My parents put us in dance classes when I was four. At my first recital, I walked out on stage, clad in my red sequins and some messy feather headpiece, ready to dance to “76 Trombones.” But then I looked around, waiting for the music to begin, my cue to start tapping.
I was horrified to discover this wasn’t dance class anymore, where I got to stare at myself in the safe mirrored room. Instead I was facing hundreds of people — all of them strangers — who had the luxury of sitting in a comfortable, dark seat while my forehead itched under the lights and sequins. No one told me this is what performing would be like. I burst into tears.
The music started, but I couldn’t stop crying. All around me, my friends were shuffling and flapping, feathers flying in their eyes. But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get over the tragedy of being unprepared for an audience. Finally, someone crept out on stage to escort me off. (My twin sister stayed, unaffected by my tears.)
Somehow, luckily, I got over that. I continued dancing for another decade and never had stage fright like that again, which I like to believe set me up for a lifetime of being mostly unafraid of public speaking, but that’s just a theory.
This week I went back to my roots. Remember the “Friends” episode where Monica goes to a tap class to confront the woman who’s stolen her identity? Ever since then, I told myself I’d go back to an adult tap class, especially once I moved to New York. Well, I’ve been here for 11 years now. It was time.
Back I went into the safe mirrored room, lined with a barre and a sense of purpose. When I was around nine I was named a Baby Starlet at my dance school and got a tap scholarship, which meant I got to attend class with the older girls who, at the time, felt like superstars, with their long legs and high-heeled tap shoes. I stood at the barre with them every week, my pride at leaving my peers behind helping to hold up my head just a little higher. Smokey Robinson would blare from the overhead speakers and we would warm up, leg by leg, ligament by ligament. When the tap instructor this week turned on Stevie Wonder from an old-fashioned boom box in the corner, it felt almost the same, like this was it, I had come full circle.
I’m in the middle of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (who isn’t?!) and she writes about the quote that most resonates with her, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?,” and I guess my answer is, I’d tap.
So here I am, new tap shoes in hand.