Dear Friends,
'I could have danced all night...' sings Eliza Doolittle in the musical My Fair Lady. Until I came to Southampton, I'd certainly have left her to it. I was born with two left feet, figuratively if not practically, not to mention the ability to confuse left and right in moments of stress. And I can't say I was too unhappy with my lack of ability. Some people can dance, I reasoned, and some can't. But since I came here, there seem to be so many occasions where dancing is the only possible response, and not just our Theatrical Inspiration Stage productions at Freemantle. I was lured into the first one because I was assured of a non-dancing role in the wings. Then when rehearsals started, they broke it to me gently that there was no such thing as a non-dancing role. By then it was too late - I was hooked on the friendliness of the cast, and they were stuck with getting me through the routines. But even though the process of learning was traumatic, I ended up loving the whole experience. Return to the Forbidden Planet* involves even more dancing - thankfully, most of it by our principals - but now I'm getting more used to the feeling of only just being in control of my limbs.
And that's a good thing - for every year the Avenue Multicultural Centre (AMC) celebrates as many festivals as it can manage, and that often involves dancing. Earlier this year the talented duo of Folk Active led us through maypole dancing, and that 'us' was an even more motley crew than the cast of Forbidden Planet - people of a dozen nationalities or more, ranging in age between 3 and it's-not-polite-to-ask. And recently we celebrated Refugee Week with a dance-drama created and performed by some of our clients at AMC, focussing on their longing for a taste of the foods they loved at home. I was sitting on the front row clapping along to a vigorous Zimbabwean dance when one of the performers came over and pulled me into the dance - no wonder people in churches always avoid sitting at the front! More and more of the spectators became performers, and it turned into a little foretaste of heaven, as we moved to the music with varying degrees of expertise but with the same enjoyment.

In some church circles, especially nonconformist ones, all this is looked upon somewhat askance. The joke goes that Presbyterians don't approve of intimacy between unmarried couples because it might lead to dancing. And that sort of cultured distaste goes a long way back. Think of King David dancing before God's ark with all his might, only to be told off by his wife because he wasn't behaving in a kingly fashion. I suspect such unease may be part of a wider unexamined feeling that mind and spirit is eternal and good, but the body and its senses is temporary and bad. It's a similar assumption that makes us humans able to focus on our own needs to the detriment of the rest of the world.

Dancing may seem frivolous: a waste of time or even offensive in the face of all the world's suffering. Yet those refugees and asylum seekers were not just taking their minds off their current plight. Their dance felt like a well of energy from which they would draw in the days to come when faced by a lack of understanding or concern from others. And it reminded me too of that endless dance of love, the holy Trinity.

Sarah Hall
* Have you got your ticket yet? If not, why not? 17-18 July: two evening performances and a Saturday matinee.