Voice: Other Artist

I haven’t done a voice exercise in way too long, so here we go:

If you weren’t a writer, but could be any other kind of artist/musician, what would you choose? What would be your tools? why?

I’m pretty sure anyone who’s known me since college could tell you: dancer.

Before college, I circled around dancing, doing figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics. At Calvin, I made a beeline for the Dance Guild. I loved it. I reveled in it. By my junior year, I was dancing 20 hours a week. I was in fully half the dances in the programs. I joined the liturgical dance group at the church I went to. I took every official dance class Calvin offered. I even got to be in a Glenn Bulthuis video (an alumni weekend thing). I eventually led both the Dance Guild and the church program.

In New York, I didn’t dance, except for boogying down at parties. It was too intimidating. There were professional dancers everywhere and they’d surely know I was an amateur. When we moved back to Michigan, I started up again.

So I’d rather be a medium fish in a small pond, than a minnow in the ocean. I’m fine with it.

We went back to the same church, where I danced again. I got to dance twice as Mary while I was pregnant. Grateful doesn’t begin to express how I felt about that. In fact, I danced until my due date with both kids — dancing felt more natural to my body than walking (ahem, waddling), at that point.

And then came the true making of me as a dancer: we joined a multiracial/multicultural church that had a very different history of dance. Dances weren’t just something nice to do that might move people. Dances could change lives, they could lead the viewers to deeper faith, to faith to begin with. There was also a tradition of “flowing” — dancing as the Spirit moves you, without planned choreography.

Most of my favorite dance experiences are from City Hope. I’m both a more powerful dancer and a freer one. I only managed to “flow” once, but I have motions for a third of the songs we sing that I do in the pews. If the praise team sings a song I have a dance to, I’ll go up front (after making sure that my outfit doesn’t show skin if I bend over or raise my arms) and just do it, unplanned, no uniform. Lately, I’ve taken to waving my big ribbon (thank you, rhythmic gymnastics training) during praise and worship, mostly as an encouragement to the congregation during the tough time we’re having.

I’d always loved the storytelling aspect of dance, the ability to embody emotion, especially the angsty ones. The peppy numbers were fun, but the first dance I choreographed was called, “Gaelic Mourning,” and I went on to specialize in numbers for Lent and Good Friday. The Bible verse that best explains my approach to dancing is about something else entirely: Romans 26:8 (NLT), “the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.”

Is this the place to mention the dance others (not me!) called my “sex on a chair” dance? It was in good taste. I know this because nobody wrote a letter to school paper complaining about it. It was to Maria McKee’s, “Breathe” — “I will let you breathe through me, I will let you be through me.” If one is trying to embody those lyrics….

It’s funny, but as a dancer, I’m mostly word focused. I explicate the lyrics with my body. This is especially true in my church dancing, but it was before, too. Lately, I’ve been using a lot of enhanced American Sign Language, especially in the kids’ church dance numbers. It provides a wonderful framework. Someday, I’d like to put together a seminar for the Calvin Institutes of Worship conference on that topic. I think it would help a lot of churches who want to have dance, but may not have “pros” already in their pews.

I’d say it’s pretty clear that, if I weren’t a (wannabe) writer, I’d be a dancer, because I am one. But that doesn’t answer the “Why?”

Because I was made to move. Just like that character in “Chariots of Fire,” I feel God’s pleasure when I move and when I teach others to move. And I’m not giving that up.




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2 thoughts on “Voice: Other Artist

  1. Natalie,

    You are a dancer. The way you move, with and without props, is breathtaking and challenging and your dancing inspires all the things art is supposed to inspire. Watching you move as you leaned lithely across the DG recruitment table made me want to dance too.

    So perhaps the above is more an Artist’s Statement than an exercise in what might be.


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