Tennis phenom, Serena Williams, offered a brilliant example of virtuoso tennis playing on Saturday morning in the Olympic Gold Medal match against Maria Sharpova. For more than an hour, Williams gave herself completely in spirit, mind and body to the game that she now owns, having achieved a Golden Slam after winning all four Grand Slam victories and topping it off with an Olympic Gold Medal on the Wimbledon courts. Clearly, Serena Williams is making tennis history.
However, I am most interested in less than 10 seconds that followed her victory -- the brief bit of celebratory dancing that she did on the Wimbledon grass. Williams certainly is not the first athlete to celebrate victory in a dance (think T.O., Donovan McNabb's Moonwalk, or the Atlanta Falcon's Dirty Bird), but she is one of few women and certainly the only black woman to dance at Wimbledon. Serena's dancing in response to her decisive win performed publicly a moment of overlapping excess: excess joy and excess blackness.
To my eyes, her momentary performance reflected, as well, the Holy Dance, or Shout, that black folks across the Pentecostal church world do regularly to praise God in Sunday morning services, midweek worship and prayer meetings. It is said that Serena's dance is called the C-Walk, or Crip Walk, a popular dance done by young people at parties and featured on music videos. That may be true, but what grabbed my attention is how similar her dance looked to what so many black Christians do when they "cut a step" in a sanctified church. By sanctified church, I mean vlack congregations that are devoted to invoking the presence and physical embodiment of the Holy Spirit in their gatherings.
I am not claiming sanctified church roots for Serena Williams; in fact, I don't know if she is a person of any faith at all. Here, I agree with dance scholar, Brenda Dixon Gottschild in her book, "The Black Dancing Body," when she says:
"Danced religion ... reside(s) in African and African American history as well as in the Africanist collective memory ... a cultural unconscious that lives in the spirit and is reconstituted -- re-membered -- in the muscles, blood, skin, and bone of the Black dancing body."
I am observing that at a time of great accomplishment and joy, Serena Williams was full to overflowing and it showed in her surprising dance. Her dance was connected to spirit. The holy dance is often the stereotypical image of black Christian religiosity. From LaWanda Page's frequent "quickening" and proclaiming "ha, glory!" as she played Aunt Esther in the 1970s situation comedy Sanford and Son to Tyler Perry's more recent series of urban contemporary plays, ecstatic bodily responses to the "Holy Ghost" are over used monikers of black religion. In actual, rather than theatrical practice, the Holy dance is considered "a divine gift and an embodied substantiation of the presence of the Holy Spirit within the individual and the faith community," according to the Rev. Kanyere Eaton, pastor of the Fellowship Covenant Church in the Bronx, N.Y.
In Pentecostal churches, like at Wimbledon on last Saturday morning, people dance in the spirit to express spiritual feeling. Also similarly, these holy dances are not recitals or shows given for audiences, but an embodied meeting at the intersection of the spiritual and the material. In other words, Williams played tennis from the outside in, but her Holy Dance came from inside and overflowed outward. This dance done without music or lyrics, in the rarefied air of Wimbledon, conjured up a sound, a beat (persistent bass), and a people (everyday black folks) not often embraced there. I applaud Serena Williams for her momentous tennis victories; but more so, I celebrate her for bringing her whole self -- spirit, mind and body -- to the game.
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