, the kind of welcome you long for when you finally meet people who love the weird and quirky things you do.
Embrace Trust: The Weekend Recapped
Speaking of weird and quirky – I met a lot of crazy people like me. People who dance for God. I didn’t expect to take many workshops on movement, but I am so happy I did. I was able to take a lot from all the different instructors. They all taught movement but had different approaches to it!
Betsey Beckman shared a workshop with her parish music director Laura Ash called “A Leap of Faith: Dancing with Mary into Trust.” It was a wonderful presentation full of music and movement that got everyone, perhaps close to one hundred people, moving around the space and connecting with each other. Betsey and Laura also gave a powerful performance of David Haas’ “Magnificat,” with Laura providing music and Betsey portraying the Blessed Mother at the time of the Annunciation. Full of emotion ranging from fun excitement to nervous doubts, Betsey captivated the workshop attendees with her movements and monologue. Attendees were then asked to choreograph our own movements to the Magnificat, and this wonderful thing happen:
Later that day Betsey and I, along with Kristin and Donna, danced for the Healing Mass. It was a very powerful and inspiring Mass. The music, by Janet Sullivan Whitaker and Sarah Hart, was just stunning, and you could really see and feel the Spirit flow through their music as they sang and through our bodies as we danced.
The next day I attended a workshop by John West and the Valyermo Dancers. The Valyermo Dancers is a company consisting of many dancers of all different levels; they have been dancing at Congress for many years now. Their workshop was a completely different approach than Betsey’s, but one I also really liked. John taught us two choreographed pieces, taking time to really go through each movement. The way he interprets music is very similar to Lectio Divina, an approach to reading, interpreting, and connecting with the Scripture. In a way, we approached each dance and song with a lot of care. Each move was very intentional and many participants walked away with a better understanding of movement, including me! You would think that as a sacred dancer, I wouldn’t gain anything new from a movement class, but I did! The way John had instructed us on how to interpret the movement really resonated with me. It’s been something that had been missing in my own instruction and even the way I deliver the movement. It was a very thought-provoking workshop, and I’m glad to have connected with so many of the dancers.
In the evening, I danced at the Young Adult Mass. It was exciting for me to be surrounded by so many trained dancers, and for them, they were absolutely excited to have a total of ten dancers dancing during the liturgy! A great highlight was seeing so many in the congregation dance along with us during the Psalm! It was absolutely unexpected and it filled me up with such light and love!
The last workshop I attended was with Roy DeLeon, who uses yoga-like movement to interpret prayers. This was especially moving for me, as two of the prayers we learned were the Sign of the Cross (I included it in the Moving Meditations for Lent!) and the similar Glory Be. I had recently read The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, which helped rekindle my love for the Trinity. The Glory Be, which is similar to the Sign of the Cross but begins the second half reaching down to the floor, reminded me of Sun Salutations. I used to do Sun Salutations every morning but soon fell out of practice. I wanted to integrate a prayer with it but had trouble finding one. This workshop sparked new life into me – the Trinity and Sun Salutations? Together? I could begin and end my waking days with the Trinity as a happy reminder to step into the flow with my mind, body, and spirit (I’ll get deeper into this on a later date!).
The ENTIRE weekend was filled with more sacred and liturgical dance than I could ever imagine – in the mainstage events, in the concerts, in the many workshops, in the many liturgies! Also this is probably the most diverse I have ever seen the Catholic Church! All types of languages and a real embrace of different cultures and traditions present throughout the conference! Liturgies that highlighted the diversity of the Catholic Church; presentations about the different communities, their artwork, costumes, devotions, and more; people who looked like me! Coupled with my experiences with my newfound friends, I felt so welcomed! I felt so at home! And yet …
Embrace Trust: Love Where I Am
I was surrounded by dance and everything I loved about the world but felt like was missing from my part of the Catholic Church (at least where I am from). Having heard about how much Congress and most of the West Coast embraced dance in the liturgy and throughout their spiritual life, I was ready to pack my bags and get a move on. And yet … And yet I was so drawn to what was happening at home.
When many of the dancers asked what I did, I told them how I danced at many big events – World Youth Day, National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry, and now here. I also told them how I taught dance to little kids many of them who have never taken dance lessons before, let alone dance sacred dance. I realized that unlike the many trained dancers present at Congress, I worked in a completely different world. Even the untrained dancers here had a lot more exposure to sacred and liturgical dance than many of the people I worked with. Many of the dancers I met at Congress were quite blessed and privilege – to have their gifts and talents recognized and shared with so many people and on quite the platform! It was something I longed for and dreamed of. I thought, maybe if I moved here, my path would be easier. But-
Embrace trust. This was not my path. The dancers and I had similar paths, but they were also vastly different. And the path I was given, the one I rightfully accepted, was the one I wanted to go on. To bring dance and especially sacred dance to many who never saw themselves as dancers. To see a child’s face light up when they are given a pair of ballet shoes for the first time. To hear a young person say, “I never thought dance could make me feel that way,” and have their whole demeanor change. To have priest say, “I don’t really like this stuff, but that was beautiful.” All of this. All of this is worth the trouble and obstacles I am met with. It’s my calling, yes. It is also my calling to love where I am.
Losing my ID at the beginning of Congress felt a little bit like losing myself. But by the end of the weekend, I had learned to embrace trust and God and all that God had in store for me. I was welcomed into a well-established home that loved all the things I loved. I became reacquainted with my love for dance. I believed God helped me find myself and where I belong. I embraced trust.
Special thanks to Betsey Beckman of The Dancing Word for generously sponsoring my travel and attendance at the 2017 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress as well as thanks to her and Sharie Bowman for the wonderful photos and video posted here!