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5 Steps to Conquering Your Fear of Dancing

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Chorophobia or fear of dancing in front of other people, who will obviously be pointing and laughing, is a real thing for many people. I have long suffered from this condition which can make weddings, clubs, and other festive occasions even worse than they already are. Sometimes even an open bar is not enough to banish the fear monkeys.

For me the whole mess began at my very first school dance. Imagine, if you will, a  junior high cafeteria still smelling of grease and disinfectant. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a disco ball. Giant speakers blare pop music to get our 13- and 14-year-old feet moving. We have been anticipating this event for weeks and all feel incredibly cool to be at a real school dance.

Kids begin to move away from the walls, traveling in tight amoeba-like shapes and dancing shyly side by side. I’m one of those kids who doesn’t have a set group, so I move out into the center of the floor and begin to jump up and down to the beat with a big silly grin on my face. I love the lights and the music and being surrounded by all my friends.

The next day I learned I had made a terrible mistake.

My friends asked why I was dancing alone. What was wrong with me?

The back of my neck flushed and I felt two inches tall. I was super embarrassed that I had done something so stupid all night long (with brief punch breaks). I swore I would never do anything like that again.

And for a long time I didn’t.

I did dance again, but it was never the same. I never felt the same sense of freedom and wild abandon. And then during high school some African American girls, who I considered to be experts on all things rhythmic, mocked my feeble attempts and that was that. My tiny dancer got tinier and tinier. I would dance if I had to, but unless I was drinking a lot I always held back and felt a thousand judgemental eyeballs from all the years watching me.

Recently I’ve gotten super tired of lugging around all this dancing baggage from my past and decided it was time to do some unpacking. I was tired of dancing like everyone was watching, even though I knew logically they weren’t (Okay, probably 10% of them were, but fuck them anyway). If I was having fun and not injuring anyone then it was none of their goddamn business.

I wanted to get over my dancing shame, but I needed a process, so I decided to make one up. Here’s what I came up with:

Step 1: Face the Music

Facing the music so fiercely! (image from CBS)

Admit it’s a thing and try to figure out where it comes from. For me it was some traumatic teenage experiences, but for you it could be something totally different. Knowing exactly where your dancing shame comes from can help you be more forgiving with yourself. Use this knowledge to pick a mantra that will counteract the negative self-talk you’ve indulged in for all these years and help create a new story with a happier ending. Mine is, “I’m a grown ass woman and this is fun!” which is what I repeat over and over to myself as I bounce around like Tigger on speed.

Step 2: Set a Deadline

If you really want to lick this fear you have to commit yourself to getting into a social dancey situation. I had a costume dance party coming up in a couple of months that I decided was going to be the culmination of my dancing vision quest and the happy ending of the imaginary dance themed movie I was filming in my head.

Step 3: Find a Teacher

Have you bought into the myth that great dancers are born not made? That is a load of crap. Dancing, just like reading, is a skill that takes practice and a fair amount of feeling awkward before the magical groove fairy visits.

Street dancing Barry “GRIZ” Rabkin is my dancing Mr. Miyagi. I regularly stream his sweet face and fancy feet into my computer and he teaches me club dance moves in the comfort and privacy of my room. GRIZ never judges me, is always encouraging and doesn’t mind when I ask him to show me simple moves over and over again. And yeah, I talk back to him sometimes, but he doesn’t mind that either. Together we practice different moves from his basic club dancing video and then I put them together in weird combinations for my cat. I’m pretty sure she’s into it.

Step 4: Practice. Practice. Practice

Practicing in low-stress situations is the key to finally getting the fear monkeys off your back and finding your own personal rhythm bunnies. In the comfort of my living room I can get used to moving in different ways, screwing up and finding the beat again and trying weird moves that my chiropractor would probably be against. And yes at first I felt like my couch was judging me, but after a while that self consciousness subsided and I started to get my groove on.

I also tried to take a few low stress group classes just to get myself used to shaking my thing with other people around. I had the comforting realization that most people were so concerned with their own shaking parts that they didn’t even notice mine. Also, watch a lot of inspiring dance movies and steal their moves. The training montages and hot dancers will help keep you motivated.

Step 5: Use a Fun Management System

For me this was starting slow and not pressuring myself to get out on the dance floor right away with the most enthusiastic people who have been dying to get their freak on. I watched everyone a bit and really looked at their faces and body language. This helped me ensure myself that they weren’t the judge monkeys of my youth but friendly, accepting people. Then if I started to get self conscious I’d make myself smile really big and do one of my favorite moves (a triple bongo drum hip thrust, if you’re wondering).

My mantra also helped me check in with reality. I wasn’t at a junior high school dance with a bunch of cattty tweens. I was at a super supportive, radically inclusive love fest where people were getting down and supporting the hell out of each other. When I started to go back to my sad, old story I would look around at all the smiling bouncing faces around me and remind myself where I really was. This was helpful.

So if you want to shake off your sad dancing shackles and start getting jiggy with it try my super sweet system. You’ll be dancing like a B-boy or girl in no time and inspiring others to let their dancing freak flags fly too.

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Heather Robinson - Artisanal Trouble Maker

Heather Robinson - Artisanal Trouble Maker

Heather Robinson has been doing stupid stuff in San Francisco for almost 10 years. She loves dive bars, typewriters, and creative people. Buy her a beer and she'll solve all your problems.