Dancing Scared (Part 1)
“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – Theodore Roosevelt
a KjzzFuzion perspective article on dance and insecutity
Dancing is a liberating activity. However, getting to the point where nothing else matters, and where you can truly immerse yourself in the music with a partner often takes time. Complete immersion means letting go of your worries and insecurities, and for many of us, this is not an easy task.
According to many dance forums, dancers have a fear of how others perceive them. In June 2017, Joel Torgeson, an accomplished dancer and blogger, wrote about the insecurities that still haunt him. He describes himself as a “pretty confident person,” and claims that his style on the dance floor can be qualified as either “cocky” or “dancing big.” However, he has insecurities about being judged on his dancing style, not being good enough, and of falling behind. (Joel Torgeson, “Dance Insecurities: An Incomplete List.” Joeltorgeson.com, 20 June 2017.)
Some insecurities are so poignant that a person will refuse to even try something new. Johnny Depp, famous actor, director and producer, made the audience of The Ellen DeGeneres Show laugh in 2012, when he asserted that he feared dancing “more than anything in the world,” and that he would rather “swallow a bag of hair” than dance. The thought of dancing was genuinely that daunting, even for someone who makes a living in the performing arts. (The Ellen DeGeneres Show, 8 May 2012).
Is there something specific about dancing that makes people feel insecure? It can be summarized into one simple word: vulnerability. Immersing yourselves into the experience of dancing means complete, utter vulnerability. It means opening up to your partner – and the audience, when performing – and letting them see you, rather than how you want them to see you. Being genuine and sincere in your performance makes the difference between a technically good but overall boring delivery, and one that really touches the audience.
Karen Kaye, dancer since 1999, genuinely loves to dance, but letting herself be vulnerable in front of a partner is a scary prospect. She vividly describes her experience of learning to tango: “With it’s complex technique, requisite intimacy and demand for total vulnerability, tango makes people insecure. Could I get truly comfortable with being raw, vulnerable and (gasp) – imperfect in this unforgiving dance?” (Karen Kaye, “An Insecure Dancer.” Epiphany: Life, Career, Spirituality, 27 February 2017.)
Unfortunately, it is common to fear vulnerability. Emotions come with a lot of stigma and most of us have been conditioned to respond to emotions in a prescribed way. Being vulnerable means the absence of pretense and the open communication of sincere emotions. An example of this conditioning involves crying. We are taught that crying is being weak, and this is especially true for men. According to private psychologist Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D, “that crying is a sign of weakness and a reason for shame is a lesson most males learn by the time they reach adolescence. Whether by ‘swallowing tears’ or actively avoiding situations that might lead to crying, males actively suppress their emotions or express them in other ways that seem more suitable for their gender roles.” As a result, many men find it difficult to show vulnerability, seeing as they were taught from a young age that they need to project strength, not emotions nor sensitivity. (Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., “A Crying Shame: When Is Crying Allowed in Boys and Girls?” Psychology Today, 4 November 2013.)
According to Vitelli, it’s not easier for women to show vulnerability either. The pressure of gender-role expectations is felt by both males and females. In most cultures, sadness is considered an unacceptable emotion for men, while anger is frowned upon when expressed by women. The prescription is for the genders to appear in control, strong, and composed which makes it challenging to be open with your emotions.
On the dance floor, this translates into some dancers constantly comparing themselves to other dancers. These dancers tend to erect a façade to hide the less desirable aspects of their true selves. They do everything to hide those flaws that haunt and taunt them. Letting go of that façade emotes a lot of anxiety, but it is necessary, not only to allow these dancers to deliver great performances, but also to open them to the truly liberating effects of dancing.
This is one of the many paradoxes of dancing: in order to feel liberated, you need to first expose yourself to the anxiety of letting others see you. The real you.