Listen again to Nicola’s talk on the links between Laudato Si and John Paul’s Theology of the Body
A few weeks ago I was at a performance of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games. I grew up watching Michael Flatley, and although he didn’t actually appear in this show, I loved watching other dancers who had mastered his brilliant choreography. It was a really inspiring performance, but what made a greater impression on me than anything else was the way masculinity and femininity were portrayed. The men and the women had clearly defined roles with such beautiful contrast and harmony between them. I felt it spoke to a deep truth about our male and female identities that we don’t often encounter.
Lord of the Dance performances generally follow a traditional love story structure. There’s the “Lord of the Dance” (normally the Michael Flatley character) and his army, the leading lady and her friends, the temptress looking to steal the Lord of the Dance away from his true love, and the villain and his minions who antagonize everyone. As the storyline is being set up in the opening scenes, we meet the leading lady and all the women who surround her. They’re beautiful, graceful and they give the impression that they are a group of friends who support each other and enjoy being together. When you see them dancing in intricate formations dressed in gorgeous costumes of every colour, they’re a celebration of life itself. Their beauty is inviting and uplifting, and seems to communicate that all will be well. I felt there was something in this portrayal of femininity that belongs to all women. We may not all be performers in West End stage shows, but I believe this beauty shines through in women who are warm and welcoming to those around them, and use their relational expertise to bring comfort and build community.
As the villain threatens the other characters, the Lord of the Dance springs into action, mobilizing his army to prepare to confront the aggressor and defend the innocent. This part of the dance resembled a military drill in which the men showed off their strength, discipline and bravery, and this thrilled the audience (especially the women) more than any other part of the show! I think what it communicated is that men truly come alive when they have something worth fighting for, and they know they have what it takes to meet the challenge. The women in the audience may not have been fully conscious of this as they watched, but I honestly believe that on some level they felt it. I certainly did!
The Lord of the Dance only begins to run into trouble when he begins to draw a little too close to the temptress. He loses sight of the woman he loves and for the moment is caught up in the charms of the other woman. Then suddenly she steals his belt – the symbol of his manhood – and he falls into the hands of the villain. This is another interesting reflection on male and female relationships. The strength of the Lord of the Dance had been in his integrity, discipline and devotion to the woman he loved. When he gives that up and allows his desires to rule over him, he begins to lose the most important battle of his life. He and all those who depend on his strength are suddenly in danger.
Of course the hero manages to get back on his feet, overcome the enemy and save the day. The ending is predictable, but this story isn’t meant to surprise – it is meant to remind us of a truth about humanity that’s always been written on our hearts but is often obscured. The idea that masculinity and femininity are interchangeable or even meaningless is becoming more common, and many of us are anxious or confused about our male and female identities, but the truth is that God designed men and women not to be at war with each other or blended into a homogenous group, but to come together and allow their differences to lead into a harmonious and complementary relationship – a kind of dance. I came away from this performance refreshed by the feeling that life really is an unfolding drama that each of us has a definite and valuable role in. Men and women are so beautiful when they know who they are.
Hannah is a teacher from Canada now living in London. She loves meeting new people and exploring different cultures.