Dance professor Marin Roper discussed how she applies somatic dance practices to the gospel in March’s Faith + Works lecture
Maybe you are not what you accomplish. That is the point Professor Marin Roper made apparent within the first few minutes of her lecture.
After a sincere introduction by Department of Dance chair Curt Holman that included words like kind, genuine, optimistic and reflective, Roper offered what she felt was a more realistic presentation of herself.
She described the failures and disappointments she has experienced, from failing to be a piano performance major at the University of Utah and being rejected after two auditions for the Music Dance Theatre (MDT) program at BYU to failing to self-produce her choreography in New York after four years of attempts. She also applied three times for a position at BYU before finally being hired. She concluded by saying, “Marin has gained eight pounds in the last eighteen months.”
Although the crowd clapped and laughed along with Roper’s self-deprecating anecdotes, she had a more serious reason for sharing them.
“Those of you for whom life may not be going the way that you thought it would be or that choices are being made for you — I have you on my mind today,” said Roper. “I hope you feel the love of your Heavenly Father and I hope the Spirit teaches you what it is you need to know.”
Roper’s unorthodox but empathetic approach continued throughout the lecture. She invited the audience to participate in a somatic activity that focused on grounding and being aware of the body’s sensations.
Afterward, she incorporated dance pieces she choreographed herself and asked the audience to consider what the moving body teaches us about empathy, yielding and wholeness.
She discussed how her dance collaboration with other artists has allowed her to understand those individuals on a deeper level.
“Dance is a way for people to connect to who they see themselves to be” said Roper. “As we analyze the patterns within movement, we can start to see how that mover is communicating who they see themselves to be.”
Roper said her work has also given her a deeper understanding of Christ’s empathy for us.
“The totality of Christ’s empathy towards us is rooted not only in his capacity as the Son of God, but also in his capacity to feel physical sensation, rooted in his body,” said Roper. He took into his body our infirmities so that he may better know us and know our needs. Christ is an embodied God.”
Roper also discussed the importance of yielding not only in a technical sense in dance theory, but also in a spiritual sense. She explained how dancers must yield, meaning releasing the binding in their muscles, before they can jump high and reach far.
“A really important part of dance training is not only training for the big moments, but also training for the yield before the big moments. But yield doesn’t just mean collapse” said Roper, illustrating her point by collapsing to the floor. “A yield is always followed by a push.”
This principle is applicable on a spiritual level as well, said Roper.
“Just as yielding primes the body to receive energy necessary for progression, yielding our hearts primes our spirit to receive promptings from the Spirit, which also propels us towards action or change,” said Roper. “How do we receive promptings from the Spirit? I suggest we start with our hands on our hearts. I pause, I listen and I receive.”
Roper continued exploring the connections between movement and the sacred by asking the question “what does the moving body teach about wholeness?”
She pointed out that everything in the human body, from the way the muscles are weaved seamlessly together to how every bone is interconnected, suggests the ideal of wholeness.
“As I experience full three-dimensional movement in a body that is created in the image of God, I sense a physical fullness,” said Roper. “We fail, we make mistakes, we fall, we may feel broken beyond repair, but the moving body is a testimony that wholeness is our divine design.”
Roper concluded her lecture by proposing two takeaways: first, that the purpose of life is not about finding balance.
“Balance, as a metaphor, suggests a binary. To me, the metaphor suggests a desire for inertia. Our bodies are not meant for inertia, nor are our spirits,” said Roper. “We yield and push, we swim, we stir. What we hardly ever do is balance. Our life’s experiences are meant to move us, and I believe life is about finding harmony among all the moving parts, all the time.”
Second, that the nature of movement illuminates the nature of Christ’s Atonement.
“I understand a bit better [the Atonement’s] fullness because I physically feel it in and through my moving body,” said Roper. “I can feel, perhaps with a bit more resonance, Christ’s promise that everything can be made whole.”