Facing your fears is a thoroughly commendable notion. And if you fear something relatively tame like flying, by all means, book a trip to test yourself. If it's sharks, then dive the Barrier Reef. But if it is something genuinely, truly dangerous and scary, facing it may not be the best way to go.
That is what I'm thinking as I sit, sweaty-palmed and in the early stages of coronary infarction, in the foyer of the Sydney Dance Company's Wharf studio in Walsh Bay. My fear is dancing in front of other humans - or really, of dancing at all. And yet here I am, clutching my backpack like it is the last blister-pack of Valium on earth, waiting for the absolute beginners jazz dance class to start. I'm with a friend - or someone I thought was a friend, until she suggested we try this. How bad could it be? It's great for fitness. We'll just go once. We might even enjoy it.
We've chosen 'absolute beginners' because the Sydney Dance Company's website suggests that class will be suitable for "students who have never experienced any type of dance". Now, in my case, this isn't actually true because I did do those two terms of highland dancing as an eight-year-old and worked on some MC Hammer 'running man' moves in early high school before I settled on the comfortable side-to-side shuffle dance, with intermittent clap, that has gotten me through any occasion where dancing is absolutely unavoidable.
Still, all around me are tall, graceful professionals, beautiful 18-year-olds with the deportment of Margeux Fontaine and seemingly the appetite of a sparrow who isn't feeling very well. Every piece of furniture in the lobby provides them with an opportunity to stretch something and put their legs at angles I didn't know were physiologically possible. Please don't be in my class, I think.
Then it is time. We walk to studio three, past studio one where there is an advanced tap class doing a bit out of Chicago and studio two where a couple in legwarmers are doing their own version of Dirty Dancing ("Nobody puts Baby in the corner").
Baby will put herself there voluntarily actually. We walk in and I find a space at the very back of the studio. Putting fears to the side, I note that it's a beautiful room, with springy black floors and louvred windows looking out over the water and the other wharves. There is a beautiful breeze and if I weren't riven with terror this would be a lovely place to dance away Sunday afternoon.
Happily, as the room fills up, it appears everyone else is there to face fears too. We are a pale, sweaty mob and the class hasn't even started yet. No one is wearing lycra; it's mostly Bonds singlets, sweat pants and bare feet. OK, I can do this.
"Could everyone in the back row please come to the front and everyone else move up a little?"
Crap. The teacher is here. He is a very enthusiastic, toned chap who looks like he's walked straight out of a Jennifer Lopez video. He plonks his CD into the player and suddenly we are warming up.
This is actually kind of fun. We stretch every single muscle and it is kind of like a gentle yoga type thing but with hip hop playing, so even if you don't look it, you feel like you're good. But then he shows us the little routine he has devised for us to learn today. It is hard, it is fast. He shouts "Five, six, seven, eight" and we all turn around and bang into the person next to us. I think he just did that for fun because then he breaks down the first-part phase and we slowly work through it, over and over, until we are least walking in the same direction, waving our hands at approximately the same time.
Now, this is not the kind of dancing that could be unleashed at a client function. There is too much pelvic thrusting and running of hands down the sides of one's own body for that. But if you lose your inhibitions, as everyone eventually has to do just to keep up, it certainly is fun. By the end of the hour, we are nearly all dead from fatigue. As I walk gingerly back to the car, I realise never a truer word was spoken than in the theme song to Fame: "I'm going to live forever, I'm going to learn how to fly. Fame! I feel it coming together, people will see me and cry."
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