Dancing Out of My Comfort Zone
One writer reflects on how joining a summer dance group brought fulfillment to his previously stagnating routine.
I auditioned for a dance troupe this summer.
At the urging of close friends, I hesitatingly signed up for a Shebalite audition slot, scheduled for the first Sunday of the term. A hot, humid rehearsal studio with hardwood floors awaited me, complete with my own jittery image reflected in the mirrors adorning the walls. I recognized some faces but many were unfamiliar, heightening my anxiety over dancing in a space other than a crowded fraternity basement.
My only major performing arts experience consisted of a choir in high school, in which I spent my time mainly cracking jokes and scheming of ways to leave early with my equally disinterested friends. There were moments when I enjoyed choir, but the choir directors — who had the admittedly difficult task of dealing with an unruly mob of more than 50 teenage boys — left me feeling unmotivated and uninspired. I stuck to high school sports and other activities instead, accepting my lack of skill in the performing arts.
But under the guise of a certain carefree, bold attitude that seems to possess everyone during sophomore summer, I thought, “Why not try out for Shebalite?” While some have told me I have some rhythm as a dancer, others have told me I might as well resemble a flopping walrus. Here was an opportunity to best the walruses.
In the summer, many performance groups on campus open their audition doors to the rest of us — less artistically inclined students. Perhaps it is something about the joy of watching a friend struggle at something in which they so flawlessly perform. Or perhaps, less cynically, this act of generosity and inclusion affords the regular performers more time to spend with their friends — while meeting new ones — during the summer. Or maybe the open-door policy exists simply because they enjoy teaching their craft to someone else. Whatever the case, Sheba — after two sweaty, embarrassing rounds of auditions — gave me the opportunity to join Shebalite.
From the very first rehearsal, I fell in love. Dancing for four or more hours a week gave me an artistic outlet that writing could not provide. The physicality of dancing, the way I moved my body in ways it had rarely moved before and the sense of camaraderie I felt with the people around me excited me. I couldn’t wait to go to rehearsal. I still can’t wait to go to rehearsal. And don’t get it twisted — “talented” is not a word that could be used to describe my dancing. Watching the year-round members of Sheba perform intricate moves so casually during rehearsal dazzled and humbled me all at the same time. Yet the ever-present threat of weekly humiliation gave me more joy than anything I have done in a really, really long time. The mere act of conquering a new dance move, basic as they could be, exhilarated me each and every time. No one ever said you have to be good at your hobbies. And I certainly am not good at dancing.
At times here at Dartmouth, there’s a tendency to get “stuck.” Especially after a freshman year in which most clubs were limited and a sophomore fall when I attempted to fit too many activities into my routine, it has been nice to fall into a routine that I love. It’s why I chose to come to this school: the promise of community, of place. And for maybe the first time since arriving at my freshman dorm in Wheeler Hall almost one and a half years ago, this spring, I felt at home on this campus. I liked my friends, I liked what I did. At the end of spring term, I just wanted to keep doing it.
But then I joined Shebalite. In those rehearsal spaces, with sweat pouring down my back, struggling to keep up with those in front of me, I realized how much I loved stepping out of my comfort zone. Sure, with anything new, the beginning is scary. You risk humiliation, self-doubt and pain. It can be lonely, humbling and tiring beyond anything you have done before. And sometimes, it doesn’t work out. You can’t force yourself to love everything. But in those rare moments in which we surrender ourselves to something new, we open ourselves to endless possibilities.
Routine is essential: without structure, simple tasks become unmanageable chores. Brushing my teeth every morning prevents the despair and shame that would accompany the yellow teeth of my 50-year-old self. Taking 10 minutes to meditate every day lessens the anxiety that would inevitably implode without that short break. Routine provides comfort in the face of constant change, and without it, the long-term ambitions I have for myself would cease to be possible. Yet too much routine creates comfort, and comfort can create monotony. Though it may seem counterintuitive, incorporating discomfort into my routine is something I’ve found to be crucial to my mental health. It’s what keeps me feeling “unstuck.”
Our first dance performance is next Wednesday. I’m already nervous, but I guess that happens when you really care about something, something which has caused unseen muscles to ache in unimaginable ways. Part of me is excited for the reaction of my friends, many of whom would have never dared dream to see me up on a dance stage, shaking these hips like I’m Shakira herself. But the other part of me, a part that is growing each day, cannot wait to continue this journey. I’m thrilled at the prospect of fine-tuning every movement my body makes, of perfecting each twitch of my muscles to fit with the music booming around me. It’s the delight of being so consumed in the moment, so present and alive, that is already making sweat drip down my arms even as I write this. But I choose to see it as excitement, not nerves. And I hope to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, out into the places where I know I might fail. Those are the places where my body becomes alive.