When Rev. Daniel Graves isn’t educating and supporting congregants at Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora, Ont., you’re likely to find the associate priest in his second favourite place: on the dance floor.
A student of ballroom dance for eight of the 11 years since he was ordained, Graves credits his hobby with everything from making him more approachable to helping him achieve work-life balance.
“Dancing breaks down the stuffed-shirt stereotype of what people think clergy are and lets me connect with other people as a regular person, not part of the ministry,” says Graves, who initially took group ballroom classes with his wife as a recreational activity and to make new friends. Now he’s moved on to more challenging individual lessons, focusing on the five standard dances (waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, quickstep, and his favourite — the foxtrot), venturing out on the floor at classes and socials an average of three times a week.
“I get to let my hair down, enjoy moving, and show people what a well-rounded lifestyle is,” he says.
That balance is something Graves doesn’t take for granted. Like many of us, he fell into the career trap of workaholism, prompting him to take a stress leave from his previous role as incumbent at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Newmarket. “Dancing through my illness — and having a community of people around who don’t judge you — was remarkably healing and restorative,” he says. “You can’t take stress onto the dance floor with you. It’s a great mindfulness activity — there’s just you, your partner, the rhythm and you can’t think of anything else.”
But that’s not ballroom dancing’s only positive note. According to Graves, it also teaches how to deal with roadblocks (improvise steps to get through a crowded dance floor); how to work together and enjoy it (every time you dance with a new partner); and the give and take of relationships (understanding how to lead or follow).
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And he sees many parallels to faith, too. “There’s an aspect of faith (theology) that’s a head task, but for the most part faith is a heart thing, not a head thing. And so is music,” says Graves. “The dance floor is one of the ultimate places of connectivity, making it a spiritual zone, really.”
More than anything else, though, dancing is just great fun. “When a Frank Sinatra crooner song like Fly Me to the Moon is playing and I’m doing a slow foxtrot, which has a style and class to it, I think to myself, ‘My God, I’m dancing!’” says Graves. “Then I feel like I really am going to the moon.”
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