Actually, that top title is a lie. I’ve been terrified or intimidated by dancing all my life. The first time I ever danced on a dance floor in public was at a company Christmas party I attended with a boyfriend when I was nearly thirty years old. I’d always been terrified that people would make fun of my dancing, so I would only dance alone, in private, and even then I’d be self-conscious. At the party, I had had some champagne and lost my inhibitions. I really enjoyed dancing, and now I’ll dance at parties no problem. But I’ve always wanted to formally learn to dance, to take classes, and I’ve been intimidated and afraid to be that physical in front of other people. Afraid to be judged, or to be clumsy, or to not be able to do it right.
Several weeks ago, at a party of people I know from the Burning Man camp I’d camped at for the last two years, one of the women asked me if I’d perform a dance with the other ladies of the camp at an upcoming burlesque-themed fundraiser party. I said yes, of course. I felt so honored. These women were people I’d been admiring for years. They were sexy, hot, confident, talented, kind, and smart. I’d never felt like I was part of their inner circle, even after knowing them for three years. When I was asked to participate in the dance, I felt like I had been accepted. Yes!
But wait, I was terrified of performing in public! How on Earth would I do this? What was I thinking?
I couldn’t attend the first practice, so one of the participants sent around a video of the routine. I sat down at my computer, nervously clicked “play” on Quicktime, and watched the dance. As soon as it ended, I got up and walked out of the room, telling myself, “Oh, HELL no, I could never do that! I’m no dancer! They’re all dancers!” I knew right then and there it wasn’t going to happen, and I felt terrible, let down, and disappointed. But clearly, I wouldn’t be able to do it. So, for the next day, I thought of excuses I could use about why I couldn’t participate. I couldn’t make any of the practices, I was sick, I hurt my leg. I even considered just saying that I was no dancer and I didn’t think I could do it, and I didn’t want to hold everyone else back. But I so wanted to be part of the crew! It had been something I’d been longing for for years.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning here that several days before she asked me to participate in the dance, I had actually had a daytime vision of myself dancing at the event, on a stage, in my corset.
Then, I went out with a friend and had a couple of glasses of wine. On the drive back, for some reason, maybe the wine, I realized: I probably could do it. For some reason, the fear went away. Even if it was the wine, when I woke up the next day, I still felt that way. Yes, I could do it. And that feeling never left me. Another practice was scheduled for two days later. I told the organizer that I’d go through it at home the evening before practice, and if I got it down, I’d go to practice.
That evening, it was just me and my cats. I got on my exercise pants, got a chair, positioned the computer so I could see the screen from the chair, and played the video. I poured myself a glass of wine. I had to play the video a few times—and have a few sips of wine—before I got over being too self-conscious to even practice alone in my house. Finally, I took a deep breath and I started to dance, one piece of the routine at a time.
Before I knew it, I was doing the whole routine from memory, keeping up with the video. I did it over and over again. It was fun! I was enjoying myself! When I stopped, I felt high. Not from the wine, but from triumph. I knew that even if I never made it to the actual performance, I had broken through a wall in myself. My skin was shiny with sweat. I felt loose and warm. I felt great.
I went to practice with two women who were experienced performers. I was far from perfect, and I still don’t understand the whole counting thing, but I could follow it, basically. I got a few pointers from them, and then practiced several evenings at my house. Finally, a few days before the event, we had one last practice with almost everyone present. Again, I could follow with a few stumbles here and there. The routine had been expanded, and I now had another assignment (hat girl!), and there were more bits to learn. This was the only time I had a jolt of fear, but I sat with it and didn’t let it derail me. The night before the event, I practiced the whole thing through five or six (or seven or eight) times and got it down each time. I understood the routine.
Through it all, I kept waiting for my old terror to come back. But it never did. Even the night of the event, even as we went out on to the dance floor in the middle of a crowd of hooting and hollering people, I didn’t feel it. That beast had been vanquished, at least for that night.
Then, we danced, and then it was over. The whole routine was only about three minutes long. It was even a bit anticlimactic; I was so intent on doing the dance (and on not falling down on my heels on the slippy floor) that it was over before I knew it. I didn’t even notice people’s reactions. Later, watching the video taken that night, which was too dark to make anyone out, I heard the crowd clapping and hollering. The cameraman said, “This is great!”
When I told people what I had done, only one person really understood how big a leap it was for me to be dancing with that crowd: the man with whom I had camped on the playa, the one who had introduced me to these people in the first place and who had seen me in the paroxysms of anxiety that had overtaken me at their dance parties, had heard me wonder aloud if these people would ever want to get to know me. He was so supportive and so proud, and I want to thank him for that support. For everyone else, it was “cute.” For me, it was like a new person emerged out of the one who had been terrified to show that side of myself for so long. I feel renewed now. I want to take dance classes, maybe even poi spinning! Who knows where I’ll go with it, but it feels great to have gotten over yet another roadblock to total self-expression.