Shuf-fle ball change,
Shuf-fle, hop, step.
Heel, toe, heel, toe.
Shuf-fle ball change,
Shuf-fle, hop, step.
Heel, toe, heel, toe, step.
Anyone who knows what these words mean will begin to move their feet to these tap steps automatically. It doesn’t matter how old you are; you know these steps. They were one of the first lessons I learned when taking tap lessons in first grade: If you want to do something or become something, you must learn what it takes to accomplish that. Then do it, and do it and do it again; and before you know, you’ll be there and as you achieve whatever it is, joy and beauty will emerge.
Lessons from dance
When taking ballet lessons I learned the primary five hand and feet positions. I can still hear my dance instructor saying, “Okay, students, arms up. Now, first position; that’s it. Now, second, third, fourth, fifth, and down to the side. Gracefully, students, and let’s not forget our feet positions too.” No ballet dancer worth her shoes did not know those positions as well as the classic arabesque position in which the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended horizontally backward and the arms following the feet. How beautiful and graceful I felt when the teacher instructed us how to incorporate these actions into a fluid dance performance. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, I felt I was what my young mind perceived—a ballerina. Little did I know at that age what it would take to become that true ballerina. All I knew was that my actions and what I was learning were the beginning of finding the beauty in me, and I loved it. I fumbled, I fell, and I flubbed up in practice more times than I can count, but that didn’t matter; I was learning to “dance.” Those basic ballet and tap positions stayed with me long years after my last childhood recital performances; and I still use the hand positions occasionally with my pool exercises.
The highlight of Linda LaVonne’s Dance student’s “career” for the season was to appear in a recital for the Bill Riley Talent Scout Show. To our great delight, my trio group won an opportunity, when I had just turned eight years old to perform “The Duck Dance” on television. Our moms spruced up our duck costumes, re-glued fake yellow feathers to the paper plates pinned to our shoulders and backsides, and insisted we practice even harder, night after long night in each other’s homes, perfecting our performance. We didn’t mind, we were going to be on television. How excited we were to arrive at the studio and then to go on the set, showcasing our talent to be the best dancing ducks we could be. We had worked long and hard for this chance and we knew all the time spent in practice, fumbling, falling, and tripping over our tap steps would make us even more graceful and beautiful ducklings. We didn’t win that competition, and that was okay with us; we had done what we came there to do. However, I do remember the end movement of the dance was to stick our backsides up to the camera. That memory makes me smile to this day.
Awakening the motivation
At age twelve, I chose not to further my dance career in ballet because my dance instructor told me of the long, long years of lessons and concentrated hard work it would take to raise to my toes and become a ballerina. How painful seemed the long hours of practice. My family was large, and my parents made it clear that although they knew I enjoyed dancing, it would cost money, which they did not have. Was I sure I wanted to do this? I weighed my options and determined that, truly, I didn’t want to work that hard and I really just wanted to have fun. Hard work just didn’t equal fun to me at the tender age of twelve. No, being a future ballerina for The Bolshoi Ballet, the internationally renowned classical ballet company out of Moscow, Russia, wasn’t really my calling, but the arts remained an active part of my life.
The other night, as I was flipping through channels, I came upon the Iowa Public Television station that was showing a documentary on the history of ballet. I reminisced about the difference between my stint in dance and the graceful art created by those magnificent ballerinas. I wondered what would have happened in my life had I buckled down and done the hard work. Where would I be today? How would it have changed my life? Could I possibly apply that motivation to change my life today? Could the beauty that lay dormant within me still flourish?
One of the representatives for the American Ballet Theater group said on the documentary, “Ballet interpretation does not have to do with acting out the part in order for the dancer to portray her character well, it has to do with being that character. Expressing the deeper you has nothing to do with acting, but with being who you truly are.”
Something began to click in the gears of my heart. Hope.
Becoming who you were created to be
Many influences guide us to become or not to become who we are created to be. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, coaches, all have an impact on the course of our lives. However, there does come a time when we must choose either to listen to our heart and be who we truly are or to listen to others and quit.
Weight loss, for example, is no different. It’s extremely important to eat healthily, exercise consistently, and be guided by influences that will encourage, motivate and strengthen us to become who we’re created to be. But how do we get and stay motivated? Just like a ballerina, long hours, days and months of lonely, sometimes excruciating exercising, copious sweat, frustrating tears, pain, and seemingly wasted effort are required to get fit. It’s just plain hard work. And when we don’t see immediate results what motivates us to keep going? Where’s the payoff?
It may sound strange, but I’ve come to know that, for me, the key factor is faith. Faith: the conviction in my heart of the truthfulness of God in my life, the knowing that that seed of an idea He has planted in me, He will make it grow. At the young age of eight He instilled in me that I was beautiful and I could express that beauty and joy of life through dance, through singing, through playing instruments, and through directing music, and, even now, through writing. Now, at the still tender age of fifty-something, He’s instilling in me a perseverance to become fit in order to let that beautiful, graceful-loving woman flourish.
A pastor once said, “Where your faith intersects with God’s faithfulness something clicks and changes in you; it lights you up on the inside” and you know that you know “this” is what you were created for. All you have to do is be willing to say “yes”. It matters not what everyone else says; it matters not how long you’ve been working at it and see no results; it matters not that, when you look in the mirror at your naked body, the ring of fat on your belly is still there; it matters not whether you’re qualified or capable. What matters is that you know that He’s still telling you you’re beautiful; and that lights up the inside of you, the smile broadens, and you know that you know this is what you are called to do. That’s faith. That’s truth to your heart; and you can’t not do it, no matter how long, how difficult, how impossible it looks or takes. You KNOW. And you know that your Creator has put His stamp of approval on you, and you’re off. Accomplishing that feat takes more than a “want to” for me. It started out with a desire to lose weight so I would feel better, and it has become a quest to become fit physically, mentally, and spiritually. I know that He has something He wants me to do in His kingdom, and being fit will only energize me for that purpose.
All the tedious day-after-day workouts and the self-denial of unhealthy foods and the financial expense it incurs are worth it because you know deep down this is who you are: You are still beautiful. Expressing the beauty and joy He has revealed to your heart will result in the performance of a lifetime on the stage of life before your heavenly Father. You have faith that you aren’t acting out who you want to be. You are becoming who you were created to be. Transformation occurs at that moment and you see it unfold from the inside out.
So go on. Set your mind to going through whatever you have to go through to receive who you were created to be. Disciplining the body, the mind, and the soul causes pain, causes suffering. It will cost in ways you never imagined physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and, yes, even financially. But the allure of the sacrifice—to pace yourself through the grueling, repetitive exposure of failures and heartaches—to become who you truly are will begin to glow inside you.
I was further motivated and fortified to stick with my goal to become holistically fit when I read this same truth in the Bible. Hebrews 12:11 (NLT) says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” God’s Word was telling me that I am being trained for His purposes and He delights in me because I’ve accepted that all I have to do is say yes. That’s faith.
I was even more encouraged when I read verses 12 and 13: “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” He has laid out a plan for me, a path to become fit physically, mentally, and spiritually. I just need to take a new “grip” on the treadmill of this journey and follow His instructions. His joy and beauty will emerge and others will be encouraged and become strong by my struggles. Wow! So let’s find delight in the joy-filled true ballerina that is dancing in our hearts, just waiting to perform. How beautiful and graceful we both will feel when our Teacher sees our “performance” and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Go ahead, dance the dance of joy! He’s applauding your every step.
Finally, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6 NIV).