My entire body froze. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone and willed myself to become invisible. It didn’t work, and once again, the teacher said, “Laurie, come up to the front of the class.”
When I was growing up – both at camp and at home – dance and theatre were my passions. I took many dance classes each week and performed as often as possible. Dancing made me feel free. I loved it. I loved the music and the movement and the joy of being on stage in front of others. Dancing was my thing. I was good at it, I taught it to children, and I felt great doing it. And then, something happened. I grew up. I stopped teaching dance classes in my mid-twenties and stopped taking regular dance classes post college. While anytime I’m at a party – or anywhere with a dance floor really – I am the first and last person on the floor, it has easily been a very very long time since I took a dance class.
After camp this summer, I was talking to a friend and the topic of dancing came up. I said to my friend, “I used to be a dancer and take and teach dance classes, but that was a long time ago.” After talking about “my dance past” for a while, they asked me, “Why don’t you dance anymore? Your entire face lit up while you talked about dance. You should take a class.” It was as if a lightbulb went off. Yes, I should take a class. As fate would have it, I had recently met an incredible person who was a dance teacher at a real dance studio. Before I had time to get nervous, I signed up for a dance class two days later.
From early September until now, every Friday and Saturday morning I got up early, put on workout clothes, and schlepped all the way downtown to take, not one, but two, dance classes. I loved it. I felt so reconnected to my dance passion. The music was awesome. I loved being in a room full of people dancing choreography together. I was overjoyed. I also, ALWAYS stood in the far back corner. I was happy to be in the back, tried to avoid the mirror, and liked to be “hidden,” as much as possible in a dance class. You see, in the many years since my last dance classes I traded in the joy and freedom I felt while dancing for self-doubt, insecurity, and generally feeling happy to be at that dance class but probably not “good enough” to really allow myself to feel free and joyful there. Now, the dance instructor and I had become friends. She knew a bit of my dancing past and my current insecurity and anxiety. Despite her encouragement of my ability, my performance, and even my joy I was scared and insecure, so I hid in the back corner. Until one day, at the start of the class, she said, “Laurie, you know this dance, come here to the front.” She wanted me to stand in the front row, right in the center. Yikes. I did know the dance. I knew I did, but if I stood there, I couldn’t hide. In fact, that was her entire point. She wanted people to be able to look at and follow me. Double yikes.
Well, my desire to be a “good girl” won out over the heart pounding dread I felt and there I was walking to the front and center spot in the dance class. The music started and off I went. I did know the dance and when I snuck a peek in the mirror, looked ok doing it. I also realized, that everyone else in the class was so busy worrying about their own choreography and doing the dance, that no one was looking at me anyway. It felt great. It felt free. It also felt kind of amazing to be asked by the teacher to stand in the front of a dance class again after almost two decades. It felt familiar and fun. I was glowing.
The next week rolled around and despite my great experience in the front row, there I was in my safe back corner hiding spot again. I was emotionally comfortable there and didn’t want to take the scary chance to push myself out of my, literal, comfort zone, and fail or be not good enough. With ten minutes left in the class, the teacher told everyone to come sit on the floor in front of the mirror. We did. She then said, “Laurie, get up there and do the dance.” I think I threw up in my mouth a little. She wanted me to get up there, ALONE, and do the dance while the entire class watched! I didn’t move. She said, “Laurie, I know your mind is screaming no, but you can do this. Get up.” I was literally shaking as I walked to the center of the room. The teacher said to the class, “And watch her smile too.” Somehow, that I could do. I remembered an old performing trick that if you look happy and like you are having fun, people will notice that and not care as much about your performance. Ok, I thought, if I smile and have fun, maybe no one will notice if I mess up or look stupid or feel self-conscious. The music started, I smiled, and I danced. I kind of nailed it. The class cheered me on. I was the only body on the dance floor, smiling, dancing, and feeling joyful and free. Wow. Wow! When the class ended that day, not only was I ecstatic that I did that but I felt so reconnected with a long forgotten way I felt about dance and about myself. It was pretty amazing. I was happier and prouder of myself then I have been in a while.
In thinking about and talking about this experience, camp kept coming up for me again and again. All we ask of our campers and staff is to be a good person and try hard every day, even if you are not the best. We encourage campers and staff to try new things, to push themselves just slightly outside their comfort zone. I hope in our last E-Trail Newsletter or on CEL Social media, you read 2017 Lower Junior Boy, Charlie Everett’s essay on going waterskiing for the first time or 2017 Lower Inter Girl, Holly Sternlicht’s essay on getting on the bus to go to camp for the first time. They both talked about how camp helped them step outside their comfort zone and how happy they were that they did. You know, if you think about it, the entire experience of going away from home to camp does that exact thing! Think about how prior to the start of camp you thought to yourself, “I can’t be away from my parents for that long,” BUT, you did it. My dance teacher did what counselors do for campers, found a supportive way to encourage me to see myself through her eyes, trust myself, and believe that I can do it. Think about all the times you learned a new activity, climbed a little higher, did something that scared you, chose to try instead of listening to self-doubt. I bet an encouraging counselor or friend was there to support you. It was when you tried something new or pushed yourself to do more than what you thought you could do, THAT is when you grew. Just outside your comfort zone, growth happens. Even for adults. It did for me.
If I stayed in the safe hidden back corner of my dance class, I would have stayed anxious, self-doubting, insecure, and exactly in the same spot. By taking a risk and challenging myself, I was able to truly grow. This small dance class experience helped me fall back in love with my dance passion and it reminded me that my insecurities and self-doubts were wrong. The next time I’m “hiding in a back corner” in a situation or activity, I am going to push myself to be seen, to quite the doubt, and to try. Growth lies just outside your comfort zone…even for adults. It did for me. So, if you need me on Friday or Saturday mornings, you can find me at dance class, dancing with joy, freedom, and the confidence that I am once again, a dancer.
Love and xoxo always,