This weekend I drove 7 hours north to the coastal town of Arcata, to do a Fusion dance workshop with my friend and dance teacher Justin Riley.
Whoa there! Now why is a tall, skinny, 61-year-old, over-intellectual writer and coach driving right across the state to spend the weekend in a dance studio with a bunch of people half his own age?
It is my discomfort zone. It is where I love to be.
I only started to take dance seriously this winter. It has been just a few months, that’s all. It is currently the part of my life where I currently feel most incompetent, clumsy, embarrassed, and awkward. At any dance event I go to, I am the low-ball of the group. That is why I love it.
I always make sure I have some area of my life like this: where I have no confidence, and very little grace. It used to be skiing, then it switched to gardening, and then to woodwork. As soon as I get a mediocre amount of confidence, I have to move on and find something else that I am absolutely no good at, and find a passion to learn. This is what keeps us young. This is what keeps us curious. This is where all the juice is.
So let me tell you my greatest “aha” take away from my weekend of clumsiness in Arcata. There were many, many “aha” moments, but this was my favorite.
Dance is a lot more about letting go, relaxing, and allowing a flow to happen, than getting good at moves. So, at one point, we were all paired off with a partner. I was feeling pretty good, twirling and gliding our way across the dance floor. Now I have nailed this, I thought, now I’m ready for “Dancing with the stars.” We were flying, and pivoting, and having a great time until my teacher, Justin, came over. He was laughing. He touched me lightly on the shoulder and said, “Just stop a minute Arjuna, and take a breath. Just start over, and let the music move you.” My moment of dance triumph was instantly reduced to a moment of humiliation. But that is exactly what I am there for.
Half an hour later, Justin wanted to demonstrate something, and picked me to be his partner. The thing he wanted to show us seemed complicated: something to do with syncopated rhythm, and I was lost. We were moving together across the floor, and I knew that I was completely out of rhythm: clumsy and awkward. I could not keep up with him, it was a disaster. It was then that he said, “Now, this is it, now we are in the groove… Yes, yes, yes, that is it!”
We took a break a few minutes later. Light bulbs were popping in my head like at a celebrity wedding. Wow, wow, wow. When I think I look great and I have mastered it, I make myself into a joke. When I feel most clumsy, most out of control, most incompetent, that is when it really starts to happen. I started to reflect on the work I do with clients as a coach. It is actually all about this same thing: supporting people to get out of their comfort zone, out of their well-rehearsed confidence, and into the discomfort zone where the magic can take over.
Every few months we offer a “Radical Brilliance Laboratory” where I always have people stand at the front of the room and speak to the group. It is just the same. When they feel relaxed and comfortable, speaking as an expert with great authority, the energy drops, people start yawning or glancing at their phones. It is in those moments of zero confidence, when someone is close to tears or shaking with nervousness, that everyone else is on the edge of their seat, not wanting to miss a word or a gesture.
I love to dance because the body cannot lie. I have had a lot of practice with sounding good with words, in a blog post like this, or on a video, or with a live audience. I know how to seduce people with my well-polished poetry and displays of emotion. When given a throbbing beat from the streets of Cuba or Puerto Rico, you cannot fool anybody. Either you find the courage to jump off the cliff and let the music give you wings, or you stay standing on solid ground feeling smug, in your body of concrete.
I love to dance; especially I love those moments when I feel like a fool. Glory, glory be for the discomfort zone.