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More than a decade ago, I learned the hard way that liturgical dance is not a good idea. To be fair, it wasn’t actually my fault that I had a one year stint as a liturgical dancer — it was mandatory.

A Little Background

If you’re Catholic or went to Catholic school, you’re probably wondering how it is possible that I spent my 8th grade year in an obligatory liturgical dance group. Believe me, I’ve spent a few years scratching my head over the whole thing. The best answer I’ve come up with is that my school wasn’t really a Catholic school. Sure, it was affiliated with a Catholic church and had all the exterior trappings of a traditional parish school (uniforms, weekly mass attendance, tether ball courts) but that’s all they were — trappings.

In fact, when I describe the school to my friends today, I explain that it had all the celebrity-worship of your average Scientology center against a prestigious backdrop of red plaid and an astronomically high average disposable income.

There were a lot of weird things about this school: the pastor who looked like he spent more time on his makeup in the morning than I did, the less-than-morally-sound 7th grade “Morality Unit,” and of course, the mandatory liturgical dancer troupe. Ultimately, I think most of the weirdness stemmed from this crazy sexual undercurrent that the school had. I could go on and on about what that sort of environment does to a 13 year old girl’s sense of self worth, but I won’t.

After all, I’m here to tell you about my less-than-successful liturgical dance career.

Dancing through the Stations

On my very first day of 8th grade, the teacher informed us that the 8th grade girls (all 12 of us) would get to do something very special. We would get to choreograph and perform our very own “original dance version” of the Stations of the Cross. We didn’t get to pick the music though, as the teacher “had appropriate songs already.”

I ended up in a group that danced to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” but I can’t actually tell you what station that was for. I do know that it involved a really snazzy boat neck, 3/4 sleeved black leotard and a junky skirt made of elastic and bright purple tulle.

If we’d gotten to wear swank outfits like this, maybe I would have stuck with it longer.

My Ma Says No

From the beginning, the whole liturgical dance thing was not popular in my house. My mother was enraged, my father had that whole “I’m bewildered by this situation involving my teenage daughter” face going on and my brother spent a lot of time hiding as far away from the conversations as possible.

Bewildered?

I’m pretty sure the whole family would have been a lot happier if I sat out the whole performance. Ultimately, I did something that I wasn’t particularly proud of – I fought for my right to wear a stupid leotard and spin around barefoot down the center aisle to a stupid Phil Collins song. And I fought hard, dudes. I fought like it was the most important thing in the world to me, even though it wasn’t. Even though I didn’t even want to do it.

Chalk it up to teenage angst, peer pressure or the discomfort I felt being a Midwestern transplant in LA. Either way, I knew that getting excused from the mandatory stations would not endear me to my classmates and I did not want to give them anything else to bother me about.

The Fallout and the Lesson

Pope Benedict would probably not have enjoyed our performance, either.

Suffices to say that it did not go well. Old ladies walked out! Children’s eyes were covered by protective mothers! My own mother was super mad! It was mortifying. To this day, I can’t hear Phil Collins without breaking out into a cold sweat. Beyond all that, the worst part of the whole ordeal was the knowledge that I was willing to throw aside my very real beliefs for the sake of fitting in with my fellow 8th grade miscreants. To this day, I can’t even really laugh about it – which is bizarre because I laugh about everything.

I did, however, learn a few things from the whole experience:

  1. “My ma says no” is a perfectly valid reason to get out of doing something. I have it on good authority that I can continue using it until I turn 30.
  2. Liturgical dance shouldn’t happen. It just shouldn’t.
  3. Your worth as a person is not defined by how you look in a leotard – or how willing you are to spin around in the most revealing leotard you can find.
  4. One major slip-up in the mores of decency in 8th grade doesn’t define you as a person or a Catholic.
  5. If you do have to wear a leotard for a mandatory activity, go with the boat neck. It’s very flattering.

**In case you’re wondering, if any pictures of this ordeal ever existed, they have long since been destroyed.

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