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R&V At the Movies: Dancing with the Birds

Dancing with the Birds (2019) © Netflix. Image Courtesy of IMDb.

The crisp, winter air in the Midwest where I live keeps most birds tucked away in thick hedges or the shelter of a fallen tree, awaiting a spring thaw, but sometimes on a more mild January day, crows caw and flap about in the barren branches of oak trees, hawks screech and glide across the slate gray sky, and the occasional cardinal flashes its scarlet breast in stark contrast to the monochrome palette winter typically presents in these parts.

I know I’ve entered middle age because I have become a self-proclaimed bird watcher. 

When the air is warmer, I take my work onto our deck and situate myself in the small wilderness of our backyard. I capture glimpses and songs of woodpeckers, robins, jays, finches, crows, hawks, and more as they go about their business of flapping and pecking and eating and mating. Their flights and landings, their ruffling and twitching and chirping and singing and blinking is each unique to their kind, each instinctually programmed to be their part of a fantastically diverse creation. And these are just what exist in my small part of the planet.

The familiar birds of my backyard are exotic in their own right—they’re all flying descendants of dinosaurs, after all—but the world is filled with birds of all shapes, sizes, songs, habits, and colors. According to The World Conservation Union, there are somewhere around 10,425 species of birds in the world. These gravity-defying creatures make up 15% of all species of vertebrates. 

New research claims there may be anywhere between 50 billion and 430 billion birds on Earth, and I believe it. Just the other day, we were driving home and witnessed a trail of migrating birds, one long constant rippling sheet of winged black specks like ash from a fire spreading far across the evening sky. The flock wove and ribboned from horizon to horizon, heading somewhere else from here. There must have been tens of thousands of them, gliding effortlessly through the atmosphere.

The forests of New Guinea and South and Central America hold some of the most extravagant twitterpated specimens of the winged kingdom. Dancing with the Birds brings viewers up close for a glance into the song and dance of these unique creatures.

Dancing with the Birds: What to Expect

Dancing with the Birds (2019) © Netflix. Image Courtesy of IMDb

Narrated by Stephen Fry, Dancing with the Birds is a Netflix original nature and ecology documentary released in 2019. It stars a half-dozen or more stunning varieties of male  birds-of-paradise as they seek to woo and win the affections of a mate.

If you’re single and looking for a love to last a lifetime, you might take notes from this 51-minute show. Sing! Dance! Make art! Find a wingman! Wear brightly colored feathers! Develop unique talents like dilating your pupils on cue or posing with your feathers flexed and ruffled. Valentine’s Day is just a couple of weeks away. Maybe it’s time to make your move.

Hey, it works for the birds-of-paradise. Maybe it could work for you.

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

Well, it sometimes works for the birds-of-paradise.

Most of the time, the pomp and circumstance these species of birds display to win their mate results in indifferent blinking and head tilts from the female of their species, until she flies away, unimpressed, and the male is left to pick up his ego and prepare his song and dance for another day. It turns out there’s romantic rejection even in the feathered kingdom.

“But Jesus said, ‘Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it’” (Matthew 19:11-12 MSG).

The “largeness of marriage” isn’t for everyone, but we can all still dance, whether with the tap of our feet or the bob of our heads or giving into the full bodied joy of movement, we allow ourselves to get wild, we sign up for dance lessons, we train. The grace, balance, and skill of dancers is entrancing. How can we help but be moved?

Forgive me if you’ve seen this Uptown Funk mashup already, because it’s been seen 63 million times, but take just a few minutes and watch it again. I dare you to try to suppress a smile.

“The best things happen while you’re dancing,” sang Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen in White Christmas. When my now-husband and I first met, one of our first dates was at a country line dancing bar. I watched him move across the hardwood to one of the most challenging of line dances, and then ended up in his commanding arms for a waltz, his eyes locked on mine. Yes, Danny Kaye, I agree, the best things do happen while you’re dancing.

Our impulse to dance as a species is a celebration of love and a longing for greater intimacy and connection, whether romantic, relational, or spiritual. It seems embedded in our DNA, this desire to move to rhythm, to raise our hands and spin, to bob, to glide, to turn. Up from the deep our praises rise. We celebrate life, we celebrate family, we celebrate friendship, we celebrate marriage, we sing and laugh and then can’t help but move. 

Dancing draws us closer to each other. Dancing draws us closer to God.

“You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.”

Psalm 30:11-12 MSG

We are made to praise. We are made to celebrate the goodness of creation, the miracle of just plain living and breathing. 

“Oh, visit the earth,
ask her to join the dance!
Deck her out in spring showers,
fill the God-River with living water.
Paint the wheat fields golden.
Creation was made for this!
Drench the plowed fields,
soak the dirt clods
With rainfall as harrow and rake
bring her to blossom and fruit.
Snow-crown the peaks with splendor,
 scatter rose petals down your paths,
All through the wild meadows, rose petals.
Set the hills to dancing,
Dress the canyon walls with live sheep,
a drape of flax across the valleys.
Let them shout, and shout, and shout!
Oh, oh, let them sing!”

Psalm 65:9-13 MSG

All of creation is dancing. Maybe it’s time to accept creation’s invitation and join in the song.

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