Praise God’s Name with Festive Dance

by EEWC Update editor Letha Dawson Scanzoni

The day had been perfect. Breathtaking scenery. Steadily falling snow. The ski slopes beckoned for one more run before nightfall.

Lindsey HuddlestonDancer Lindsey Huddleston, enjoying a 1984 Christmas vacation in Vail, Colorado with her husband and two teenage children, ignored her feelings of fatigue and began whizzing down the trail, trying to keep up with her daughter, Kathy. Suddenly, her ski caught some deep snow and she tumbled into the vast whiteness. She tried to get up, but something was wrong. Her left leg! It would not support her. “It was as though I were stepping into an elevator shaft,” she says.

A ski patrol rushed to the site and took her on a 45-minute toboggan trip to the base of Vail Mountain. At the emergency clinic, the physician said that she had totally severed the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. Lindsey asked, “What can I do about it?”

“Well, at your age,” he replied, “I don’t think that reconstructive surgery would be a good idea. I’ll give you crutches and a removable cast to support your knee.” He suggested that she have arthroscopic surgery (to confirm the damage) when she returned home to Connecticut. After that, she should try to build up the muscles around the knee joint to support her leg. Then, “see if you can ‘make do’ with your limited range of movement,” he instructed.

Make do!” Telling me about it in a phone interview 14 years later, Lindsey remembers how her heart sank. Those other words, “at your age,” made her sound past hope. “I was only 43, and I was a dancer!

An orthopedic surgeon in Connecticut confirmed the diagnosis, using almost the same words spoken by the Colorado physician: “At your age, reconstructive surgery is not recommended. Why don’t you just see if you can ‘make do.'” (Lindsey believes some sexism was at work. She said she knows of other instances where women were told to “make do,” while men in similar circumstances were given hope and alternatives.) Although she went through a rigorous physical therapy program and gradually built up muscles to help compensate for the severed ligament (which has never been surgically repaired), she developed an intense fear of falling.

And she had to give up dancing.

Grieving Lost Identity 

Lindsey was devastated. “Dance was my identity. When people would say, ‘Who are you? What do you do?’ I would say, ‘I’m a dancer.’ I lost that piece of my identity,” she explained. She went through a period of intense grieving over her loss.

To understand fully the depth of her grieving, we need to look back at Lindsey’s life before the skiing accident.

Born to Dance 

Born in Roanoke, VA, Lindsey spent her earliest years in Blacksburg where her father taught English at Virginia Tech. After her parents divorced, she moved to Connecticut with her mother and new stepfather.

She started dancing when she was three. “I was one of those classic little kids with the pink tutu,” she laughed. Her dancing lessons eventually included all types of dance-ballet, tap, jazz, and at age 12, modern dance. In her junior year of high school, she transferred to a private school in Wellesley, MA. By then she was choreographing for school shows. Dancing was rapidly becoming her life.

Discovering Sacred Dance

“I got into liturgical dance when a woman named Ann Smith in Chapel Hill, NC introduced me to it in 1969,” she said. At the time, Lindsey’s husband, Dick, was on the faculty of the University of North Carolina, teaching modern Italian history.

Ann Smith was teaching a modern dance class in which Lindsey was enrolled. She invited Lindsey to dance with her for the Palm Sunday service at the Episcopal Church. “I was shocked,” Lindsey said. She questioned Ann: “Peopledance in worship services? Why? How?”

Looking back, she says she isn’t sure why she had never been exposed to this form of worship but wonders if it had to do with growing up in New England. I asked if her unawareness of sacred dance might have stemmed from religious conservatism or Puritan influence. She replied that she had grown up Congregationalist. “Congregationalists aren’t conservative, but they are into their heads and less comfortable with their bodies,” she said, laughing. Lindsey remembered Ann Smith’s simple statement: “We’re going to dance the 150th Psalm.” The enthusiasm and joy of discovery were still evident in Lindsey’s voice nearly three decades later as she exclaimed, “The 150th Psalm is thiswonderful Psalm that talks about praising God with timbrel and dance!”

And so she agreed to do the liturgical dance with Ann Smith that Palm Sunday. “We did it as a duet in the sanctuary during the service, and it was wonderful!” she recalled. ” I was transformed by the experience. I was filled with awe- and joy- and a sense of the Holy.” It was the beginning of a whole new phase in her dancing career.

