My mom often says “you’ve danced in front of thousands of people but you can’t speak in front of five.” If you asked most of my coworkers, friends and family to describe my personality, every single person polled would give much the same answer; introverted, shy, quiet, reserved.
I cannot count the number of times my mother heard some version of “Kerrin is a hardworking student, but she doesn’t say much in class,” at those dreaded parent-teacher conferences. I even had a teacher ask me very bluntly if I was “ever going to talk” in her class (needless to say, that comment did little to encourage my participation).
Although my job as a Mental Health Professional involves facilitating two to four groups a day, I loathe and fear public speaking. Sure, the bulk of my job involves talking to people, but presenting a report when I was in school or having to state an opinion in a meeting feels nothing short of terrifying. And yet, for ten wonderful years I was involved in an activity that required dedication, practice and yes, performance (in front of an actual audience)!
I started dance classes late in life — I was eight years old — and I assume it was my mother’s plan all along to try to coax me out of my shell. I don’t think she could have anticipated how much I would enjoy dancing or how much of her time would be spent driving me to and from practices and competitions over the years.
When I was nine I switched to a different dance school where I would stay until I went away to college. I started out taking tap, then tap and jazz, then tap, jazz and modern until by the time I was 15 I was studying five different styles and dancing 10 hours a week. I was not the best dancer by any stretch (pun intended) but I practiced vigorously and was chosen to be a part of the competitive team at my dance school.
I can still recall the pride I felt when trying on my very first pair of pointe shoes! I remember being ecstatic when my group was awarded first place in our category at an annual competition. There was nothing quite like the rush of waiting for the music to start before beginning the choreography that literally lives within the muscles of your body.
There might have been some anticipation before a performance, but I never gave a second of thought to how many people were watching or what their judgments might be. The world seemed to disappear when I was on the dance floor. All that mattered was the flow of movement — one skill and step into another. I had never experienced a feeling like that before and it’s unlikely I will ever be that comfortable doing anything again.
Being a dancer taught me how to work with others and trust them (no one wants to be dropped on his or her head during a lift). It taught me the importance of knowing my body and the power of expression. Dancing taught me that I could surprise myself! I could work hard and accomplish things even though I don’t say much. I could be sure of myself and recognize my talents and shortcomings all on my own. Dancing made me realize the need for passion, a driving force that propels you toward your goals.
I may be off the stage and away from the barre nowadays, but I hold those lessons close to my heart and refer to them often in my everyday life.
I can walk tall because my feet have worn a pair of tap shoes (and jazz shoes and ballet slippers and pointe shoes…).