I love a photo of my daughter Riley that she took of herself several years ago, but it’s not a normal selfie. She is looking into the mirror with her arms outstretched above her head so that she can take a picture of the back of her hair. Dressed in her dance leotard, she checks to see how her dance bun looks before she goes to dance class. Thankfully, she’s been putting up her own hair for dance for a long time. When she was little, I couldn’t figure out how to put a bun in her hair without using a bun maker in which we pulled her ponytail through a hole and then wrapped it around a circular, spongy circle. But Riley now easily puts her hair up with braids and twists and dozens of bobby pins, and her hair looks amazing every time.
To me, the most interesting part of this photo, though, is not that Riley’s bun looks pretty, but the look on her face. She is staring into the mirror with steely determination. One of her eyebrows is cocked and her eyes are narrowed. She appears resolved and tough but beautiful at the same time – a perfect combination of grit and grace.
This weekend, Riley and her dance friends return to the stage for their spring recital. Last year, the pandemic caused the cancellation of their normal recital. Instead, they performed at their respective homes while on a Zoom call together. It was not ideal, but the best they could do at the time.
Throughout this dance season, the girls learned to dance in person with masks on and to socially distance from one another while still dancing together. They’ve shown depth of determination while continuing to grow their skills and passion. Their dance teachers, Julie, Kayla, Amanda, Carla, DeeDee, and Sarah, showed incredible diligence and leadership in adapting to the circumstances and guiding the girls in uncharted territory.
The daily grind of dancing challenged them both physically and emotionally. Dancers thrive on performing and, without that opportunity, may struggle to show up every day with enthusiasm and focus. And while their time in dance class brought some normalcy to their lives, it also reminded them that the world was anything but normal as they faced uncertainty and adversity.
In Isaiah, a speaker proclaims to the people, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me . . . to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1 & 3). All of us, including the dancers, will wear face masks this weekend, but the dancers will return to the stage with their hair high on their heads, their makeup carefully applied, wearing their new costumes. We celebrate this time for our dancers and teachers because they’ve come so far. All of us feel as though we are rising from the ashes, having endured a time of great difficulty. Nothing is perfect or completely normal yet, but we are looking forward and believing in the future with a sense of hope.
When the dancers perform this weekend, we will certainly enjoy the beauty of their dances. But, knowing how hard they’ve worked in this crazy year, will make the shows even more special. Both dancers and teachers fought with intense grit to bring forth the grace that lived inside of them. And we can thank God for bringing beauty from the ashes.