January 18, 2010
By , Palatine, IL
Dancing was far from my forte. I wouldn't say I was horrible, but next to Nikhi, my sister, I looked like a flopping fish on hot coals. I used to be really shy, especially around people I didn’t know. And as far as self confidence goes, I had none. While all Nikhi could think about were the opportunities she had to shine, all I could think of were the hundreds of ways I could embarrass myself up there on stage. As much as I loved watching other people dance, I was always afraid to do it myself. So naturally, when my mom decided to sign Nikhi up for dance classes, I begged her to leave me out of those plans, but to no avail. My fear heightened when I learned that we wouldn't simply be attending ballet lessons, but rather a style of Indian classical dance called Kuchipudi. I'd seen performances of the dance form before and I'd heard about how it took many years to master, but never had I actually tried it. And quite honestly, after all my past dancing experiences, I just didn't want to.

Reluctantly, I went to the first lesson, all the while thinking about how I could convince my mom to let me quit. After explaining that there were over almost a hundred basic steps that we would eventually need to master, our teacher demonstrated the first one. Her movements were graceful, and I stood there watching, both in awe of how beautiful even a single step could be and in utter dread that I would never be able to move like that. When it was our turn to try, Nikhi went first, doing the step almost perfectly. Smiling and nodding, the teacher turned to me. I saw her smile fade into a look of confusion as I somehow managed to create my own strange version of step. She patiently worked with me on it for what seemed like forever, and finally ended the class by telling us to practice so that we could move on the next week.

Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of the teacher, I practiced multiple times before our next lesson. Nikhi practiced with me once or twice, but when she wasn't in the mood to, I stood in front of a mirror, trying to perfect my hand positions and foot movements. By the end of the week, I could do the step almost as well as Nikhi could, and when the teacher saw this, she seemed surprised. Every week, I forced myself to practice enough to reach Nikhi's level. As the months passed and we began learning more complex steps, I came to realize that dancing was becoming easier for me. I still needed to practice more than Nikhi, but I no longer had to work significantly longer or harder than she did. My confidence was slowly rising, and for the first time, I felt like I actually had a chance at becoming a good dancer.

About two years after beginning dance, we started performing dance items on stage. By four years, learning an entirely new dance took as little as four or five classes, and getting up on stage and performing came naturally. Our teacher called us one morning, saying she needed someone to perform a solo dance at the temple that night. Since Nikhi had dislocated her knee just a week earlier, I agreed to take on the task. Seeing as I hadn't reviewed that specific dance in over 4 months, I went to my teacher's house and practiced for a mere two hours before returning home to get ready. I surprised myself that day by accepting the challenge without hesitation, and since that successful performance, I haven't doubted my ability.

Recently, my sister and I performed in a dance drama, and the response to that performance has fully convinced me that all the extra work I had put into learning Kuchipudi was absolutely worth it.

I stepped offstage, gasping for air, but feeling good about how the performance had gone. I sat down in the same dressing room that I had all those years ago, but this time my head was clear of worries. I joked with the other performers backstage as I waited for Bhavana, my cousin, to run into the dressing room to give us her traditional post-performance report. After telling Nikhi that she had done well as usual, Bhavana whipped around and pulled me aside. Whispering softly enough so that Nikhi wouldn't hear us, she said "Sam, I think you might have been better than Nikhi!" Smiling, I looked up at her shocked face and shrugged.

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