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I do the Zumba

~I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I love to dance. I always have. When I was a child and young teenager it was expressed through ballet. It was considered an "appropriate" dance form for a young Christian girl. Although I could name all of the French positions and execute them with excellence and flair, I simply did not have the body for it. I was too short and too compact with flexibility in only half of all the right places. I was certain my hamstrings were held together by metal strands and not tendons like everyone else. All of the other pretty ballerinas could stretch their top halves so gracefully down past the floor scraping their bun-adorned heads, while I grunted in pain and eyes bulging from the effort. Hoping, always hoping that the tip of my longest finger would miraculously graze the floor. Needless to say, by 16 years old I had come to terms with the fact that I was not cut out for such a graceful dance form.

But what would I do with this leftover rhythm and a heart that burst every time I heard a good beat? Squash it? Quell it? Live cathartically through old re-runs of Dirty Dancing and Footloose? Sure, as I got older I found some release in the club and bar scene, but I'd always been told that dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire. I didn't really believe it though. Dancing didn't make me want to have illicit sex; it made me want--for nothing. Because in that moment I was free, in control, exuberant, passionate. Breathing, sweating, smiling and alive. If this is sin, then a life of piety is not for me.

When I would dip south of the American border I found new thrill in learning the salsa and meringue. The locals seemed to have a natural gift for dance, and I would pick up their steps quickly. For Latinos, dancing is so much a part of their culture, to take it away would be to remove their heart. Many of them live on meager portions, many in poverty, and yet they dance--confidently. Kings and queens of the Kingdom Dance Floor wrapped in wealth, impoverished no longer.

As of late, my soul has felt heavy and impoverished, hankering for a spiritual and physical release. I found a bit of relief for it in an odd place. Zumba. It's the latest North American fitness craze that combines Latin and international music with dancing and aerobics. I found classes that are pay as you go and wasted no time. I jumped in with both feet (pun intended) the very next night with hopeful expectation and only a bit of apprehension. I wouldn't know a soul there, but in a sense it gave me a bit of comfort to know I was going to be shaking it like a saltshaker in a room of strangers who probably wouldn't judge me.

As they shouldn't. The class was full of mostly middle-aged women with not two, but three left feet if that's possible, looking to get fit and feel young again. Eighty percent of the class looked ridiculous trying to follow the moves of our Latina instructor. I am certain that if a man had happened to drop in on the class, sex would have been the last thing on his mind. Very un-sexy things were happening in all that sweat and spandex. However, we women strangers were free.

For one hour, we were released from the restraints of work, relationships, life and all the inhibitions that come with it. Free from the memories, free from the sorrow. Free from tomorrow. Heart pounding and hips shaking I let go. I laughed at myself when I couldn't catch onto some of the steps and smiled to myself when I got them right. It was just the dancing therapy I've been craving for some time.

I've also come to terms with the fact that I probably won't ever be a back up dancer for Janet Jackson or wow the television audiences on ABC's Dancing With The Stars. For now, I'll stick with being satisfied at givin'er at wedding receptions and the hardwood floor of my living room. Here, I am the dancing queen. I will dance and jive having the time of my life. Unabashedly, without reproach, and alive. So alive...

Another pearl kept

As originally published in The National Post/Holy Post division:
Grey Cup Sunday Special: God and Football
Posted: November 29, 2009, 4:13 PM by Matt Gurney

by Rikki Ratliff/Listen Up TV

Michael Lewis, author of The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, was recently quoted in New York Magazine as saying that although he's not a Christian, "God and football seem to go together, for whatever reason." The screen adaptation of his book has become a box office hit in its opening weekend. The powerful true story of what happens when two very different lives intersect at the crossroads of faith and football, resonates with Christians and non-Christians alike. Athletes and non-athletes love to root for the underdog in the film, Michael Oher, as he goes from fatherless and homeless, to surrounded by family. The fact that the larger than life character of Oher, against all obstacles, went on to become the 2009 first round draft pick for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens is just the icing on a delicious and heart-warming cake.

