For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to dance. We didn’t have a lot of money as a family, so I wasn’t given options about extracurricular activities. I was slotted into piano year after year after year. In fact, I don’t ever remember being asked if I wanted to do it – it was just a foregone conclusion that I would play an instrument and my brother would play sports.
But I dreamt – literally and figuratively – about dancing. I was enthralled by dance shows. I was envious of my friends who danced. My heart would start to race and I could feel a rush of adrenaline when I saw a performance. Footloose was epic for me.
However, once I passed the age of ten, I thought that it was too late for me to learn. By that age, I was already a hard-core perfectionist and consequently was terrified of doing anything poorly. As an adult, I continued to buy into the fallacy that dance lessons are just for little kids. I put Riley in dance and watched from the sidelines.
A few years ago, a friend invited me to a hip-hop class. When I observed the class, I felt that old, familiar stirring within me. I enrolled in the class, but it was a dud for me. The class was large and so I struggled to get one-on-one time with the instructor. I joined the group halfway through the year and so I had to catch up to women who had been practicing the routine for months. But the death knell came when an important conference was scheduled for the same weekend of the recital. The whole experience was kind of like a firecracker that promises to be spectacularly impressive and just fizzles out before it even starts. But the class was significant in one respect – I had finally realized that a thirty-something-year-old mom could take dance.
So despite that first false start, I found an adult hip-hop class when we moved to Toronto. Then I recruited my friend Judy to go with me so it wouldn’t be so scary. This time, though, I was in for a radically different experience. I was privileged to have two amazing instructors – Lucy and Monique – who nudged me out of my comfort zone. They demonstrated the basic moves, of course, but they did so much more. They took the time to work with each of us, drawing out and honing our unique styles. They pushed us when we didn’t have the personal courage to push ourselves. They laughed with us when we messed up and cheered when we finally got the move. They created a safe place to be less than perfect. They invested in us. Because of them, the year was transformational.
In my professional life, I encourage people to pursue the passions deep within. I teach about learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I highlight the pitfalls of perfectionism. I coach people to press through the awkward learning phase so that a new skill set has the chance to emerge. I demystify body image issues. I know all these things intellectually and I see the benefits in the lives of my clients. But I had the opportunity to practice what I preach on the dance floor all year long.
Yesterday, I did a dance recital in front of hundreds of people. I looked nothing like the competitors on So You Think You Can Dance, but that wasn’t the point. I had worked hard so I could earn a spot on that stage. I wasn’t in the audience anymore. My husband and daughter got to witness me practicing courage. I modeled “out of my comfort zone” in living colour. I faced down the gremlins that told me I was too old and too uncoordinated to perform. Best of all, I had so much fun. It was an amazing way to fulfill a life-long dream.
And next year, I’m going back for more.