Yesterday I attended the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre Pow Wow. I have been at this Pow Wow a number of times. It is a great opportunity to connect with some friends, to watch some great dancing, to hear the big drum and to support some local Indigenous artisans.
I was especially inspired by a dance called the “Duck and Dive.” The Pow Wow MC told the story behind the dance. It is a men’s dance that recounts the historical attack of the Nez Perce tribe by US Calvary in Montana in 1877. He spoke of the Nez Perce’s valiant two day attempt to counter a much stronger force. He spoke of the Calvary’s shooting more women and children than men. In the dance, the dancers rehearse the strategy of duck and diving to escape the shots. The dance, in sum, rehearses the story of the violent subjugation of Indigenous peoples by colonial forces and in so doing the dance reverses that subjugation step by step.
As I thought about the dance, and the manner in which it powerfully illumines a narrative that I did not know, I was struck by how effective dancing a story was. One of my concerns as an educator has been to challenge my students to bring the body back into the classroom. The history of modernity in western cultures has been a history of problematizing the body. People ignore the body as a source of wisdom and/or obsess over the body and its image. The dance reminded me of another way to see the body: the body is a story teller.
Of course, our bodies tell many stories. I have a scar below my lip that recounts a basketball I took to the face when I was in junior high/middle school. Our histories are written into and on our bodies. Limps, scars, and bodily habits all bear witness to the ways in which our lives are embodied. Learning to listen to the body is one of the most important lessons in life, but a lesson that we too often fail to learn.
That Paul compares the assembly of believers to a body, and that the ancients described the assembly of citizens as a body politic speaks to the importance of the body. I was so mesmerized by those bodies at the Pow Wow dancing the Duck and Dive. As these dancers spun and swirled, they told us that history matters, bodies matter, and dancing matters. As I looked out on the dancers sharing their skill in telling an embodied tale, I was reminded that I too tell tales with my body. My every flinch, each grin, my open or closed arms, all of these say something about who I am and about my understanding of the world we live in.
I might not be dancing a story, but people are constantly reading my body language and so I am reminded that bodies matter, including the body politic, the body of Christ, and the body twirling the Duck and Dive at the Pow Wow, preaching a kind of a sermon – one I felt deep in my bones.