Living Out the “Do One Thing That Scares You” Advice

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing each day that scares you.” Last week I did one thing that scared me: I attended an introductory hip-hop dance class.

Who doesn’t want to dance better? Is it possible to watch this flash mob at Ole Miss dancing to Jai Ho without wanting to be teleported to that cafeteria and join in? Or watch my Spanish teachers in Santiago perform their rendition of Shakira’s Waka-Waka without cheering them on? (The official version was watched 70 million times in one month.) Still, the thought of letting it loose on a real dance floor makes many a heart pound — including mine. Heeding Roosevelt’s dictum, though, I added “hip hop dance class” to my June to-do list.

On the appointed night, I put on my Nike Air Max gray sneakers, my gray sweatpants which I’ve owned for 8 years, and my Air Force Academy gray hooded sweatshirt. (Hood up. Obviously.) I made my way over to the Bellavista neighborhood not sure what to expect. I found the building, pre-paid $10 for the one-hour class and waited nervously in the locker room area. Because I was taller than the walls of both the women’s and men’s locker room, I stood in the hallway with my head politely down, and gathered my composure, B-Rabbit style.

The dance room looked like a yoga studio except the speakers were big and blaring and the front mirror stretched wall-to-wall. Each of the 20 students found a place in the room. Without any introductory remarks, the teacher turned on loud dance music and began to lead us in stretches. Five minutes later we began to go step-by-step through a choreographed dance to a generic dance beat.

Almost immediately, I fell behind. Having never taken a dance class or in any way moved my body to a beat, I was lumbering, awkward, inflexible, and incompetent. While I can usually handle myself on a dance floor where there are no rules, keeping up with the (mostly) girls around me who moved briskly through each choreographed stage was impossible. If I wasn’t a step or two behind everyone else, I was instead frozen as I had forgotten the next step in the sequence. I was quite clearly the worst in the class.

As I sat at KFC afterwards reflecting on the class, a few thoughts crossed my mind. First, I knew I’d get a blog post out of the night, which tends to justify most new experiences. Second, there are not many things I do where I am truly the worst. I wouldn’t call it “humbling” — the most cliche of lessons these days, isn’t it? — but hip hop dance did put me out of my comfort zone and generated feelings of frustration I haven’t felt for years. Finally, I’m confident that if I took 5-10 classes I could become halfway decent. There’s a lesson in here about the power of practice.

Bottom Line: As we get older we tend to do stuff we already know we’re good at. Experimenting outside this zone of competence can be fun, mind-expanding, and even a bit scary.

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One year ago I received an epic, unforgettable Chinese massage in Beijing. The short version of a Chinese massage is you’re thrown into a co-ed room with others, the lights are bright, you lie on a futon naked, an overweight old woman comes in and slaps your ass, stuffs her fingers into your ears, pounds your head with clenched fists, grabs your balls, gives you scalding hot tea halfway through, and then 10 seconds after she finishes she hands you a feedback form to fill in on what you thought of the experience.

Strictly for purposes of comparison, over the weekend I got one-hour massage in Santiago. Not everything in Chile is cheap, but some things like apartments and lunch menus can be had at third world prices. Apparently massages too: USD $14 for an hour! The basic Chilean massage is more dignified than the Chinese. Suave music in the background, a dark room, a gentle masseuse. The only oddity was that the massuse didn’t touch my quads or buttocks — two of the largest muscle groups on the body. Instead, she obsessed with my feet. I happen to have very ticklish toes and feet. When she grabbed them, I left my meditative state, started sweating, and gripped the massage table. My leg convulsed with every touch. None of this dented her enthusiasm. In the face of such stress, all of my usted conjugations escaped me, so I said nothing except curse under my breath. I’m 0-2 with massages the last two years.

12 Responses to Living Out the “Do One Thing That Scares You” Advice

  1. DaveJ says:

    Re massage: time to go to Sweden.

  2. Lindsay says:

    the question is: are you going to keep taking 5-10 more hip hop classes?

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    I'm going to focus on one dance to learn, choreograph, and videotape!

  4. Jüri Saar says:

    I have nothing but respect for a man, who lives his beliefes…even if it takes him to a hip-hop dance class, that’s way out of his comfort zone.

  5. Ziqi Koey says:

    I picked up Argentine Tango four months ago. The moment I stepped into a dance studio, I felt like I didn’t belong, and the intimidation factor was simply overwhelming.

    Dance for me, too, was an entirely new world.Argentine Tango was the first dance I ever picked up.

    Now I’m feeling the same intimidation factor everytime I step into milongas (social Tango dance events)

    You have now given me the inspiration to write a blog post about my own experience in Tango and Milongas. Thanks!

  6. Mark says:

    Atta baby Ben!

    You need a dance name…and your B-Rabbit imagery has us halfway there. Can anyone think of a mammal that looks like a giant rabbit?

  7. Chris Yeh says:

    I sense a new career for you–backup dancer. Watch out, Kevin Federline!

  8. jil says:

    i have no trouble following Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice, everything scares me from early exams, show jumping, hunting etc. marathons, competing agility with my dogs, taking Japanese classes etc. etc. Yet I keep terrifying myself, As a more stoic friend says, at least my life is always exciting. Having a Chinese massage would finish me off though. And no one touches my feet!

  9. Bryan Taylor says:

    “You must do everything that frightens you, JR. Everything. I’m not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you’re going to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life, I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all of your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you’ll have against fear? Follow it. Steer by it. Don’t think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder — your Natty Bumppo.”
    –“The Tender Bar”

  10. Nicholas MacDonald says:

    Sounds like you went to the wrong place for your massage! I’ve been going to spas for massages for over two years now in Shanghai and never had one like that. :)

    Though I totally agree with your advice. Do things that scare you- regularly.

  11. Kevin Cassidy says:

    Had the same experience as Ben and Zigi when I took up swing and salsa three years ago. It struck me at the end of my first lesson that it was the first new thing I’d asked my body to learn since the layup. I was surprised that two weekly lessons were requiring more attention and were wearing out my brain more than my engineering job. It was a great cranium jump start.

    My experience was that the first lesson is very hard, the subsequent beginning lessons are strange in that you start picking some things up much more quickly than you would have thought, followed by a plateau of frustration where you don’t get why you aren’t picking up even more moves more quickly. But somewhere along the way, you find that you can access moves more easily, that you can watch someone else dance and do what they did, mix and match to create movement…and that’s when you’re doing art, and it is wonderful.

  12. Jessica says:

    This post was great reading for me because lately I’ve been thinking about how different people have such different comfort zones. I’m in the midst of entering the corporate world fresh out of university and found it useful to focus on things I wasn’t nervous to do each time I walked, decked out to the nines, into a fancy, glossy series of hallways where I hope to work.
    The thing is, dance classes are one of the places I am most comfortable, due to about 20 years of dancing (nearly my entire life)! Knowing that I’m also perfectly comfortable with public speaking, meeting and greeting strangers, dealing with tiny children, and doing my own home improvements makes me remember that these are some things that a lot of other people don’t like doing. Perhaps that person who sails into an interview without a second thought isn’t as sure of herself in another situation. It was a great reminder to me that it can be hard to be strong in each area and that we each have our own powerful moments. Doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to even that balance out though!

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