There wasn’t a lot happening in terms of liturgical dance in 1969, Lindsey said, “But the Sacred Dance Guild was very influential for me. Carla DeSola was really my mentor in sacred dance. The last I heard she was at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley teaching sacred dance-dance as worship. She used to have a company called the Omega Liturgical Dance Company, based in New York City at St. John the Divine. She has been a great, great inspiration for many years. I met her at one of the conferences sponsored by the Sacred Dance Guild.” The Sacred Dance Guild emphasizes dance as a language- “a language of faith and celebration.” It was a language that Lindsey could speak with ease.

Marriage and Motherhood

By the time she discovered sacred dance, dancing in general had already been Lindsey’s source of identity for many years. It was crucial to the very core of her being. She remembers a time during the early years of her marriage when she felt, long before the skiing accident, that she had lost that identity temporarily. And she knew she never again wanted to be without opportunities to dance.

In what seems like a movie script, she had met Dick Huddleston on a blind date arranged by her mother (who had never met Dick before then either). Lindsey was a 16-year old high school student and Dick was a 19 year-old college freshman. “As soon as I saw him, I fell in love with him!” she said. “I hadn’t even met him, but I just knew I was going to marry this man!”

Three years later, after completing her sophomore year at Wheaton (Mass.) College, she did just that. Dick had graduated from Wesleyan University and had been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study Renaissance history abroad. Ten days after their wedding, they left for a year in Florence, Italy .

It was a difficult year for Lindsey. Like many a spouse who has followed a partner who is pursuing a career or study opportunity, Lindsey felt a terrible sense of loss and loneliness. In such instances, the partner has a ready-made role and social network in the new location, while the spouse has neither. Lindsey not only didn’t speak the language of Italy, she missed the language of dance. Her two years of college in Massachusetts had been filled with choreographing and performances. She had even taught dance after one of the dancing instructors had been injured. “I lost all that when I went to Italy. I lost who I was, and I really had a struggle that year, being newly married, not speaking the language, far away from home and family, and having no identity-not even any responsibility, because even our meals were prepared for us! I had no function, and that’s hard,” she said.

Upon returning to the U.S., while Dick taught at a private school, Lindsey got her B.A. in English at Boston University and resumed her dancing career at the New England Conservatory of Music and at a place called the “Dance Umbrella.” When Dick went to Berkeley for his Ph.D., Lindsey became the family breadwinner and also the mother of a daughter and a son. The Berkeley years were interspersed with another year in Italy. Then it was on to Chapel Hill, NC, where Lindsey began her liturgical dancing.

In 1978, when she and Dick were back in Connecticut working at Wesleyan University. Lindsey earned a master’s degree in religion and dance by creating her own degree program. She administrated the dance program there and Wesleyan allowed for flexibility, so the opportunity was ideal. “If you think creatively about what you love to do, and what energizes you, and what you’d like to learn, and then put it all together into a degree program, you’d beamazed at what you can accomplish!” she exclaimed. As she worked on the degree, she was also busy with dancing, choreographing, teaching, and serving on the National Board of Directors of the Sacred Dance Guild.

During that exciting period of her life, she began dancing with her young daughter. From the time Kathy was 8 years old through age 13, the two performed in various churches in New England and in New York City. Lindsey said she has told many other mothers how great it is “to be able to have a project with your child that is larger than either one of you!” She said that as Kathy began moving into adolescence and communication became more difficult, “we were forced to interact because of our creative work together. That was so good because it kept us in communication, kept us connected.”

The last dance they did together was called “Mother, Child.” Choreographed by Lindsey and Kathy, it was originally commissioned by the Old Saybrook Congregational Church in Connecticut for a Mother’s Day program. Lindsey and Kathy toured with it for a year. Then, as Kathy’s little-girl body began developing into that of a young woman, the dance no longer worked. There was less of a differential between an adult and a child. (The dance began with Kathy wrapped around Lindsey’s torso, then sliding down as though Lindsey were giving birth to her. It conveyed a powerful image and provides an example of the way Lindsey uses dance to tell a story, express an emotion, convey a truth.) But to Lindsey, the bonding with her daughter through their mutual involvement in the creative process was the best part of the project. ” For us, since the dance was about the mother-child relationship,” she said, “Kathy and I could talk about our relationship and talk about what it had been, and what it was at the time when we were struggling, and then what we wanted it to be. It was a great gift to both of us.”

