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I needed more silliness in my life, so I took up tap dancing

By Imogen Bole


Learning how to step-ball-change made me happier than any "self-improvement" resolutions.


Telling someone to “grow up” is terrible advice. We spend our graduate lives so focused on career progression, comparing ourselves to our friends and trying to “boss life” (whatever that awful phrase really means), that we sacrifice silliness. Our New Year’s resolutions - Dry Jan, Veganuary or gruelling work-out regimes - become projects for self-improvement. We’re so focused on growing up that we lose the ability to do something for the sheer pleasure of it, to simply play. That’s why I chose to start a mid-year resolution in 2019 and take up something completely out of my comfort-zone. 


I chose to start something that doesn’t help me in my career or in my personal life; I chose to start tap dancing.


Like most of us - especially those going through a quarterlife crisis - I am hugely self-critical, competitive (with myself), and I don’t like being bad at things. Apparently, this is so common among our generation that a survey has found a third of under 35s are too self-conscious to even join a gym. 


Our fear of looking stupid is stopping us trying new things. 


But failure is a vital part of life, as is gaining confidence in anything we turn our hand to, including doing something playful or silly. Dr. René Proyer, who is Professor of Psychology at the University of Halle (Germany), has conducted numerous studies into what he terms, "adult playfulness". Proyer draws a link between playfulness and "subjective well-being". Being playful in your outlook on life means that you might approach a situation differently, be it getting over a break-up or revising for an exam. Playfulness can also intensify a love of learning in activities you do. 

Adopting a playful outlook on life can enhance learning, inspire creativity and even contribute to academic and professional achievements. 


I certainly found this to be the case (inadvertently) with tap. Tap dancing freed me of any inhibitions, took the pressure for perfection off and actually made me more fearless in future choices.


My journey started one Saturday afternoon in July, when I wandered into my local town and signed myself up for evening tap classes. Afterwards, I went by the dance shop where, after dodging the herd of six-year-olds in tutus, I successfully swiped a pair of tap shoes. I was ready. I was feeling confident. For some reason, having the gear makes us feel like we have either done the work or are wildly more qualified for it than we were before. Anyone who’s felt better spending a lazy day on the sofa because they’re wearing yoga leggings rather than trackies knows what I’m talking about.


Having done a bit of research about tap – largely outfit inspo on Pinterest - I was excited when Thursday evening arrived. I squeezed myself into some lycra and, rather arrogantly, only took one bottle of water to my first class. 


The first class was a disaster! When I arrived, there were girls stretching their legs higher than I thought was anatomically possible. 


Meanwhile, I was in a top that read "I DO IT FOR THE CARBS". Of course, I was the only one there who stood by their T-shirt motto by substituting a protein shake for a slice of Victoria Sponge. I felt enormously out of place. The class started when we heard, "AND A FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT". We were off! I began flailing myself around in a feeble attempt to keep up with the rest of the class; it probably didn’t help that I didn’t know what the instructor meant by the terms, “brush”, “cut”, or “flea hop”, all of which came up quite a lot. 


After a stressful 30 minutes, I quickly relaxed when I accepted that I wasn’t going to be perfect straight away and I should just have fun with it. 


I still followed the steps, but I really didn’t care whether they were the right ones. I was focusing so intently on following the instructor’s feet that I really did forget about how I looked or whether I was making a fool out of myself. It was freeing. I felt like a child again. At the end of the class, everyone started Instagram-ing their experiences with their incredulously fresh-face smiles and twinkling eyes. On account of my red, puffy complexion and my sweat-drenched brow, I decided against it. Besides, I needed to adopt the brace position for a few minutes to prevent some sort of stroke.


On the way home, I actually felt great. It had been a hard work-out, and I felt a thousand times better for dancing about for an hour more than I would have by staying in and watching Netflix at home. 

There was no pressure for me to be good at tap and being so bad actually made it easier to let go of my inhibitions. 


If this were something I should have been good at, I would have felt a lot worse about it. Also, having something to hold your focus (namely, following the steps) makes it impossible to worry about anything else - unlike yoga, which makes me nothing but anxious about everything (how I look, all that silence and the deep breathing!).


I persevered with my lessons, seeing very little improvement for some time. But, what I lacked in tap dancing finesse, I made up for in confidence and letting go. It also gave me an interest in learning more, and I would find myself practicing steps in my room or (subtly) in shops. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m actually alright at tap dancing. I never turned up in the chicest gym gear, or reached for my phone, or checked my hair in the mirror every other move. When I did steal a glance, I was genuinely the only one smiling and enjoying myself without a care in the world about anything other than having fun.

This ridiculous experience has made me unafraid of making unconventional choices in order to become more confident and care-free. 


I've learnt so much more from doing something that made me feel silly than something that was pushing me to be perfect. Now, I go to restaurants on my own, I saw Little Women on my own (if you haven’t seen it, do!), and I’ve even turned up at offices asking to meet with Mr. or Ms. so-and-so because I would love to work there – something I would never have had the confidence to do before. I’ve become more curious about taking up new hobbies and learning new things that are completely useless in my personal and professional life, because when you can look as silly as I did week after week and learn to not worry about it, you find that nothing else can make you look that ridiculous. So, what have you got to lose? Choose more playtime and less self-improvement this year.

Image by unknown Pinterest artist.

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