This past Friday, while in New York, I took a dance class. I have been doing this lately on Fridays, going to the city to take dance and voice classes and absorb artistic inspiration of all kinds.
Looking at the studio schedule, I decided to try a Contemporary Floor class. I have taken many Floor Barre classes and figured it would be similar; conditioning exercises on the floor, moving across the floor with simple combinations, something like that. The class was also taught by a former So You Think You Can Dance contestant and, as a huge fan of that show, I thought that’d be fun!
The class began with centering and breathing. Ahhh, I thought, this is going to be right up my alley. Then our teacher demonstrated the first “warm-up” which was a lovely choreographed sequence on the floor, using the core to contract and expand and roll around. It looked pretty! It was hard. Instead of moving all watery and fluid like her, I felt like a piece of petrified wood trying to flip itself over.
The class continued along those same lines, pretty yet hard movements, all involving the floor. We did sequences where we’d jump up in the air then fall to the floor then jump back up again in seconds. We did a partnering exercise where we pulled each other around. My level of dread was rising, my comfort level was plummeting.
The combination across the floor included a controlled fall to the knee into a graceful lunge into these swirling leg movements from a squatting position that moved us across the length of the studio. She gave us the image of earthworms; slithery and grounded and strong. I love imagery and desperately tried to connect with my inner earthworm. But I felt more like an elephant in earthworm disguise.
You probably think I am exaggerating my ineptitude. Let me assure you, I am not.
Then she taught the routine. It was still very “earthwormy” and abstract. Most of it was on the floor and all of it was challenging, requiring strength and trust. Her instruction was patient and encouraging, but I was having a hard time hearing her because of this increasingly loud voice in my head saying: you can’t do this.
For those of you not familiar with dance class protocol, it is common for the teacher to break you up into groups to do the routine. That way you have plenty of room to move. It is also fun because then you get to watch your fellow dancers in action.
She divided our large class into four groups to give us lots of space to explore the movement. This meant that 75% of the class would be watching while I fumbled around, utterly confounded and embarrassed.
I started to weigh my options. A) I could leave, skedaddle, run, B) I could stand against the wall and never dance with any group, no one would ever notice, or C) I could just go ahead and try. Sure, I was out of my element and it showed. But this was a class, not a performance or audition. I had come there to learn and to push myself, right?
So, I went ahead and danced. I took my elephanty earthworm out for a spin and sincerely tried to do better each time. I laughed with the teacher when she noted that my whole group was struggling and fessed up to opting out of one movement simply because it scared the bejesus out of me. I flopped and floundered but kept taking my place on the floor every time my group was called.
When the class was over I felt victorious for making it through without crying and without quitting. I had triumphed over the loud voice telling me I couldn’t and over my loud ego begging me to save it from humiliation.
My body is now covered with bruises and floor burns but I look at them with pride because I earned them. I feel good about being so bad because I sense a connection between my willingness to flop and my willingness to shine. While I am not exactly sure how that connection works, I know it is there.
Next time you are in danger of being bad at something, I hope you allow yourself to just go ahead and flop. I survived it and know you will too!