Why is it so hard for people (including myself) to dance in public? Dancing in front of others ranks right up there with public speaking in terms of common fears. If you are afraid to do this and have not read or watched videos of Brene Brown, I highly suggest them. A great place to start is her Netflix special, “A Call to Courage.” The easiest and fastest way to get out of the fear center is to face it and with dancing, I think it is the idea of letting ourselves be seen; being vulnerable.

I have had a love affair with dancing all my life, but it has been stifled by self-consciousness. Most recently, I have been heavily involved in dance fitness since 2018 and it has given me so much joy, fun, presence, physical well-being and most of all, confidence. Encouraged, I have invited and suggested so many other people try dance fitness, but the answer is usually no. “I don’t have rhythm.” “I cannot dance without alcohol.” “I am too out of shape.” I get it. I have felt all of these things. Yet I know the freedom that comes with letting go and literally dancing your cares away.

My love of dancing stems probably from my earliest childhood memories of joy and freedom of expression. Dancing around my grandparents’ house, I was coined, “the girl who would not sit down.” Was I any good? Probably not. Was it the most fun and alive feeling in my childhood? Definitely.

Then pretty quickly I realized I was overweight and the more self-conscious I grew about that fact in our “never thin enough culture,” the less I danced and the less alive I felt in all areas of my life. I wanted to hide until I could lose weight, but unable to do so, I carried the shame of my inferior body image around everywhere which exhausted me and stole my joy. Needless to say, I stopped dancing. I did not dance again until college came along with alcohol riding shotgun.

Alcohol seemed to liberate me, albeit temporarily, from my self-consciousness and shame, and I would go out dancing with friends. I was not sober for any of those occasions, but it was enough joy to lead to dancing alone at home sans alcohol which reminded me of childhood. Apart from infrequent nights out drinking and dancing with friends though, dancing did not really become part of my life again until 2018 when I took my first Zumba class. From Zumba to Cardio Funk to Pound (not really dancing, but produces a similar effect) my life changed forever.

Not only did I lose 40 pounds; I lost untold pounds of insecurity, lack of confidence and the stifling weight of fear and self-consciousness. I did not lose these things permanently, but I lost them while in my classes. For those hours, I was free. While it did not “fix” my emotional struggles, it has consistently chipped away at them and helped me be far more brave in my everyday life. One particularly empowering aspect of dance fitness has been the empowerment of learning, as an adult, to dance sober. One particularly “feel good” aspect of dance fitness as a woman has been dancing in sneakers vice high heels (so much more comfortable).

Funny thing though…despite returning to my love of dancing and increased confidence, I am seeing someone now and I have been terribly afraid to dance in front of him. In a class of strangers, I have grown comfortable, but in front of him I am full of fear. Why? I am particularly vulnerable to him. I want him to like me. I want him to love me. If the other people in my class do not like me or I make a fool of myself, the harm is little, but I really care what he thinks.

Yet here is the rub. I do not want him to love me pretending to be perfect. I want him to love the real me. The authentic, vulnerable, imperfect, silly, happy, goofy girl. I guess it comes down to this: Do I believe the real me deep down is worthy of love in spite of all her imperfection? At the same time, in love, connection is key. If I am not really letting me be me, how could love between us actually grow?

To dance is to be vulnerable, free, unique, and personal, even in collective choreography. To dance is to show up and let yourself be seen. It is exactly that which makes dance so liberating and ripe with empowerment. If you can dance, without alcohol, in front of others, freely and with reckless abandon, you are living a wholehearted life. If you can do this, you can do anything.

So obviously I am not there yet. I also did not start out any differently than you might imagine you would feel dancing in a class full of strangers for the first time, out of shape and not knowing any of the choreography. I felt extremely self-conscious and like it was really hard trying to catch onto the moves and keep up with everyone. It was NOT natural.

Thank God I did it anyway though long enough to see progress and growing enjoyment as well as all the other benefits. I kept showing up until I really knew the moves and then I experienced glowing empowerment as I performed them in each class. I did so until I made so much progress that I could laugh at myself when I messed up. For a self-conscious soul, being able to laugh at yourself is a major step. The empowerment of dance fitness has spilled over in every area of my life.

Though I may still be far too insecure and worry what this new man will think of me, I would guess that I never would have begun dating this amazing man had I not taken up dance fitness. I would still be hiding in my shell feeling “not good enough.” I have come a long way since 2018. I know, without a doubt, I am worthy of love.

You, my friend, are worthy of love. You are worthy of expressing yourself freely, creatively, physically and joyfully without any substance chemically lowering your inhibitions. Do you feel stifled by fear of vulnerability? Try dance fitness. I dare you. Not there yet? Dance alone at home. Turn up the music and let go. How does it make you feel?

Also, if you still feel hesitant, let me tell you this. My writing this today is not random. This is on my mind because I have dance class this morning and I invited this new man. Oh, mother of pearl, talk about nervousness. Can I actually do class with him there?! What was I thinking? I am kind of freaking out right now. I invited him for a reason though. I want him to see the real me. I want to be comfortable and real in front of him. Dancing is as real as it gets for me. We’ll see what happens. In addition, today is my wedding anniversary. I married my late husband nine years ago today. He was my soulmate and loved me unconditionally. He died six years ago in Afghanistan.

No one would be surprised if I spent today in bed crying or sulking on the couch over a pint of ice cream. My husband has been dead twice as long as we were married. Ugh. Yet I am not falling apart, though I know I could if I need to and sometimes do. Instead I am doing what Brene Brown and Theodore Roosevelt called “daring greatly” by letting my vulnerable self be seen and showing up in a very real way. To be continued…

Dancing through my insecurity,

Nikola Rosa