52 Exercises: #51 Dance Show and Dealing With Anxiety
It wasn’t a real dance show. Just our small dance class of five women performing for our husbands and children in the room where we practice every week, but the thought of it filled me with fear.
When we went through the dance routine the week before I felt a burning sensation deep in my gut that quickly spread to my chest, shoulders and face. It was more than anxiety, almost a panic attack.
Although I’m a worrier I never experienced anxiety and realized what it was until I woke up one night a few weeks ago awash in fear. Until this year I lived in denial. I presented myself as a strong, independent woman, the kind of person who could do anything and never acknowledged fear, worry and anxiety even to myself. I kept it a secret because I was ashamed of being weak.
I can’t remember what terror had gripped me while I slept now. Maybe the worry that I’d miss an important appointment, maybe it was the feeling that I was failing at life or maybe it was the thought of the dance show.
Even now I’m reluctant to write about the dance show because it brings up feelings of shame and ridicule. Although the performance is behind me it still raises the fear of performing in front of an audience, the fear of making a fool of myself, being laughed at and looking like an idiot. It seems stupid to think that anyone would want to see me perform anyway.
On the day of the dance show I organised everything so that nothing in my control could go wrong. I had a great dress so I knew that, even though my brain couldn’t remember the dance steps and my body couldn’t execute them fast enough even if it could, I’d look good.
I packed my dress, jewelry and water early in the afternoon and left them in a bag near the door so that I wouldn’t forget anything as I rushed to the leisure center for the dance show later.
My husband didn’t want to come and I was at once relieved and saddened. At least he wouldn’t be party to my shame but his lack of support seemed to reinforce my suspicions that I was an embarrassment, lacking in some way, that I would mess things up.
My nine year old daughter was mad keen to see me dance though. She talked about it for weeks, counting the sleeps and asking who else would be there. If it hadn’t been for her I would have left the show to the other dancers and stayed home that night.
But Kiara was desperate to see me dance so I wanted to go ahead to please her, although I thought she’d be disappointed when she saw me in action.
My greatest fear was that Kiara, the one person in my life who seems to love me unconditionally, is never embarrassed by me and will still hold my hand in public would now realise how untogether, uncoordinated and uncool I am.
I watched thoughts like this rise and fall for weeks before the dance show, trying not to buy into them or let them control me, reminding myself again and again that they were only thoughts. Just thoughts. Harmless thoughts.
After dinner we grabbed the bag and rushed to the leisure center. All the other women were already wearing their dresses and looking gorgeous so I immediately looked in my bag for my dress only to find it wasn’t there. As organised as I was I’d left home with the wrong bag.
This would have been the perfect time to drop out of the dance show but I had my supporter to perform for. I ran back to the car and drove the 30 minute return journey home to get the dress leaving the other women to do the dance practice I needed so badly.
The moon was full and bright, the evening air warm but I felt empty, dull and cold. Forced to go ahead with something I didn’t want to do.
The anxiety I’d been trying to ignore was coming to the boil now, reaching fever point. I tried to focus on the feel of the steering wheel under my hands and my stomach rising and falling as I breathed.
By the time I got back there was time to run through the dance twice more before the husbands and kids filed in to watch us. There were about 20 people in the audience, all instructed not to laugh.
As we take our places for the dance show a tsunami of fear rushes over me. I would rather skydive than take part in a show like this. I’d rather do a muddy obstacle race, play netball, or even join the women’s soccer team. Anything would be better than dancing in a brightly lit room in front of real people, although I am glad most of them are strangers who I hope to never see again.
The music starts and I move. A lot of the time I even move in time with the other women. I remember to engage my one fan, locking eyes with Kiara and smiling from time to time as the music pulses and I pace the steps around the room. Kiara smiles back encouragingly.
The dance show only lasts 90 seconds and then it’s over with laughter from the dancers not the audience and I wished we could do it one more time.
Before the show I wanted to apologize in advance to Kiara, to explain that mummy wasn’t as good as the other dancers, couldn’t remember all the moves and couldn’t do some of them. But I didn’t tell her. I didn’t want her to feel anxious about watching me and for her to fear the worst.
I kept my feelings of vulnerability hidden and stayed strong. She’s already been in her own dance show and didn’t seem to have any anxiety about being in the limelight. I hope she never does.
It wasn’t a real dance show but it was a real ordeal. The worst thing is knowing how senseless that anxiety was because I was only performing for a small group of people none of whom would judge me in any way. In fact my dance class mates and our teacher were endlessly warm, encouraging and enthusiastic.
But anxiety isn’t rational. It’s senseless, illogical and stupid. It’s part of me though and it’s not going away so I’ll make room for anxiety but I won’t let it derail me.
Anxiety is an unwanted passenger riding with me through life but it can’t stop me carrying on my merry way.
How do you deal with anxiety? What have you done this year that made you feel anxious?
More About the 52 Exercises Quest
It’s nearly over! The dance show was the 51st exercise I’ve done this year, an extension of my jazz dance class with the added pressure of performing in front of an audience.
Check out more stories from the 52 Exercise quest now.
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Great piece! Congratulations on overcoming your anxiety. I don’t comment often, but I want you to know I have gotten a lot of inspiration from reading about your exercise quest. For me, I am excited to be finishing up my challenge to complete 101 things in 1001 days. I often feel anxious about what people think of me, but I have gotten a lot of confidence from trying new things and blogging about my experiences.
Well thank you for being here and leaving a beautiful comment. I love that and am totally impressed by your quest too. So exciting you’ve nearly finished it now and amazing too. Definitely a cause for celebration :)
If I’d been in your community, I would have gone to your dance performance, beamed a ton of support to you, and been the second loudest person in your cheerleading section–right behind your daughter. I know exactly how anxiety producing a dance performance can feel–especially if I haven’t felt 100% confident about the choreography. Here’s a trick to remember that my teacher told her students: If you screw up during a performance–e.g., move left instead of right, or what have you–just keep going, pretend you meant to do the misstep, and flash a huge smile at the audience. The audience doesn’t necessarily know you’ve made a mistake unless you suddenly look really flustered–they respond to your energy and non-verbal signals.
My best performances have been when I was having fun dancing the piece, could really feel the music, and frankly could care less what others thought of my dancing skills and coordination (or lack thereof). Actually, one of the reasons I took up Middle Eastern dance (a.k.a belly dancing) years ago was to tame my perfectionism and demonstrate to myself that in fact I am more coordinated than I give myself credit for. (Mind you that one went out the window the other day after tripping over my own two feet while rushing to get to the gate where I was supposed to be boarding a plane. Glad I landed on carpet and not pavement, but it still left a few carpet burns and bruises. Ouch.)
Have a wonderful “silly season” and all the best for 2014.
Great to hear from you – I wish you were in the ‘hood! That’s the best advice your teacher gave you and our dance teacher Kim said the same thing – it’s all about the smile and looking confident :)
Gosh I have never tried belly dancing but it looks like a lot of fun. That’s too funny – sounds like the kind of thing I’d do and quite a trip :)
Wishing you endless silliness too!