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.

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