People dance for all sorts of reasons: for exercise, for fun, to make a career of it, to meet people, to feel sexy/beautiful/handsome, etc.  In the same way, dancing is something different to everyone: a sport, a hobby, a competition, a job, a performance, etc., etc. The lists are unending.

For me, dance is a way to express myself outside of words, and with it make a connection between me and my partner. Despite what others see, feel, or interpret when we dance, there’s a conversation of body language only he and I will have. Although dance is largely considered an extroverted pursuit, in this way I find introversion and intimacy. Yes it is still mostly extroversion in that it’s an outward expression, but it’s just for me and my partner. I’m not performing for the others on the floor.

I love watching dance. Especially when it’s someone or a couple I know, and my heart just swells up with pride for them. I find it entertaining and inspiring, giving me ideas and motivations for my own dancing. But for the above reasons, amongst others, I’m not a performance dancer. I’m a social dancer. To perform feels like I’m sharing something personal usually just meant for between two people. To do so takes a great deal of openness, confidence, and presence to which I’m simply not accustomed and never feels quite right when I try.

Regardless, dance is still one of the “performance arts.” While most people agree that no one is really watching you on the dance floor, it still happens. Usually it’s my friends or teacher telling me how well my tango is coming along or to laugh with me at some mishap they happened to catch. Once even, an innocent ask turned into an impromptu show as people started cheering when the host lead me out onto an empty dance floor.

But this isn’t about performing on the social floor. From what I’ve observed, people generally frown upon that as a break in social etiquette anyway. This is about actually performing. I once said my lessons are strictly for social ballroom, but that’s not strictly true. As I’m writing this, my teacher and I are preparing for an in-house performance at our studio: an opportunity for all the students to demonstrate what they’ve learned and the teachers what they offer. It’s a very popular event, the last being standing room only, and helps bring in new students. It will be my second.

All previous reasons aside, I get terrible stage fright. Terrible enough that everyone was genuinely and deeply concerned for me at that first performance. Terrible enough that my teacher came to sit with me and talk me down after just the dress rehearsal. Terrible enough that I almost stumbled in my entrance, my knees were shaking so bad. So why on earth, after going through all of that, would I go through a second performance?

That’s a good question, and one I’m glad doesn’t boil down to peer pressure (which may or may not have played a role in getting me to agree to the first). Truth is, I began looking forward to our second performance before we even made it to the first. Nothing makes me push myself harder and keeps me more focused than a goal or deadline to work towards, and though I was freaking out over the looming performance, I was learning faster than ever. My teacher also pushes me harder, using our performance to lure me further and further outside my comfort zone. I was also having so much fun learning a routine and choreography, and the story our routine told gave me the chance to get outside my head and into a role completely unlike myself. When that performance was over, I was relieved, more than a little high-wired, and also somewhat sad. I miss that routine. I miss practicing it. Sometimes I wonder what it would look like now, how I could make it better.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the next routine so much I’m practically jumping out of my skin. I love the song, I love the dance, and this time around I understand more of what’s going on that we can bounce ideas off each other. We’ve already started covering those parts that get me so flustered and frustrated and emotionally drained, parts that require me to be much more extroverted than I really am, and I know it’s going to be my biggest challenge to date. But we’ve also covered all those moves that has me saying “Let’s do that again!” and secretly bouncing on my toes. I’m barely even thinking about the actual performance, there’s so many other bridges to cross first. And that’s what’s going to get me there.