Dancing out of my comfort zone

I’ve always loved to dance but these days the opportunity rarely arises (apart from the occasional spin around the kitchen when a favourite song comes on the radio) – so when a new friend mentioned that she goes to dance classes at Pineapple studios my enthusiasm for dance bubbled up a fresh. “Ooh I’ve always fancied doing a dance class at Pineapple” I said with my head full of scenes from the Kids from Fame with leg warmers and starry smiles. “Well come along next time I go” she replied.  After a bit of to-ing and fro-ings with diaries we settled on a date and picked a class that fitted in with timings. The class we chose was called “Street Jazz” and was advertised as being for beginners. On the planned evening, a wild and rainy November night, I met my friend at the dance studio and we made our way past the various dance classes that were in progress – tap dance in one room, ballet in another, until we arrived at our studio where the class before ours, a Hip Hop class, was just finishing up. “Wow, I said to my friend, check out their moves – they are really good” and I started to chuckle with nervous anticipation at what our class may have in store.

Once in the studio we positioned ourselves at the back of the class, suddenly being aware that we were definitely a couple of the groups more mature participants. “Age is only a thing if you make it a thing” I tell myself “we’re just here to have some fun learning some new dance moves”. With some warm-up exercises the class begins. “Well this is great” I smile to myself as we leap through various steps and jumps. The brief warm up complete, we moved on to the routine, following the guidance of our beanie clad instructor: “OK we begin with two steps – left over right, right over left, next shift your weight onto you right leg and onto your left, then do a swing step to the left and  jump back” “Everyone got that? Yes? Great – now let’s add the arms….”. Concentrating hard, I walk through the moves, following the more accomplished dancers in front of me. Just as I’ve vaguely mastered the first step sequence the instructor energetically shouts out “Right – looks like you’ve got that – ready to speed it up?”. “Well, no actually” I think to myself “I could do with going through it a couple of more times to get it off pat – but I’m sure I’ll pick it up”. Meanwhile it looks like everyone else has grasped the moves as they dance rhythmically to the racy Britney Spears track.

“OK – time to add the next part of the sequence” yells out the instructor and the same process as before is repeated, then repeated and repeated again. With each new phase of steps and movements that are added in I get more and more behind and become increasingly frustrated, displaying a dance style which is more Funky Gibbon circa 1973 than edgy street jazz. “Come on Sarah – you can do this” I tell myself “this is fun, it really doesn’t matter that you’re a little behind on the moves, it’s all about trying a new experience” but I’m not really convincing myself and my enthusiastic smile begins to change in to a slightly forced grin. I look across at my pal who is focusing hard on mastering the sequence – we exchange wry smiles and laugh at the sight of each other struggling to keep up with the pace and the complexity of the class.

That’s when it occurs to me – this feeling of frustration, the grumpy voice in my head that is starting to say “well this is ridiculous – why doesn’t the instructor slow down so we can master the moves etc etc” – these things are all part and parcel of the experience of being outside my comfort zone, all part of the discomfort of trying to learn something new. As I reflect back on it now on it now I realise that as adults we tend to be unwilling to put ourselves in situations which may feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, preferring to stay in the relative safety of activities where we perceive ourselves to be experts – and often where we can look good. (Research from the fields of psychology and social science from the likes of Robert Yerkes and Alasdair White highlight the human preference to want to stay in areas of relative comfort and psychological safety rather than engage in activities that increase levels of anxiety).

From my perspective the cost of being unwilling to step out of our comfort zone is that we miss out on so many rich experiences and interactions – in the words of Albert Einstein “When you stop learning you start dying”. Yes it felt pretty embarrassing to be so rubbish at street dance (especially when we did the dance-off at the end – oh the humiliation!) but hey, no one ever died of embarrassment did they? I think of all the upsides of this experience – the bonding experience of having made a bit of an idiot of myself with a new friend, the inspiration of seeing new, talented dancers in the studio and the laughter – both the reminder of the importance of being able to laugh at myself as well the opportunity to make other people laugh as I share my story.

So will I be going back to Pineapple studios I hear you ask? You bet I will – I hear the Funky Gibbon is coming back into fashion!

Wishing you all the best


Boldly-Go Leadership & Team Coaching

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