Trophies in shades of Grey

For the first time in Grey Cup history, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes go tête-à-tête in the battle for the 2009 CFL championship. We'll probably see the latest dance moves in the end zone, a few short prayers, and maybe a few hands in the "number one" symbol raised to the heavens. You can also imagine the ousted teams in the league watching with pain and regret from the sidelines. None in more pain than the once mighty Toronto Argonauts, who finished dead last in the standings with a record of 3-15. However, it's the plays these guys are making off the field that will count when the trophies have lost their tarnish and the roar of the crowds fade into whispers from the past.

Plays like the Argos Foundation made this year with the introduction of the "Level the Playing Field" program. Four deserving Toronto-area highschools were selected to restore 20 and 30 year dormant football programs. Each highschool received a player ambassador from the Toronto Argonauts. Jordan Younger, CFL all-star corner back and ambassador to the C.W. Jefferys Saints, says he hopes to invest his time, energy, and knowledge of the game into the inexperienced but earnest team. I watched from the Saints' sidelines as animated Younger took over position as coach for the day. Down at half and in the centre of the huddle, he rallied with the words, "it's anybody's game!" Inspirational words for a team that needs to hear them--poignant thoughts for a school trying to make a comeback from its violent past.

On May 23rd, 2007, Jordan Manners, a student at C.W. Jefferys, was shot and killed by a fellow student in his school hallway. Over two years and a football program later, the school and its students are unrecognizable. "We noticed that we don't have a lot of students just wandering the hallways and just fooling around," teacher Eshan Jahangirvand says. "They're more dedicated and more focused on school."

The transformation has even reached once problem student, Jeffrey. "He has developed to become a captain on our team," Jahangirvand beams. "He's developed so much that other teachers have come up and said 'Oh, wow! This change is so exceptional that we don't understand what you have done to him.' Football is a big change in that."

Retired Toronto Argonaut, Chuck Winters, knows first hand the power of football to change lives. Growing up in the projects of Detroit, he lost two family members to violence. Winters says sports was his outlet that kept him safe, but it was his faith that kept him alive. "I wouldn't be here. Period. I wouldn't be walking this earth. Because there were times when I thought about taking my life because of the fact that it was just so difficult and that's all I had to lean on."

Now working in a youth correctional facility in Milton, Ontario, Winters hopes to make interceptions of another kind, hearts and minds. While he admits that most of the draw from the talent pool in football seems to come from the U.S., he believes there's a lot of untapped talent here in Canada. "So I try to get them to understand the value of what sports can do (for them) because I saw what it did for me."

Football is a game ripe with spiritual analogy

Born and raised in the buckle of the Bible belt (Oklahoma) and in the heart of college football country, I understand Lewis' puzzlement. All the prayers offered up to God in the hopes of a win have often turned up futile when the scoreboard reads a disappointing loss. Many of the prayers of protection seem to have gone unanswered as a player limps off with injury to the sidelines. I've watched as the men on the field take a knee in the end zone to thank God for a run scored or a pass caught. Where does God fit between the option play and the buttonhook? Many Christians believe God should be involved in all of the details. So why wouldn't He also be allowed in between the first and second down of a game that makes up so much of a part of their identity?

My brother, recruited to play quarterback for a Division II NCAA football team, once said that God and football are indivisible because of the extraordinary faith it takes to believe in both. "A person is lucky if he even has one person he can truly trust. On the football field, a player is expected to trust not one, two, or even three guys--but 10 guys to do their job in order to be successful."

In a pivotal turning point in
The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by actress Sandra Bullock, echoes my brother's thoughts. "This team is your family, Michael." Oher, slowly learning a new definition for "family" and what it means to protect those you love, applied that to his position at left tackle. Even the best highlight reel couldn't begin to cover how that moment would change his life forever.

What a game, what a life...At third and inches, it will take more than talent to get you through to that first down. You'll also need pure, driven heart and soul, a good O-line, and possibly, a little prayer.