By Elizabeth Powers
I have a confession to make – I love watching Dancing with the Stars. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Dancing with the Stars is a reality television program where famous people are matched up with professional dancers and, over the course of several weeks, learn how to waltz, samba, and quickstep, competing against each other in the hopes of winning the coveted “mirror ball trophy”.
I know, it sounds incredibly silly. But it’s my guilty pleasure.
I’m not sure what it is about this show that is so appealing. Maybe it’s because everyone starts on equal footing (no pun intended), trying to learn a new skill. Maybe it’s my love of dance, the upbeat nature of the music, the fun costumes. Maybe it’s just an easy way to escape from the heaviness of life that we are all inundated with every day.
Regardless of why I watch, I was excited this September when I realized that a new season would be starting soon. When the show announced the list of “stars” who would be taking part, the usual suspects were present– actors and actresses from old television shows, former athletes, musicians. But this year, there was also someone signed on who I found personally divisive: a politician.
“It’s so frustrating,” I said to my mother. “I just want a little bit of time each week where I’m not focused on all the terrible things going on in the world. Why do they have to put someone from the political arena on the show? Regardless of your political leanings, it just seems wrong.”
My mother, of course, offered her wisdom.
“He’s probably not a very good dancer,” she said. “Get some popcorn, watch the show with us, and just hope he gets sent home early.”
I followed her advice, and I have been enjoying the season (who doesn’t secretly want to learn how to ballroom dance?) Still, every time this particular figure was on screen, it irked me.
Then, last week, I had an unexpected change of heart. It was this person’s turn to dance and as I was about to roll my eyes at my mother, they started his introduction.
Usually, the introduction clip offers a glimpse into the star trying to learn the dance they’re about to perform, the difficulties of the dance style, and to share some humor and heartfelt moments. This week however, this individual talked about losing his father, how his family had shaped his life, and the memories he held onto when his father passed.
By the end of the clip, I was near tears. Here was a man with whom I disagreed with about nearly everything, and yet this silly, reality TV show had reminded me of our shared humanity.
One of the things the Congregation of St. Joseph is committed to is to “respectfully engage people who may hold different values or worldviews to bring about personal and cultural transformation.” While I obviously don’t personally know this political figure and hadn’t engaged with him on a personal level, how had I been treating even the idea of him? Hadn’t I been making assumptions about his life, about this family, about his very being? Hadn’t I forgotten that even though we disagree, we are all human?
Sometimes, in this world of the minute by minute news cycle and social media, it’s far too easy to see someone as “other.” To look at them as a one dimensional being, who represents something we disagree with, whether it be a social issue, politics, or even some aspect of the church. This is what I had been doing to this politician – looking at him only as a person I disagreed with rather than looking at him as a whole person. A person who has a family. A person who has a full, interior life that I know nothing about. It took a reality television program to remind me that whether we know each other personally or not, we are all God’s children, all deserving of empathy and understanding, even when we disagree.
And maybe that’s at the heart of why I love watching Dancing with the Stars. We are all just people. We are all just living our lives, trying to learn new things, the best we can. Maybe, if we can remember our shared humanity, we can work towards building a more caring world, and help one another through this dance we call life.
About the Author
Elizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, Harry Potter, and Dancing with the Stars. She is a new mom, and working to figure it out!