Seven Ways of Loving. Choreographed Poetry on Beatrice’s Treatise

BEATRICE – Project 2 was originally a dance project featuring Sander Vloebergs and Sheila Van den Broeck. Unfortunately Sheila needed to stop the collaboration due to an injury. During the summer of 2018, both dancers worked on a pas de deux based on the short treatise of the Dutch mystic Beatrice of Nazareth called the On Seven Ways of Holy Love, while searching for interesting collaboration with musicians. During this period, Sheila wrote her own lyrics based on her reading of the text and her own experiential knowledge about the excessive nature of love. These lyrics served as an inspiration for Surfing Dino who created the music for BEATRICE – Project 2. This blog post explores Sheila’s artistic process and analyses the original lyrics of Seven Ways of Loving.

Sheila is a trained dancer and dance teacher. Currently she teaches in the master’s course in ‘Training and Coaching Dance’ at the KU Leuven. She gained some experience as a singer-songwriter competing in the Youth Art Competition called Kunstbende. Sheila took the initiative to not only create the choreography but also to add an extra layer of meaning by writing her own lyrics and thus engaging in an interesting interdisciplinary exploration of the original text. The dancer-songwriter initially wrote the lyrics to make an emotional connection with Beatrice and to deepen her own personal understanding of the text. 

These lyrics reveal a very intimate image of a dancer on stage, and of a lover made vulnerable during the game of love. Sheila is a dancer in love with her audience, willing to sacrifice her being on the altar of the stage, where she becomes dance-incarnated. Music initiates this ritual; it creates the temple where the dance can be performed.  

Sheila Van den Broeck

The Temple of Music

Sheila’s artistic process starts with music; lyrics are of secondary importance. The goal of her art is to convey emotions in order to communicate with her audience. Music helps her to create the right atmosphere for this emotional transfer. The dancer is invited to experience the overwhelming presence of the music and to become a character in its story. According to Sheila, dance is a way to move within this overarching musical story; it is her way to play its script. 

The Safe Haven/Heaven of Dance

Sheila argues that, for her, dance offers a refuge, a space where she can freely explore her inner being on the rhythm of a preselected song. As a dance teacher she still values the potential of the dance to assist dancers to develop their own emotional response to the music – and by doing so, studying their own inner being. This exploration is not primarily a rational enterprise, it occurs within the realm of feelings. Therefore, it helps to escape the dominance of everyday life. Like Love in Beatrice’s text, dance creates a safe and warm environment. However, like Love, dance has a shadow side, a property that causes pain within the dancer.

“I would be satisfied if you just understood 
That I felt the need to do better than good”

Initially, this modified quote (from the lyrics) seems to suggest the dancer’s struggle to constantly improve her technique and skills in order to offer the audience a better version of herself. In the context of the original text about Love, and in the context of Sheila’s dance practice, this verse reveals insecurity about one’s own capacity to love or to dance and the fear of being judged. In Sheila’s story, the addressee of this verse could be both the (divine) lover and the audience. According to her, dance’s performative nature causes both pain and pleasure as it demands the dancer to transform herself and surrender to the gaze of the other (God, the lover, the audience). 

Sacrificial Dance

As argued above that dance offers a space where emotions have free reign. According to Sheila, it is the ideal moment to escape reality and to focus on one’s inner voice, one’s inner rhythm. However, one cannot forget that dance is a performance art. Dance is not meant to be a private experience, it is supposed to be shared with an audience. Sheila recognizes her fear to surrender herselfcompletely – a fear known by both the dancer and the lover. She expresses the anguish of loneliness with the following passionate verses:

“My heart is yours, but still there’s no sound”
“So I’ll be forgotten and left behind
Cursed to be searching blind
Blinded by the pain, I can’t breathe,
From heart, till throat, till mind, I bleed”

With these verses, Sheila expresses the psychosomatic effects of her fear to be left alone by the other. The dance teacher refers to the term vasodilation, a medical term that explains the widening of the veins when experiencing stress. Beatrice herself refers to a similar experience in her fifth way of Love. 

The Afterlife of the Dance

Sheila confesses to be scared of an audience that will not connect with her, unable to bridge the distance between stage and seeds, when “the body is walking on its own”. The dance requires – and the audience demands – the dancer to completely surrender herself; a complete self-emptying to become dance itself. Sheila writes: “Remember I am yours to be taken,” referring to the principle of performance art, one becomes the art piece – waiting to be experienced.This artistic self-sacrifice moves on the rhythm of desire, it pulses on the passion for dance. Both dance and Love require an endless devotion, only then the dancer-lover can be cured. Sheila writes: “my heart has forsaken my body,” her passion has led her to a point of no return. Her body is displayed on the stage and the heart is beating in time to the rhythm of the music, offered to the audience. Only when this heart is pure, bleeding for the love (of dance), the harmony between body and heart is restored and the dancer becomes the dance, the audience the worshippers. Sheila calls this state of unity the afterlife:

“Finally, together, forever inside
Hope transformed into a reliable guide
Being one makes me feel more than a wife,
Take me with you to the afterlife”


A sharp and restless feeling drives me insane,
No stranger to me, but I can’t give it a name,
It’s like someone lights a small fire,
And so my heart is flooded with desire.

Desire in his unhealthy stage,
Physical feeling is locked in a cage,
I shall be satisfied if I could make you understood,
That I have the need to do better than good.
If not, I will be waiting a lifetime longer,
So please answer me so I can grow stronger;
Strong enough to scream love out loud,
My heart is yours, but still there’s no sound.
My heart is talking on its own,
My body is walking all alone;
Remember, I am yours to be taken,
My heart has my body forsaken.
So I’ll be forgotten and left behind,
Cursed to be searching blind;
Blinded by the pain, I can’t breathe,
From heart, till throat, till mind, I bleed.
Finally, together, forever inside,
Hope transformed into a reliable guide;
Being one makes me feel more than a wife,
Take me with you to the afterlife.
And just when I released my fears, the end arrived;
Destroyed, crushed and broken, but I survived.
A swinging pain of desire it will be,
But I am at peace with this path, you see,
Because whatever happens, there will always be you and me.

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