May 30, 2013 Tom Berlin

Joining in the Dance

I speak for many, if not all, middle-aged white men when I say that I have no rhythm.  I do not mean to be race biased, but seriously, it is a problem.  All those women may wonder what happened to the men who danced with them in college.  Few of us are still clamoring for the dance floor in our 40’s and 50’s.  Here is our secret: rhythm leaks from us as we age, and the hole gets bigger every year.  By the time we are 80 we could not keep a beat if there was a million dollar prize.

Tonight at the Child Rescue Centre the children shared a program that was mostly dancing to a group of boys who were drumming. It was some seriously good drumming and some fantastic dancing.  There was no shortage of rhythm in the hall where we were meeting.  The girls and some of the boys did a number of traditional dances that displayed the physicality of life in Sierra Leone.  People do a lot of manual labor here all the time, everything from hauling water from a well to bringing stacks of wood for the daily fires where food is prepared.  While the country has technology you see everywhere else, like laptops or cell phones, most things are done the old-fashioned way.  As a result, people are very strong.  All that came out in the dancing tonight as the kids did a routine that would put your trainer’s lunges, squats, and jump routine to shame.  They were fantastic.

Then came the moment I was hoping would not happen: They invited us to dance.  I sat there thinking about whether I would dance with them.  They had a particular dance I had not seen before and there were certain moves done to certain beats.   Simple for the kids.  For me there would have been a greater likelihood of success if someone would have said, “Can you help me with my quantum physics homework?”  I am watching this great dance, mystified by how it is done in such a fluid manner.  Now some of our group have gone out to dance, two at a time, and are doing the dance for the kids.  Two go.  Then another two.  But they are college students.  They dance all the time.  They are not middle-aged white men.  I knew I could get out of this if I was willing to play the Reverend card.  People in Sierra Leone have high respect for clergy and I knew I could sit back and look respectable and avoid the whole trial.  But it occurred to me that I am not getting younger.  The years are moving by with growing momentum and soon my days of dancing will be done, whether or not I have rhythm.  And I knew that if I did not dance, the kids would see me differently.  Some connection would be missing, one that you can’t get back elsewhere.  I turned to the guy next to me, who is 26 and who did a full-blown dance at his wedding with his lovely bride that I can still remember, and said, “We’ve got to get in on this.”

I danced.  If I had to choose one word to describe my dancing, that word would be “terrible”.  But I danced nonetheless.  I danced joyfully.  I danced willingly.  I danced with abandon. I matched only about three of the moves to the appropriate beats, but the kids clapped for me nonetheless.  They smiled and laughed and patted me on the back when I was done.

Here is what I think about dancing: once you join the dance, you become a part of what is happening.  Sierra Leoneans have an expression that they use if you come here more than once or twice.  As they say goodbye, they put their hands on your shoulders, look you in the eye and tell you, “Now, you are one of us.”  That is what happens when you choose to dance.

I take great comfort in the fact that how you dance is not nearly important as the fact that you danced.  Eventually everyone on our team danced.  You could tell that something was different as a result.  Something happened in our community with these kids.  Everyone dancing.  Such a joy to dance the dance.


Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

Comments (3)

  1. Cynthia Horner

    The joy of dancing with these kids is contagious- like the gusto of Sierra Leoneans singing in church. Thanks for capturing the lesson so beautifully Tom. Abdulai Swaray still teases me about my stylin’ dancing moves (as do my daughters), but the laughs and joy from joining in are priceless. Dance on friend!

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