I’ve been a swimmer for years. I love the weightless feeling of slicing smoothly through the water. As I churn back and forth in the pool at the Jewish Community Center, I envision I am in training and will somehow get over to Israel one spring to join in a women’s swim across the Kinneret I’ve heard about. I imagine the light-blue chlorinated pool water is the healing springs of Miriam’s Well, which are deep in the Kinneret; the overhead lights are the hot Israeli sun.

But this year, I developed a frozen shoulder, which makes these laps painful. For a while, I continued at the pool with water-walking and water aerobics, but it just isn’t the same intensity as swimming. And my doctor says I really need to get some weight-bearing stuff going.I’ve been a swimmer for years

I’m allergic to machines and intimidated by those buff women marching into super-serious ab-crunching, weight-toting workouts. What should I do? Before I completely descend into sloth, I decide to try a class called Cardio Jam. Some sweating, some cardio, some dancing. Maybe it will work for me, even though my knees occasionally emit twinges of arthritic pain.

So I show up to the dance studio at our JCC on a Wednesday morning. The other women are clad in leotards, yoga pants, T-shirts and assorted exercise gear, while I sport a skirt and head scarf, along with my neon Nikes.

Amanda, our fearless teacher, is ready to go with her chartreuse hair, and an assortment of earrings and tattoos. She’s an energetic leader guiding her herd of dancing women—some stepping almost as sprightly as she, others stumbling awkwardly to keep up with her fast footwork. (I won’t disclose which group I belong to.)

As the weeks go on, I get used to the moves and find unexpected dividends. I am definitely sweating. Stretching. Crunching and moving. Firming up a little (yeah!). But there’s more. More than just “shaking it.” It’s feeling my body moving through space. It’s an inner song that’s awakening. It’s dancing, it’s music, it’s a smile and an uplifting swing of the arms as we spin and turn and sway.

Occasionally, I find myself thinking of more than my aching muscles or catching my breath. In my loftier moments, I will imagine I feel something remotely akin to the biblical look I project.

I’m dancing with the (Torah) stars. I envision King David dancing before G‑d in holy abandon, full of the joy of the Shechinah. And what is the Shechinah? It is G‑d as He dwells down here in this world, similar to how our spiritual souls dwell in our bodies.

I think of the great sages who danced during Sukkot in the Temple courtyard. I think of Miriam, my namesake, dancing at the Red Sea with the women, full of such joy at the great miracle that it spilled out into physical expression.

Praise Him with timbrels and dance.1

I find that my new boogeying and dancing career is helping me inch closer to my own inner redemption. The rising and bending and twirling and moving to the beat combat my inner sloth, which is a greater challenge than losing the few extra pounds. My default mode is mild depression and melancholy. Oy. It’s too hard. I just don’t have the energy. And the world is full of so much pain. The Tanya explains that sadness isn’t a sin, but in some ways is worse, as it can lead to a downward spiral of sinfulness. I know that so well, that feeling that all those things I’m supposed to do are a weight rather than an opportunity.

But now, even in the middle of gray winter cold, I wake up and feel my body ready to move, imagine it turning, almost doing some steps while I’m still in bed. As I stand in the kitchen, I’m lighter on my toes, singing or humming, sometimes taking a few spins, bounces or stretches. My kids and grandkids are bemused, laughing: “Look, Bubby’s dancing!” Sometimes, they’ll join me. My body feels like a partner, ready to see life as a dance rather than a schlep.

Endorphins pumping and muscles moving are great. But I still have to do the inner work, and remember that the body is but an outer casing for a soul of so many levels, challenges and ways to come close to G‑d. Physical dancing and being fit is not quite the same as being spiritually fit. But still, there’s something about having my body feeling joy in its very limbs that trickles into those other levels, and makes them feel more vibrant and moveable as well.

All my bones shall declare: “G‑d, who is like You?”2

Maybe that’s part of it. Moving. We marvelous, fallible humans are known as holchim—“walkers,” while holy, celestial angels are omdim—“standers.” They start out holy and remain that way. But we have the ability to walk and stumble, and get up again and transform ourselves and change, reaching way beyond our natural or inborn level.

In class, I try to work through the burn. My muscles want to stop, but I keep going. To be a m’halach—a walker and mover—I need to be able to dare, to try, to reach and to endure the mental and spiritual burn—the resistance to change that comes from bad habits, complacency, fear and the evil inclination.

As we boogey, others might be thinking of their disco days or former glides across the ballroom. But I reminisce about my early days of discovery of the observant world. When one of our gang of excited newbies got married, the weddings were explosions of joy. The weddings were explosions of joyWe felt we could stand on our toes and practically touch the Shechinah that dwelt there, see the uniting of two souls, hewn under G‑d’s throne, who’d traversed cultures and sometimes continents to end up under that chupah together, building a new and ancient home. We danced before the bride and groom, the king and queen for the night, and before G‑d, in radiant abandon. There was no room for “What is everyone thinking? Am I proper?” No feeling of “I danced sedately around the circle once or twice and am tired, and will now sit and chat, and that is enough.” There was no “enough.” We poured out our souls through the vehicle of our feet.

To be a good Jew and to fulfill my personal portion of that goal—as a good artist, writer, entrepreneur, parent, spouse—I have to be able to think of new ideas, to dare, to push through the resistance, to be light-hearted and “light-footed” to serve G‑d.

Serve G‑d with joy.3