It has been brought to my attention numerous times that many (most?) people find the idea of dancing to be terrifying. I’ve felt otherwise very confident and accomplished men literally trembling as we danced (I’m pretty sure I’m not that intimidating), and it’s not unusual to hear students sigh some version of “That wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be,” at the end of a first lesson. The sentiment always surprises me, but it shouldn’t, because if I just think back to my first class, I can remember being pretty nervous myself.
So why is dancing so scary? I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear yours.
First, we don’t often learn completely new skills as an adult. All of the really tough and important ones (walking, talking, making PB&J sandwiches) we learn when we’re young. As adults we may broaden and improve our abilities, but we usually aren’t starting from zero.
When we do take up new hobbies as an adult, they also aren’t usually so public. We can learn to knit, or cook, or play the guitar in private, sharing our accomplishments only when and if we’re good and ready. Dancing by its nature is a social activity and so people are going to see you do it. In general, the more public the activity, the more pressure we feel.
And then there is the social baggage around dancing. Race, gender, religion, age, and a host of other factors play into our feelings about dancing. I’m not going to delve into any of that here, other than to say that most of it doesn’t hold up under closer inspection. Still, we’re all affected (consciously or otherwise) by cultural factors.
Then how can we overcome our perfectly natural feelings of nervousness?
Find your why. This advice is common in situations involving change because it helps you refocus when you start to waiver. Do you want to dance at your child’s wedding? Or feel more at ease at parties? Maybe you need a creative outlet? Chances are your reason for learning is bigger than your fear, so keep it front and center.
Realize that you’re not alone. Almost everyone in a beginner dance class thinks that he or she is the worst student ever. So talk with others. You’ll likely find that they’re having the same doubts that you are. You’ll also build a network of “dance friends” that understand your frustrations and triumphs and can support you on your journey.
Choose a nurturing environment. When you go to classes, lessons, or parties you should feel a culture of mutual support and encouragement. Constructive feedback from your instructor is important, but there should be no judgement. If this isn’t the case, it isn’t you who’s failing, it’s the studio. Go someplace else.
And if you still need a push, list the pros and cons. I think you’ll see that one list far outweighs the other. Here are some ideas to get you started. Happy dancing!