Creative Breakthrough: how I learned to dance

I was driving yesterday, stuck in traffic, and I don’t know why but I found myself remembering the process of how I learned to love dancing. And it occurred to me that it might be a good story to share, because it involves overcoming fear and awkwardness and that is so central to all our creative journeys, whether they involve dancing or not.

So here it is! The story of my creative breakthrough as a dancer:

… IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE WATCHING THE VIDEO, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I love to dance now, but I didn’t always feel that way. For many years I was super self conscious about my dancing. I felt like I didn’t move right, I didn’t get it, I thought I danced like a white girl and that was not a good thing, so whenever I was in a situation where dancing was called for I moved as little as possible and got out of there as soon as I could.

Of course when I was a kid I loved dancing. Every kid I’ve met has loved to dance, and it seems to be a natural reaction to hearing music they like, their bodies just move. So yeah, I loved dancing when I was five but by the time I was ten I was crippled with self-consciousness. And I think this is true for a lot of us, we hit adolescence and we get self conscious, we don’t trust our bodies, we feel like we don’t look right or talk right or move right, so we spend a lot of our energy hiding, and that’s what I did. I can remember standing at the edge of the gym during school dances, arms crossed, terrified and annoyed and waiting for the whole thing to be over.

For me, two things changed this, and I’m so glad they did. they were pretty random.

One of them was this one time at band camp – yes, this is a real story about band camp – when I was about 13. There was some sort of a dance we all had to go to, which normally I hated, but because I was at band camp, there was a freedom to be someone different, to explore different sides of myself. And I felt safe with my new friends and we were all outside our normal lives, so for some reason, the song Rockin Robin came on and I had a reaction of total love for that song and my inner five year old busted out and I started dancing like I was on fire.

And it was really clear to me in that moment that when I loved the music, I loved dancing. It didn’t carry over – I didn’t go home and love dancing from that moment on – but that awareness stuck with me, the joy I felt shedding my self consciousness in that moment.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I was hanging out in someone’s dorm room with some new friends. Somehow this girl I didn’t know very well and I got to talking about dancing, and I said, I don’t feel comfortable dancing, I don’t get it, I can’t do it. And she decided right then and there to give me a dance lesson. She put on some music and for about 30 minutes she watched me dance and pointed out to me what I was doing that made me look like stiff and uncomfortable and showed me some moves and helped me get comfortable enough to try them myself.

And I can remember the big aha moment: I thought the problem with my dancing was my flailing, awkward, hopelessly uncoordinated limbs, and my response was to bring them in and move them as little as possible. But she was like, you are barely moving! You gotta get in your body more, really move your body. Your arms and legs don’t matter, what matters is that your hips are moving. Let your arms and legs follow the core of your body.

OH! I’d been so fixated on what not to do, I hadn’t noticed what was missing, And she showed me what that meant, she drew my attention to my hips, and I had time and space to try it out and look stupid and hesitant and practice moving boldly and feeling foolish and laughing at myself and there was nothing humiliating about it. And by the end of those 30 minutes, I felt like I got it. Enough that the next time I was in a situation where dancing in public was called for, I felt confident moving to the music and realized: this is fun! This is a fun way to spend time with people! If I liked someone else’s moves, I could copy them. If the music didn’t speak to me, I could sit it out and jump up when a song I loved came on. I lost my self-consciousness, and now after 20 years of dancing I can say, I am a very confident dancer. This doesn’t mean I’m a good dancer necessarily – I think I am, but in the end it really doesn’t matter – because I like dancing.

When I look back on it, this is such a metaphor for any kind of creativity. You need time and space to move through that awkward phase, to do it badly, to do it wrong, to look stupid, to flail your arms, to hit the wrong note, to draw a shaky line, to write a meandering sentence. And the irony is, when you give yourself that room to do it fully and badly – that is how you move to rocking it.

I’d love to know if you had a formative experience, with dancing or any form of creative expression. What led to your breakthrough?

And if you’d like to join me for a six week process of breakthroughs and creating and failing and practicing being bold in a safe and loving space, the very first online version of my creative magic workout starts April 3! Wooooooo!

Here’s some Dr. John for you to dance along to:

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