"Little Annie Rooney" was my stage debut at the age of 2. From then on I was off and dancing. By my 20s I'd had a chorus line of teachers, each with their own techniques. One thing they all taught was what I call the "find your center" theory.
Finding your center as a dancer means imagining an invisible line from the ceiling down through the torso to the stage floor. It is the place of perfect balance, much like a plumb line to a wallpaper hanger or a centerboard to a sailor. No matter what the feet or limbs are doing, whether the dancer is leaping or spinning, the object in any movement is to return to that center. It stabilizes the dancer, maintaining balance.
This has served as a helpful metaphor in tackling various challenges that have threatened to throw me off balance along the way. In fact, not too long after leaving dance as a central focus, I was dealing with serious identity questions regarding weight, body image, and eating.
Through spending hours in studios with walls made of mirrors and filled with dancers and instructors imparting various regimens for food and exercise, I'd unconsciously absorbed a lot of information that was contributing to a sense of confusion and disorientation. My thoughts were echoing, "Do this, don't do that, and never eat such and such...." While this was once confined to the dance world, it has long since seeped into the general atmosphere. Many are entangled in this web, and deserve a way out.
As a fairly disciplined person, I tried implementing various methods to gain control that left me discouraged and in an exaggerated state of self-loathing. Finally, nearly out of ideas, I went to visit a Christian Science practitioner. I reasoned that a problem this entrenched must require a depth of spiritual understanding that I didn't have, but needed.
I poured out in full the darkness of this problem and the despair I felt over it.
In the meekest and mildest way, in the office of this unassuming man, I was gently asked how I went about my spiritual studies. He then recommended some ways I might study the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy more purposefully. Though I initially thought he surely missed the point, a few days later, I began to try some of his suggestions. A few months into my newly discovered study methods, I found I was so interested in what I was reading, so filled with the spiritually sparkling ideas I was taking in, that the focus on eating, exercise, body shape, and weight receded to the backstage of my thought and finally lost its grip on my life. I no longer feared "what flesh can do unto me" (see Ps. 56:4).
I began to see that my identity consists of spiritual qualities, substantive qualities, that are at once fresh and enduring, as well as deeply satisfying. By turning to God for the ideas these books offer about identity, purpose, and God's great love for His creation, I was being nourished and filled. The morning study became my most important breakfast, and then I ate.
I took "snacks" with me to work - verses and phrases that refueled my thinking throughout the day. In one of my sessions with the Bible, I loved the way that Job so long ago spoke of God in the very terms I'd recently discovered: "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12).
Of course I ate regularly, but no kind of food had power to help or harm, fascinate, distract, or control. God is the sole governor of creation, and God governs with grace. The effect of this divine government is harmony and health. It is so freeing to be unencumbered by vacillating trends about the content of food and exercise regimens, as well as fashion's fleeting concepts of beauty. Life, and how we live it, is actually under divine laws that are always kind and productive, never fearful or punishing.
Everyone deserves the freedom this has brought. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "God is at once the centre and circumference of being" (Science and Health, pages 203-204). This is a statement I've found practical and provable. Our lives are full of good and are deeply satisfying. Centering our lives on God brings balance and permanent stability, whether or not we've ever stepped onto a dance floor.