I was in New York City this past week, “the city” for those in the know and/or those who live in Jersey. I was waiting for the 1 train to head uptown, and it was taking an inordinate amount of time. I kept looking at my watch, getting increasingly annoyed. I was tired, and I was ready to get to bed.
As I was standing there, a woman, dressed in mismatched clothes and carrying an unwieldy looking tote bag, lumbered down the stairs. As she got to the bottom, she dropped her bag and she started to stretch. She reached towards her toes, not able to touch them, reached her hands to the sky and then began to dance. Her movements weren’t graceful; she wobbled, stumbled, but she kept going. She wasn’t a panhandler, looking for cash, or a drug addict on a trip (as far as I could tell!). In the middle of a subway station where people either stared at her in disbelief or fixedly looked away. But she didn’t care; she wasn’t worried about any of us. She just danced.
She repeated the same sets of steps over and over. She was practicing. I imagined that she had just started a dance class, perhaps just that night, and she wanted to work on the steps, to remember them. She didn’t care who was around, who could see her, or that she was missing the steps and losing her balance.
She had no fear. She didn’t fear not getting it right, she didn’t fear falling down, she didn’t fear what people thought of her. I can’t think of the last time that I danced by myself in front of strangers (I can remember when I danced a number I choreographed myself to my very patient and polite family at Christmas when I was 8, but that doesn’t count.)
Fear is such a powerful force that guides more of our actions and inactions than we’re perhaps willing to admit. We fear mistakes, we fear regret, we fear failure. So to prevent any possibility of those things, it’s much easier to stay where you are. To do what you’re already doing and not try something new. It’s much simpler to stand on the subway platform. It takes fearlessness to dance.