By Shiela Miller
My ballet teacher was the immensely talented Russian taskmaster, Ivan Novikoff. An amazing dancer, teacher, choreographer and artist extraordinaire, he knew how to bring out the best in his students. Classes were grueling, bodies ached and muscles cramped; we were taught the show must always go on, regardless of bruised limbs or bloody toes. He demanded perfection, and we did our utmost to live up to his expectations, jumping higher and spinning more times than we ever imagined possible. He knew our physical limitations better than we did ourselves, but he also understood our potential.
I began studying under him at age 4 and was privileged to continue
for 13 more years, actually serving as his teaching assistant during my
teen years. I graduated at 17 with a teaching certificate from his
school, able to confidently perform and teach his signature style. Now,
as an adult, I have become a passionate worship dancer and instructor.
My 5-year-old daughter Sydney is a “mini-me,” a little carbon copy of her mother, but with her own distinctive, spit-fire personality.
When a friend asked me to give ballet lessons to her and her daughter, I agreed, and for the first time, I realized that I would be able to teach my own daughter ballet one day. It gave me deep satisfaction to realize I would be able to share a great love of mine with her.
Her poses are not always pretty, she might only get one leg or one arm into the correct ballet position, but I know her heart. It is sweet and pure.
Sweet Sydney was only two years old when I began giving ballet lessons to elementary school students. She came to class and would participate some, sit on my lap some, and then finally decide she’d had enough and simply watch the rest of the class. As she grew older, she grew in stamina, knowledge of dance movements and poise. I was a proud mother and teacher as I watched her first solo performance on stage at age 3 to “I Love You, Lord.”
Now I teach worship dance classes to girls age 3-8, and Sydney is right there in the middle of it all. She loves having me as her teacher, and she mimics my movements. She recently saw a ballet photo of me as a teenager and said she wants to look just like me. She hasn’t yet put in the years of sweat and toil to become an accomplished, graceful dancer, but it’s obvious she’s on her way.
Sydney loves to strike a ballet pose for the camera, but when she poses, she might only get one leg or one arm into the correct ballet position. Her poses are not always pretty, and sometimes her dancing isn’t great, but I know her heart. It is sweet and pure and she’s doing her best to dance for God because she loves him and she loves to dance to honor him. That’s exactly what God wants from us, to do our utmost for him—it’s the first great commandment given in Luke 10:27—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
It’s natural for my daughter to want to model her mother, and since we were made in God’s image, we should naturally want to look, act and think like our heavenly Father does. Sydney didn’t get to study with a great ballet master like I did, but I’m her example to follow, as Jesus is our example of the Father. We must emulate Jesus, who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Wow! Jesus led a perfect life with compassion galore. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a hard act to follow. But that is where our standard has been set—absolute perfection. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48 to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We can’t possibly measure up, but he wants to see that we are trying our best to follow him and let him be the Lord and Master of our lives.
Striving for perfection is hard work day after day. My daughter gets utterly exhausted from dancing and wants to collapse before class has even finished. That’s when I encourage her to continue until the end, because the only way to improve is not to give up. Being human, we will always fall short of the perfection we seek, but luckily our creator God knows we’re human, so we shouldn’t be too frustrated with our shortcomings. He sees our hearts and knows our strengths and weaknesses. Our omniscient God is fully aware of our physical limitations, but also of our unlimited potential.
If we let Jesus be our guide and model him as we pose in our dance of life, then we’re allowing him to direct our steps, choreograph our dance and fashion us in his likeness so there will be no mistaking that we’re children of God. Even though we may be clumsy, just like Sydney sometimes is, God is proud of our heartfelt efforts to emulate him. Let’s keep working on the clumsy dance pose!