We’ll put it this way: Even though I danced from age 3 to 18, I’m still a beginner, maybe an experienced one at best. Yes, I danced recreationally my whole childhood and took a few dance classes in college, but I was not ready for the first dance class I took at Dance 101 in Atlanta.
The struggle begins
I should’ve seen the struggle coming when the other dancers wore professional jazz shoes instead of tennis shoes or socks. I should’ve seen it coming when I was the only one who didn't anticipate the specific warm-up stretches. I should’ve seen it coming when many dancers could stretch into a split (I certainly can't).
My body hurt so much during those stretches, I thought I would surely pull a muscle. I hoped the pain was only from my lack of stretching in everyday life, and that it would keep my muscles safe later.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed the class and am excited to get back into choreographed dancing. And I also eventually learned the choreography — at least well enough. However, once we learned two eight-counts in a row and the woman in front of me danced it perfectly from the start, I realized some people taking this class probably did competition-level dance their whole childhood.
I instantly felt intimidated.
My whole body shook, especially my legs. Was I hungry? Was I anxious? Both?
I wanted to cry; I wanted to leave. I struggled to remember the choreography and didn’t see any others struggling with me. Was I in the right place? The class was for beginner and intermediate dancers, so surely I wasn’t alone in my struggle, right?
Then I remembered: This situation had happened to me before, in which I took a longer time than others to learn the choreography, but (eventually) learned it. I realized I just needed to hold on and stay afloat a little longer as we practiced more. Then, the steps would be imprinted in my mind and muscle memory.
The instructor's comfort
“This is hard stuff,” the instructor said as he replayed the song. I felt relieved. Maybe the struggle I was facing was not my inability to dance, but the fact that the dance was actually difficult. No one had called attention to that yet.
“When I learn a new dance, I always watch the teacher the first few times,” he continued. “Not watching while you dance, but just standing and watching. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn that way. And we all know the song, so that’s comforting.”
I didn’t know the song, which made me feel slightly discouraged. However, I knew I had to keep moving forward.
“Don’t look at the front row — they don’t know what they’re doing. She wasn’t here last week; she wasn’t here last week,” he repeated as he pointed to specific dancers. “This is the second week of this dance; I teach my choreography two weeks in a row.”
I sighed in relief. I finally knew the reason why so many people around me seemed to know what was going on: They had learned the dance already!
Taking the instructor's advice
I decided I’d listen to his advice and simply watch the dance one time. I wanted to learn it, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt if people noticed I was new. I stepped to the back of the room, nervous I'd be the only one doing so.
Once the dance started, though, I realized several other people also decided to stand and watch, and those people had been behind me. Maybe my perception of being the only one lagging behind was wrong.
Giving myself grace and my experience improving
Once I began dancing again, I tried to not worry about other people’s judgment every time I messed up. My mask didn’t fit, so I was thrown off by having to adjust it, and I gave myself grace in this being my first dance class in a while. My ability to give myself compassion in that way was huge: I rarely am able to, especially when I feel like I don't compare.
I also reminded myself that others are paying attention to themselves, not me, and I was doing my best. Surely the instructor and other dancers knew in a beginner-intermediate class, not everyone would have tons of experience. If they saw me as a completely new dancer, that was fine by me.
“Come on babeeeee…” the song played before we began the choreography. I moved my legs around, changing my weight from one leg to the other, mostly nervous and energized but also a little excited. I took some deep breaths and sent up a few prayers, asking God to help me remember the moves.
And that helped.
I remembered parts I hadn’t before; I kept up better than I had before. I felt hopeful, strong, and talented.
The comfort continues
While I struggled some in this dance class, I know that my experience and ability will only go up from here. I’m excited to dance again, and I’m excited to feel the same endorphin rush afterward. Plus, when I did catch on, I enjoyed dancing with sass. I felt so good about myself and the class once I finally learned parts I’d struggled with for nearly the entire time.
Further, I felt comforted when the instructor went on a tangent, asking “Why do lyrical dancers hold this pose for so long? Do something else, please. Why are your feet pointed in?… Why can’t I do that?”
This comment reminded me that even the best dancers have their struggles and insecurities and, often, our judgments come from those insecurities.
The instructor's hilarious jokes
I also have to share the funny comments the teacher made, including:
“If you hold your arms like this, the only way you’re going to make that turn is if you have a special relationship with God.”
“I could be wrong, but I’m not.” (A joke I’m sure my dad would say.)
“Where should you be on count five? It rhymes with ‘on your back foot with your arms in an L-shape.’”
“The mirror adds some pounds… Sometimes I look in the mirror and say ‘Well I didn’t know I look that hot.”
What this experience taught me
All in all, I learned that I can do hard things, that I will catch on, and that I deserve some understanding and love. I learned to acknowledge the fact that I was jumping back into something I hadn't done in a while, and I had to learn the steps much faster than I did during childhood classes.
I’m learning what it means to try something old in a new way and to give myself grace throughout it.
My gratefulness for Dance 101
I've taken those reminders with me to other dance classes at Dance 101, and it's helped. Now, I have a favorite class I attend weekly — A-Town Funk with Kevin — and I'm so thankful for my experiences there. It's a tiring, fun workout with the nicest people, and it allows me to follow my passion: dance.
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