People have two fears, he claimed at the start of the class. Fear of public speaking and fear of dancing. I’m comfortable at a podium in front of hundreds of people. But I was scared of my salsa lesson. My anxiety soared when the statuesque Svetlana made her entrance onto the dance floor with her perfect dance shoes, short skirt, and red flower tucked into her beautifully braided hear. I was the only beginner that night, and I was about to be used as an example.
I felt like I was back in summer camp where, at the end of the week of swim lessons, the staff was so afraid I wouldn’t make it the length of the pool that they had me attempt a swim across the short end instead. Physical education was the one class that lowered my grade point average and to this day no one would want me on their softball team.
I tend to avoid activities where I’m sure to look like a fool, but I couldn’t find a way to dance myself out of this after having foolishly promised a friend —the one who never showed up that night—that I’d give this a try. After an introduction to the basic steps, I heard a long list of rules. Keep your head up. Keep your shoulders down. Keep your steps small. Don’t bounce. Connect. Smile. Breathe. Relax.
Relax? As I stood in front of the room with Svetlana, I struggled to smile as the other dancers watched me repeatedly miss a step and make wrong moves. “Again,” was the insistent instruction, while I wanted to run for the door in my shoes which by now I had been informed were better for running than dancing.
The divorce experience is full of rules, and it’s easy to miss steps and make wrong moves. Watch your budget. Complete your paperwork. Keep your children out of the conflict. There’s a lot to learn. And most people are beginners. Because more is at stake in a divorce than a dance lesson, the fear of mistake can be profound. Feeling anxious, feeling like everyone is watching, and feeling like you can’t quite get it right is all normal.
More dancers arrived at the club and I was relieved to no longer be the center of attention. As we changed partners quickly with each new instruction, no one had to suffer being mine for long. Others were kind and encouraging, asking “Are you having fun?” I smiled, hoping to hide my feelings of humiliation.
When the lesson was over I headed out into the cool October night and felt a lump in my throat. I recognized it as the same one I had 15 years ago when I completed a 500 mile bike ride across Iowa. The relief of having made it through.
I’ll take my salsa dance lessons with me as I strive to stay on my path of learning and moving forward in life. I may be inexperienced and clumsy, but I am committed to learning how to better dance through the uncomfortable times of my life. Keep your head up, keep your steps small, and breathe.