After the Accident

Those happy years of dancing performances came to an abrupt halt for Lindsey with the skiing accident about six years later. Once again, Lindsey felt she had lost her identity, just as she had experienced when separated from her dancing activities during that lonely year as a young bride in Italy. Only this time, the loss appeared to be permanent.

Doors Closing , Doors Opening

She became extremely depressed and sought out a counselor. The counselor suggested Lindsey seek out a career counselor-a profession Lindsey hadn’t known existed. Ever resilient, Lindsey found not only a career counselor but a new career. “The experience of going through that whole self-assessment process, looking at “where am I now?’ and ‘what am I interested in?’ and ‘what can I do now?’ and ‘what draws me?’ was so positive!” she said. “It was transformative.” She decided that she wanted “to become a career counselor and help others-particularly women in midlife- find their own answers.” She commented that “women have traditionally and culturally spent their lifetime taking care of everybody else.” She saw a challenge in “empowering these women to look at themselves and make some informed decisions and go on with their lives and find their own purpose and meaning that is theirs and not derivative.” She returned to graduate school for a second master’s degree ( 1994), this time in counseling, with a concentration in career counseling.

As a career counselor today, she wants to be a role model. She tells her clients her story and says, “I’m here because I want to companion you on your journey. I want to help you find your voice, your way. I truly care about your opportunities to live a full and meaningful life.”

Lindsey prays for her clients during her 70-mile commute to the counseling center where she works. She told me she wants to be an “invitational” person, one who is inclusive and welcoming. It is a spirit that comes through in her counseling, her various church ministries, and her dancing.

God had another surprise for Lindsey during that time of transition after the accident.. In 1989, she attended a women’s conference organized by Sr. Miriam Therese “M.T.” Winter , a professor at Hartford Seminary, famous for her books, liturgies, music for women, and her recordings with the Medical Missions Sisters. [M.T. was a much appreciated speaker and music leader for our own 1994 EEWC conference in Chicago.] Over the next year, the two women became friends, and Lindsey shared her story with her. “It was M.T. who got me dancing again,” Lindsey said. M.T. persuaded her to try to return to the beloved art that she thought was gone forever and to work with her as a liturgical dancer for women’s gatherings. Amazingly, in spite of her injured leg, Lindsey was again able to experience “the thrilling, exhilarating sense of praising God with all of me!” In one seminary class in which she now works with M.T. , she helps both male and female clergy to use movement in liturgy.

Lindsey told me, her voice filled with awe, “I was given back this wonderful gift!” I remarked that it almost looked as if God took her on a detour to get her into career counseling to inspire others. “Absolutely!” Lindsey said, “I really do think so.” I added, “And yet God gave you back what you loved so much.” “Isn’t that amazing?” she said. Her words were soft, reverent. ” I feel so blessed.”

About liturgical dance, Lindsey says, “I believe that God calls us to live fully- not just our minds, but body, mind, spirit. We are a unity. This applies to worship as well. The Bible says my body is the temple of the Lord, and to use our bodies to express our faith. And to do that in collaboration with music, or the spoken word, or even silence is very powerful. My goal is to become transparent to the Holy Spirit so that people do not look at me and say, “Oh, what marvelous technique,” or “Gee, she’s put on weight!” or “I like her haircut.” She laughed. “Rather, I want people to feel connected with something so spiritual that they too are filled by the Holy Spirit and are moved to a level of experience beyond what they normally would have experienced. It’s not an ego trip. I really feel that I’m an instrument of God and a channel of God’s love and light. And as a channel, I am not the subject. God is the subject. I wouldn’t be dancing if God weren’t doing it, because I’m lacking this body part. I do feel carried by this energy; I feel so joy-filled.”

I spoke of the radiance observed by those of us who saw her dance at EEWC’s conference. “I’m so glad that it’s visible,” she said. “That’s the way I feel.” When people at the conference told her that her dancing touched them in specific ways she was deeply moved. “That’s why I do it,” she said.

She is saddened that so many fear and deny their bodies. “People ‘stay in their heads’ a lot to protect themselves,” she said. “Rhythm gets us in touch with the unconscious and takes us out of our heads. Movement, rhythm, music- they take us to a much deeper level, and I believe God incorporates all of that for good. The physical expression of movement connects us to God.” ³

* From Psalm 149:3, The Inclusive Psalms, published by Priests for Equality, P.O. Box 5243, W. Hyattsville, MD 20782-0243,

© 1998 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 22 number 3 Fall 1998
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Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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