Challenging Religious Tradition for the Love of God — and the Love of Dance

by Antonia Marrero for the Moral Courage Project

"Whosoever knoweth the power of the dance, dwelleth in God." Rumi, Dancer and Poet

Dance is an art, a discipline, a meditation. Dance is a vehicle for personal expression, community storytelling, and the apotheosis of ceremony. And according to Mina Black, dance is a powerful form of prayer.

Mina established a ballet school that serves Orthodox Jewish girls. This development has not been embraced by everyone in her tight-knit Orthodox community. Some believe that the duty of modesty, an ideal that Orthodox Jewish women are expected to fulfill, is in direct conflict with ballet. They question why an Orthodox woman would want to teach dance. Some even feared Mina would corrupt their children, so they called her "toxic."

But the reality is far from that. Mina's pupils are cherished, respected and nurtured, as anyone can see. Her ballerinas are not aiming to enter show business, but rather to offer their community the transformative gift of dance. Mina's students seize opportunities to be creative, to be liberated from fear, and to use dance as a way to grow closer to God. Radiant, focused children. What's not to approve of?

When Mina, her husband, and their four children lost all their material possessions to Hurricane Sandy – house, furniture, clothing, appliances – Mina did not succumb to despair. Instead, Mina danced every day. Riding the subway to and from her ballet classes, Mina immersed herself in prayer. And apparently, Mina's prayers were answered.

As it turns out, living in a tight-knight religious community can have its benefits. After the hurricane, Mina's community came through. Following many months of displacement, now Mina and her family enjoy all the comforts of a new home, thanks to their community's help.

The community offered assistance in a most humble and gracious way. After all, disagreements need not tear people apart forever. Mina's message to the world (and especially her community) is, "Never, ever suppress those feelings you have. Take them and go fly. Because you can! And you should. And that's what we need in this world: driven, happy, positive people."

And may all driven, happy, positive people learn new ways to dance.