When I was in high school, I had a morbid fear of dancing. I still remember being at the MLC formal in 1996, girls attempting to coax me onto the dance floor, and I'd sit on the sidelines shaking my head furiously. Even when everybody was moshing to the Smashing Pumpkins, and pelvic-thrusting to the Grease Megamix.
Fear is the best way of describing it. Performance anxiety is another. I didn't know the rules. What if I didn't do it right, and looked like an idiot? I wouldn't know where to start.
In hindsight, I wish somebody had explained to me that nobody on the dance floor cared about any of that, and that I should get over myself. I eventually realised this, about the same time that I started going to goth nightclubs, and started dancing like I was practicing martial arts to the soundtrack of The Cure, Depeche Mode, and The Prodigy. The dance floor at Abyss nightclub was my dojo.
Flashforward ten years - to 18 months ago. I start dating a swing dancer. Every few weeks, she was off to an exchange, and I figured that, it being something that she was keen on, that I would learn to swing dance. In secret. I figured that, in a month or two, I'd learn enough to be able to sweep her off her feet, Frankie Manning aerial style.
Firstly, the "learning in secret" thing didn't exactly work - I seriously underestimated the incestuous nature of the swing dancing scene, and after a few near-misses (i.e. "No, I've never met her before. Especially not at a dancing class"), I 'fessed up.
Secondly, whilst I was nailing the moves in class, with the teachers calling out the moves, social dancing was a completely different story. I remember my first social dance. I walked into the room, with my repertoire of six-beat tuck-turns and pass-bys, and it was the MLC formal all over again. With me sitting on the sidelines, shaking my head whenever somebody asked for a dance. Occasionally, I'd be brave enough, and those three-and-a-half minutes would last forever, perpetually worried that this girl would hate me for my bad dancing.
The thing is this - when you're a lead, you need to dance for two people. Not only did I have to look good, but I also had to make my follow look good by leading her well. It was just "too scary" - what if I screwed up? The crazy thing is that I wasn't scared of performing. Here's a video of me at the performance ball in October last year. (In the front right)
I wasn't social dancing then.
It took me a good six months until I became brave enough to social dance "properly". Learning 8-beat helped a lot.
However, the fear has still been there for the year that has transpired since then. The Fear of Dancing has mutated into a subset - Fear of Dancing with People who are Really Good. (I also have a Fear of Blues Dancing, but I'll blog about that another time.)
And the most terrifying of all - being asked to dance by a teacher.
Moving to Japan has helped me face my fears somewhat. It helps that I really don't know what level a lot of dancers are at. It helps that I'm now dancing in a social dancing scene that isn't dominated by a skill-based hierarchy (which was the case in Melbourne) with teachers at the top, then the various troupes, then "mid-stream" students, then beginners.
However, being a traveller, I feel like I'm finally free from the fear. I can just get on with enjoying the dance, without worrying about whether my follow will be underwhelmed by my leading.
At least, so I thought, until this week, with a visit to Osaka by amazing guest teachers Patrick and Natasha. I loved the friendliness and enthusiasm with which they embraced the scene, and danced with everybody... that is, until it was my turn again!
And the fear struck, once again! Of course, I accepted the dance, but I was too preoccupied with rising panic to really enjoy it. Will I ever be free?
Finally, a similar concern is how I'll feel if/when I return to the Melbourne scene. All my peeps that I started out with will have blossomed into troupe members, whilst my skills will have atrophied through months of travel, devoid of dancing. They will have evolved into the dreaded subset of my dance-a-phobia.
I may never dance again.
Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking the whole thing. After all, it's just dancing, right?