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Tap shoes. They have always been the embodiment of my worst enemy. They have always represented what I wanted so badly to master, but I just couldn't. They always called out to me: “Failure, failure!”, “Don't you want to perfect me?”, and “You'll never succeed!”. They spoke to my deepest need to be absolutely perfect.
But now, as the shoes come tumbling out of storage a year after I last wore them, I greet them as an old, wise friend. I have finally defeated them. No, I have not mastered them- far from it. Rather, I have accepted my failure as a lovable foe.
I have come close to failure's familiar face time and time again since my last meeting with the then-enemy tap shoes. At first, I dismissed fear, praying that it would go away. It did, for awhile. But, it saw that I was a vulnerable target. So, it kept coming at me. Fear attacked me in the form insecurity, which solidified itself as questions. “What if I'm not good enough?” “What if he doesn't really love me?” “What if I don't get in?” “What if I get lost?” “What if people find me annoying?” And most of all, “What if I get injured again?”
I had been battling a back injury and debilitating migraines for the better part of eight months. These rendered me unable to dance, which was truly heartbreaking. I didn't know what to do without dance. I felt like I had lost myself. Eventually, I was given the “Okay” to start dancing again. However, I was too scared. Correction, I was terrified,
So, I pretended that I was still injured. As much as I missed dancing, I wasn't ready to go back to it. My body may have been, but my mind sure wasn't. I knew what it was like when I pushed myself too far. I knew what it was like to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else sweat during rehearsal while I was freeing cold. I knew the heartbreak when I heard my friends talking about an upcoming show, but I couldn't join the conversation. I didn't want to experience any of that again. The only way I knew how to ensure my safety was to stay away from dance. And so I did.
I was letting fear win. Of course, I couldn't keep out of the dance studio. I was supposed to be in there for two periods of my school day for dance classes. Since I was injured, I was given alternate assignments. I often worked on them in the hallway or visited another teacher altogether. Even listening to the music pained me. It made me so sad to know that I should have been dancing to those songs, not sitting on the floor, writing a paper. But, it was fear that kept me there.
Until one day, when I was all alone in the studio for one reason or another. I had my iPod plugged in, and the music was playing really loud. Somehow, I found myself out of my chair, standing. And then, my muscles took over. I stopped thinking and just listened to the music. Wherever my limbs took me, I went with them. When my knees bent and I rolled to the floor, the rest of my body reacted instantaneously. When I jumped, it was as if I was suspended in the air. When I turned, my body whipped around four, five, even six times instead of my usual two. My muscles were crying out to me: “Thank you, thank you!” and my soul was just as relieved.
When the song ended and the next one started, I fell to the ground, exhausted. My body had not been used to that much movement. But, I felt something wet fall. A tear. Another came down, and then another, until I was full-on sobbing in the middle of that empty dance studio with my music blasting.
I never knew why I cried that day, until now. Remember the tap shoes, and how they embodied fear? Remember how they came tumbling out of storage, and they spoke to me like a friend? Well, after I found the tap shoes, I put them on. And right then, everything came together.
It was on that day, alone and sobbing in the studio, that I conquered fear. I spat in its face and told it to run away. By letting myself dance so freely, I was screaming at fear, saying “Look who's cowering now! You have no power over me! Just look at what I am doing and how far I have come!” I didn't know it then, but those tears were tears of joy, tears of freedom. I had escaped! Who could take a hold of me now?
That is why, today, when I saw the tap shoes, they did not shout at me. They did not mock me or make me want to put them back. The fear that had been making me afraid of failure was gone. Instead, it was replaced with a craving to dance, and nothing could stop that.