Two and a half years ago I faced a fear. I went to Broadway Dance Center. I was terrified because that’s where the “professionals” go to dance (or so I thought…). I hadn’t taken a tap class in 10 years and had no desire to stand next to Rockettes and Broadway dancers and not be able to find my left foot or do a shuffle. Finally, after about two weeks (and ten years) of looking at the BDC website and reading about Ray Hesselink‘s class, I dug my old tap shoes out of the closet, took a deep, big-girl breath, and went to class. It was an advanced beginner class and it was not easy, but it was fun, and not at all scary, so I kept going.
I could never have predicted the impact that facing that small and very insignificant fear would have on my life, but it changed everything.
Here are the five life lessons I learned in tap class:
Practice makes perfect: Anyone who has ever been good at anything knows that this is true. I hated not remembering the choreography from one class to the next, or the fact that I couldn’t pick up the steps fast enough, or that the same steps would trip me up over and over. I started practicing outside of class, working through the more complicated steps that challenged me, counting out rhythms until they were second nature. I practiced at home in my sneakers, or in a studio at work, or I’d rent a space for an hour and practice there. Steps that I never used to be able to do started coming easier, and I slowly felt like I was getting my head above water in class.
Be Kind to Yourself: When I was a kid, I was the best dancer in my tap class. I’m not bragging, there just weren’t many tap classes at the studio, and there weren’t many kids who kept up with it at my level. When I came back to class after 10 years, I was decidedly not the best and that was a blow to my ego. I used to get frustrated and angry and there was more than one occasion when I wanted to leave crying (I’m looking at you, first day in the intermediate level). In all of that getting down on myself though, what kept coming through was how much I loved it. I would remind myself that I didn’t have to be the best, I just had to try. I just had to show up and do the work. I would pick one thing to work on in class. Sometimes it was doing one step of choreography perfectly; another day I swore to stop making angry faces in the mirror; or, one time I spent the whole class concentrating on holding my arms out like they weren’t dead fish hanging off my shoulders. I would let myself off the hook on everything else. It reminded me that there is no rule that says that you have to be perfect at everything all the time, just don’t give up.
Look the Part: Tap classes happen in front of the mirror, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can see what you’re doing wrong and you can match your feet with the people around you. It’s a curse because it’s unforgiving. You can see every mistake and misstep. For me, I could also see every extra pound wiggling and jiggling in the mirror. I hated it. I wanted to look like a dancer, which motivated me to lose weight. I kept practicing and I ate better. I became a dancer again. I wore the cute skirts and tank tops that the dancer girls wore, I bought myself a pair of La Duca heels (like the pros wear!) and I felt good about who I was when I was dancing.
Stand Up Straight: Losing weight and looking and feeling better about myself couldn’t make me grow the six inches I would need to match the Rockette-types in my class. For a while, I hated standing near them. No matter how thin or in shape I was, I could never measure up (pun intended!). It was like looking in a fun house mirror and I was in the fat mirror and they were in the thin one. I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m always going to have curves and curly hair and be 5’3″ instead of 5’9″, no matter how much weight I lose or gain. Those are things I can’t control. What I can control is how I present myself. I can stand with my shoulders hunched forward and try to hide, or I can stand up straight and hold my arms out and take up all the space the my curves and my five feet and three inches offer to me. So that’s what I do.
Be Inspired: Once I started tapping again, I realized how much I missed performing. When I was a kid I took class every week and it was the highlight of my life. When I decided I didn’t want to perform professionally, I buried that side of myself and remembered it only in the hazy, rose glow of the past. Going back to class dug all of those old feelings up and I realized that I had to find a way to be on stage again. If it weren’t for tap, I wouldn’t have written my own solo show, Fangirl, and I wouldn’t be performing it for the second time on March 6!
I danced until I was 26 weeks pregnant and the doctor told me I had to stop. I only just started back in class again, but I continue to apply everything I learned about myself to my life outside of the studio (or I continued to try. Life isn’t as cut and dry as making sounds with your feet that match the rhythm of the music). In a lot of ways I’ve been able to pick up where I left off. Here’s the video of the advanced class just yesterday! (I’m in the army-green t-shirt and black capris).
Of course, I’ve talked about dancing before! Read about my Zumba addition here! And, hey, follow me, won’t you? You get to read my words directly in your inbox! Who doesn’t like mail!?