Fear of Dancing

Last Saturday, a friend invited my husband and me to join her for a swing dancing lesson followed by an evening of dancing at the Black Rock Arts Center.

I have never learned to dance, but I know many people can and have a good time.

I was tired of being afraid. My husband was also nervous. We’d tried lessons a dozen years back. They’d been painful.

We said we’d go.

Fear is part of life, but it does not paralyze me. When I wake up in the morning I am curled in what I imagine is a comfortable-looking fetal apostrophe. But when I try to sit up, I find resistance and I hear tiny popping sounds of a hundred invisible breaking threads that had strapped me in onto the mattress during the night’s dreams.

There may be pain from a headache. The bit of arthritis in my knees makes walking unsteady at first. Without glasses, the indistinct edges of things and the blur in my bathroom mirror counsel me to return to dreams, suggest the night had been restless and I had just, finally found peaceful sleep.

I am not alone. Few people bound out of bed in the morning. Many people find it hard to wake up, especially when things are difficult in their lives or depression is involved.

The threads that snap when I push off the mattress or lift my elbow to brush my teeth are made of fear. It takes a while before an internal purring, like the neighbor’s lawn mower, signals I am awake and alive.

I am not a soldier at war. I am not facing life and death surgery.

I am going to try swing dancing, and I feel a cold sweat materialize on my skin. If I could summon nausea I would because emotionally I wanted to throw up.

In the very beginning after the teacher stopped talking and we danced with the first partner, I was fine.

We changed partners every 30 seconds, and by three I had lost the beat, forgotten the steps and wanted the floor to open and let me fall through. I was close to panic. I was 14 in some kind of nightmare.

I stepped out of the circle and tried to bury myself in the velvet curtains. Across the room, I could see that my husband was still hanging in.

Someone had said, “You just can’t worry about being embarrassed.” I didn’t think I was. I knew you had to make mistakes. I knew you had to work at it over a long period of time.

This didn’t feel like embarrassment, it felt like standing in a herd of elk and suddenly realizing you are a hippopotamus.

For the first time in my life, I was able to get through that fear. My girlfriend walked over and took my hands.

“I am the guy, and you are the gal. Let’s go,” she said firmly.

I went.

Could I dance for the first time because I was ignoring embarrassment? No, I really don’t mind showing I’m human. I don’t mind finding out my slip is showing.

Was it so I could dance with my husband? In part.

Was it because I love music and have always wanted to move to the rhythm? In part.

Twenty years ago in rehab we did an exercise where you were supposed to fall backwards into a little circle of other patients and let them catch you. To my shock, I could not do it. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them; it was that they did not know how heavy I was.

I believe we all have fears and things to learn to deal with — some we don’t even know about until it is time to face them. It took me 56 years to be able to move my feet — one-two-three right, one-two left, rock-back — because it took that long to take the hands of another person I believed wanted to help me.

What a great journey. See you at the hop.