Terpsichore Has Her Way [with Me]: A Spiritual Autobiography [in the Third Person]

Terpischore Has Her Way

By Roslynn Pryor

“Controooooool your body!” she, barely of school age, shrieked in self-righteous condemnation as her aunt, just a teenage kid, gyrated through the living room. The grownups laughed.

It was cute in a little kid, dancing.  (She would never! That was for unchurched little kids.)

It was cute in a little kid, fervent moralistic judgment.

Still, she couldn’t keep from moving. To her Disney records. To her parents’ classical station on the hi-fi. Even to the illicit rock music in the store or from someone’s open car window.

It was never dancing, of course—it was just moving.

She always moved or bounced, and not just when she’d waited too long to use the restroom—swayed to hymns, tapped to commercials’ themes, head-nodded to the rhythm of reading.

But she didn’t dance.

She couldn’t dance. Wouldn’t.

Not if anyone was watching. Not if it was daylight. Not if she might be discovered or observed. Certainly not.

Besides, every good Baptist knew that dancing was not okay. God forbid. (And never mind that David danced before the Lord, and naked, no less, but that was a different time and he was dancing to worship God, not to attract members of the opposite sex, which was all dancing ever was these days, and besides the music the kids were dancing to these days was immoral and ungodly…)

And, after all, every good Baptist kid knew that sex leads to dancing. (Let that sink in for a moment.)

Later, when she was older, she would listen to that music, late at night, on super-low volume, and she’d groove along. (*Note: “groove” should not imply full-fledged dancing but rather bouncing to the beat whilst sitting on one’s bed.)  Always in quiet private.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not oddly at all), it was both sacred and seemingly profane influences that loosened her limbs.

Madeleine L’Engle:  The author of her heart, whom she’d read since childhood, had written endlessly about the chorus of creation, the great dance of galaxies and stars, the footwork of physics. Taking a rather broad view of what counted as art, Madeleine had sown many seeds into her heart for embracing life’s riches and joys, for joining the song and dance, for worshiping with all of one’s faculties. Some seeds, those dropped on packed earth, take extra time and water to germinate.

In Church:  After leaving the Baptist church and trying Anglicanism on for size, she learned to worship and pray with her whole body.  It was a slow journey, but…kneeling, genuflecting, signs of the cross, the choreography the priests performed in the consecration and serving of the eucharist all necessarily have a lubricating effect on stiff, resisting joints.

In College: Weekend parties—low-key by state school frat standards but unlawful by conservative Christian college rules—featured light alcohol (wine coolers, cheap beer, and sometimes Gene G’s magical fruit punch) which led into lamps-off lightless dancing after dark, patio door ajar to let in cool winter’s-coming air. When the lights went off and Enigma came on and the spirits took hold, her defenses dropped enough for Terpsichore to infiltrate. She could dance for an hour with no one watching.

For the next two decades, she practiced, mostly in the dark, but she moved nonetheless.

In her 40th summer, she attended the local Prince concert—twice.  The first night she went with colleagues and sat most of the time. The second night, she threw off the shackles and danced like no one was around, even when the show lights brightened, danced in exuberance and energy and nostalgia, in deep and crazy joy at a master musician’s meticulous hand. The next day’s hoarseness and soreness were worth it.

Earlier this year, when Bowie died, as 2016 began its campaign to claim a shocking and growing roster of masters for its annals, she sat on her couch, stunned but working, while Pandora radio played in the background. At the first chords of his song “Let’s Dance,” she flung aside her papers, cranked up the volume, and took the invitation—she danced, in sadness and joy, in light and dark, in celebration and memoriam, for both the losses and the gifts.

Her resistance and rebellion, she could now reflect, had turned to surrender and obedience. As many spiritual journeys go, she mused. By habit, she had resisted. Now by practice and true belief, she inhabited the siren song of Terpsichore’s lyre.


Roslynn is a veteran high school English teacher, lit-jock, poet, occasional blogger at Pushing the Bruise, and aspiring novelist who resides in California with her animal menagerie.

20 Replies to “Terpsichore Has Her Way [with Me]: A Spiritual Autobiography [in the Third Person]”

  1. With apologies to Lee Ann Womak, ‘When you get a choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.” I’ve had an ambivalent relationship to dancing as a metaphor for life but it’s growing on me. I hope you continue to dance.

  2. This is fantastic. Such vigorous vital writing. And I totally relate. Not from my background – Jewish – but from emotional and psychological stuff and I became dissociated from my body. I too istarted going to rock concerts….. little by little returning to inhabit myself. Thank you.

  3. As someone who has always danced a little differently than everyone else, I used to think everyone was judging me while I was dancing. Then I realized they were really just in awe of my ability to let loose and be carefree, and not care what anyone else thought. I’m glad you are dancing, and if I were there I’d join you in some wicked chair groovin.’

    1. Dee, “awe” is the PERFECT word to describe how most of us feel about you. OK, awe and laughter. And I haven’t even met you in person, much less seen you dance! But I imagine Terpsichore has a special love for you. Woman, I’m keeping a whole dance card free for those promised chair grooves. Not even kidding! Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. Sex leads to dancing — ha! I’m all for this! It’s so hard NOT to dance. And as a fellow PK, I would know what the parishioners would think! I loved this sentence: “It was cute in a little kid, fervent moralistic judgment.” And the part about Madeline L’Engle. Great piece, Ros.

    1. I rather suspect there’s a reason it’s so hard not to dance. I rather suspect we’re not supposed to fight it. Thank you so much for the specific feedback about what resonated with you. I had a feeling you might recognize some of that. Oh, the parishioners–so much love, so much to chafe under. (Remind me to tell you about the time my little sister got in trouble with the old ladies at a church potluck for not eating everything on her plate. LOL.) Thanks for reading and commenting!

    1. Thank you, Via! Do you dance, too? Let’s fire up Pandora or Spotify next time we meet and pay our respects to the Great Ones and to Terpsichore! Thank you for reading and commenting!

  5. Roslynn, what a fun post! Loved reading about your inner and outer adventures with the muse of dance. Love your call-back to Madeleine L’Engle’s writing!

    1. Thank you, Antonia, for your kind words. And hah–I’m not a Baptist anymore. Grateful for the training in hymns and food and fellowship…and grateful for some separation. Grateful to be able to dance without fear.

  6. Having grown up a Baptist I know what she went through. I also love to dance. Perhaps that is why I chose to be a Lutheran. Thank you for those gorgeous descriptions of trying not to dance, only move.

    1. Stella…Grateful Former Baptists unite! 😉 It’s good to have folks who understand…and who dance and move anyway. I imagine we have much to talk about when we meet one day.

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