Overcoming Shyness through Dance
This is a different kind of blog post than I usually write. I tend to deal in facts and logic, providing information rather than personal stories. Well, in this case, I think a personal story is the best way to express what I’m trying to say.
I’ve only been teaching dance for 6 years, but I’ve already seen so many students come out of their shells through dance. When a kid in class smiles for the first time, gains the confidence to ask a question, or suddenly dances like nobody’s watching… I live for those moments. And they happen so often that it makes me wonder what magic property the art of dance has.
If you or your child are one of those shy dancers, I have a word of encouragement for you. Dance is a safe place, a low-risk environment where you can grow in self-expression without having to use your voice. Being shy is incredibly frustrating, but I want to share with you my story of overcoming shyness through dance, because I think the same can happen for you!
Stage 1: The Wallflower
I was that kid who nodded her head for yes, shook her head for no, and that was about the extent of her vocabulary. I was wild and crazy at home, but around other people I was afraid to be heard. In fact, I remember when my softball coach asked why I wasn’t yelling “I got it” when I ran to catch the ball, I told her, “Because someone might hear me.” (My softball career was very short-lived.)
When I started taking dance classes, I never spoke to the other kids (except to nod in response to, “Do you ever talk?”). But I saw them on a weekly basis, and had more of a connection automatically because we all had something in common. Though I wasn’t talking, I observed how other kids interacted with each other and began to imagine conversations I might have with them.
That might sound insignificant, but it’s actually huge. When you can imagine yourself doing something, you’re one step closer to actually doing it. Imagining yourself actually having conversations is one step closer to overcoming shyness.
Dance is a great activity for shy kids because there’s literally no talking required. Minimal talking, maximum participation. S/he can participate just as much as the other kids, and that’s a huge confidence-booster.
Stage 2: Confidence and Friends
Overcoming shyness is all about confidence. As someone who’s been through it and watched many other people try, it’s my opinion that the force-them-into-social-situations method isn’t effective. Yes, you need to go out of your comfort zone. But you don’t teach someone to dive into the deep end before they even learn to swim.
The more I got comfortable with my teachers and peers in dance class, the more confident I became to take baby steps outside of my comfort zone. I started raising my hand to ask questions, smiling and waving to my classmates when we arrived at the studio, and even answering questions with more than a nod.
At age nine, I made my first friend. (Kind of pathetic, I know.) We had quick conversations before and after dance class, and that was it for a long time. It was the perfect friendship, however, because she had a lot to say and I was someone who would never interrupt her. We’re still friends today, all because of dance.
To a shy kid, someone who says hi to you on a weekly basis counts as a friend. It might not seem like much, but remember, it’s about baby steps. Kids need to gain confidence at their own pace. Eventually they’ll want more than just waving hi, and they’ll be more open to trying out conversations.
Stage 3: Teaching
At age 15, I got offered an assistant teacher position at my studio. It was a big step, but I wanted to be a teacher someday, so I knew I had to take it. Little by little, I learned to use my voice in the classroom setting. There was something about being in a position of authority that gave me confidence to take command of the room.
If you’re shy like I was, and you want to teach, I’ve got good news for you. You might think that teaching is like standing up in a room full of peers and saying, “Listen up everyone, I have an announcement.” It’s not nearly that scary! Here’s why.
For one thing, it’s kids, not your peers. You get hundreds of “cool points” in kids’ minds just by being older than them. Most of them will respect you just as much as any other teacher. For another thing, you’re not piping up and asserting yourself in a room where anyone could be the leader. You’re the leader, no question. The teacher said, “Miss Nicole’s going to lead warm-up today,” so there you are. When someone places you in a leadership position and you know you’re supposed to be there, everything gets so much easier.
From that first year of assistant teaching, there was no turning back. I was offered two classes of my very own in my junior year of high school. I learned a lot from that experience, including how to say no. Often. Loudly. As stressful as it was, I have those unruly children to thank for forcing me to be assertive.
I’m not saying that dance was the only factor in my overcoming shyness. Going to college helped a lot, as did psychological research and self-reflection. However, dance was the outlet that started me down the path to where I am today. I’m not perfect by any means (I still avoid phone calls like the plague), but I’m confident and I can take charge if I have to.
Whether you’re reading this article for yourself or your child, the biggest takeaway is the importance of confidence. Baby steps are okay, as long as you’re taking them. Overcoming shyness is an attainable goal for everyone, no matter how hopeless it may feel at times. Take it from someone who’s been there, you can do it, and you’ll be glad you did!