Thoughts on DanceGate

Maybe this seems silly, but as a pastor, a woman, a Christian, and a mom (albeit of 2 very small boys who are completely unaffected by this), I feel the need to weigh in on the recent DanceGate issue (as it has been branded by the media).

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s been going on, let me briefly catch you up. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) held its high kick competition for dance teams this past weekend. The team that won first place was the Emeralds Dance Team from Faribault. This ended up being a controversial decision seeing as a number of other teams had filed accusations with MSHSL officials that Faribault had “stolen” part of their routine from another dance team in Utah. In protest, the other 5 teams that should have participated in the medals ceremony at the end of the evening refused to do so, standing together in a group with their backs to the Faribault team. Yes, even the other teams’ coaches participated in this display. It’s even been reported that members of these teams stood outside the Fairbault locker room after the medals ceremony screaming at the Faribault team. Here’s the full story according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune (as of this morning, anyway).

Seeing as I was never a dance team member, am not a parent of a dance team member, and am not affiliated or even connected to any of the teams involved, I’m not going to comment on whether or not the Faribault team’s coach did indeed steal choreography. I don’t know enough about dance team or choreography to make that kind of assessment.

However, I am a human being. I am a woman who was once a teenager with a fragile sense of self. As a pastor, part of my calling is to be present with people in the midst of their challenging times – times of disappointment, sorrow, doubt, indignation, and anger. As someone who competed in other ways in high school, I can completely understand the sense of loss and frustration that these other teams are experiencing. No one ever said it was fun to lose, especially when you’ve worked as hard as all of these young women have worked. But all the competing teams worked hard. All the competitors put their hearts and souls into their performances. All of the girls involved in this competition had their hopes set high … including the girls from the Emeralds Dance Team.

My greatest concern in the midst of all this is that somewhere along the line, we have forgotten how to treat one another. We have been blinded by such a strong desire to win – to be the best, to be raised up above everyone else – that we have forgotten to see our competitors the way God sees all of us: as beautiful creatures gifted with incredible ability, strength, and grace. This, unfortunately, is not a new attitude. In the book of 2 Samuel, we read about King David’s own public dance display: “David, ceremonially dressed in priest’s linen, danced with great abandon before God. The whole country was with him as he accompanied the Chest of God with shouts and trumpet blasts. But as the Chest of God came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, happened to be looking out a window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before God, her heart filled with scorn.” (2 Samuel 6:14-16, The Message) 

Even a great and mighty king like David experienced ridicule and taunts because of his dancing. David, the great king of the nation of Israel, who knew that he had been chosen and ordained by God to fulfill his role as king. Imagine how much more distressing, how much more painful, how much more damaging such ridicule can be in the heart and mind of a young woman. We have worked so hard – as friends, parents, loved ones, and a society – to build up the self-esteem of young women. We have seen time and time again just how powerfully the words and actions of others can affect young adults in those critical high school years – those years that are so formative in shaping what kind of adults our young women (and men) are going to be. And yet this attitude of “winning is everything” continues to overrun such ideals as sportsmanship, grace, and mutual encouragement. It is perpetuated by society. It is perpetuated by parents. And it is perpetuated by coaches. And, frankly, that makes me sad – sad for the girls on the Emeralds Dance Team, sad for the girls on the other teams, and sad for us as the human race.

Recently, one of the parents in one of my congregations posted a picture on Facebook. It was a sign posted outside of a gym. The sign said, “Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of person you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient, and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting.” As a mother of boys who will be free to participate in whatever extracurricular activities they choose, this is my hope for them. As a pastor of two small churches with young adults currently involved in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, this is my hope for them. And it is my hope that this is what all those involved in this whole DanceGate issue will come to realize. In the book of Ephesians, we find this prescription: Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. (Eph 4:32-5:2, The Message)