“Let’s start with failure,” she said.
It was my first day working with my dance coach, Jess Grippo. Let me start by saying that it’s hilarious that I have a dance coach, because I am not a dancer.
I’d met Jess about a month prior at a speaking event called Fearless Communicators. In just five days, all the participants — Jess, four other women, and me — created, wrote, and delivered 15-minute speeches in front of a packed audience. It was one of the most challenging, but rewarding, experiences of my life.
So when Jess, who’s also a gorgeous professional dancer and coach, hit me up to take a dance lesson with her, I said, “Sure!” I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I knew I wanted to just trust the process and go for it. I wanted to continue to embody the word “fearless” and also stay true to the principles expressed in step 1, by stretching my comfort zone beyond the point of no return.
Which is why I laughed out loud when Jess and I walked into a Midtown Manhattan dance studio and she said, “Let’s start with failure.” Jess explained to me that starting with failure means giving ourselves permission to mess up, so that perfectionism doesn’t stop us from starting. There’s actually gold in failure, because we discover creative new things that may not have been accessible to us if we were only striving to do it “right” or “perfectly.”
Starting with failure, to me, means showing up and being okay with whatever comes out of us in the moment. It could be a brilliant performance (Jess’s dancing), or it could be an embarrassingly pitiful display of incompetence (my dancing, for example). The point is, it doesn’t matter. Starting with failure means more fun and lightheartedness, because it’s not about impressing anyone or “being the best.” Those things may happen, but the goal is authenticity and freedom. The goal is to be ourselves. It’s about being comfortable being fully seen for who and where we are in life. It’s accepting all that we are. And aren’t.
My inner perfectionist was mortified, though! “You are quite accomplished at many things. Why don’t you spend your time and energy doing those things?” queried that inner perfectionist, who I like to call “Kim.” (Naming my inner critics and the feelings that try to tear me down or hold me back is my tongue-in-cheek — but powerful — way to master them.) “You’re wasting your time here,” Kim continued. She’s a real pill, right? Starting with failure was the perfect way to hush Kim up.
And that’s what this step is all about: letting go of limiting beliefs that are holding us back — such as my belief that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) dance — so that instead we strengthen our core confidence.
“Starting with failure” immediately took all the pressure off. I mean, here I was, a woman with no dance experience in a dance class with someone who can keep up with J.Lo! Hello! But “fail”? I could do that!
I went on to take a few lessons with Jess and also booked solo studio time to practice moving and connecting with my body and getting lost in the music. I learned some simple choreography and signed up for Jess’s dance-immersion weekend workshop.
The first day of the workshop, Jess turned down the lights and put on some music, and we let our bodies simply flow with the beats of the songs. Through the beauty of the music and the movement of my body (truly dancing like nobody was watching)… shaking out my long, usually perfectly coiffed blond hair… I experienced an intense release of energy and found myself beginning to cry. The tears flowed softly and gently, like my body. It was as if all the years of trying to keep it together emotionally while “looking perfect” to the outside world just went out the basement window of that Tribeca dance studio. I felt like a caged animal who was finally unleashed to run free.
But the tears didn’t just flow from the release of stored or blocked energy. I also cried because I’d been feeling so uncomfortable and out of my element. I was experiencing the discomfort of vulnerability in a whole new way. I was putting myself out there for others to see and judge — people who actually knew what the heck to do in dance class, who knew how to move their bodies beautifully — in a space where I had zero expertise or experience. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. As we discussed in step 1, stretching can be uncomfortable at times.
But the rewards are so worth it. I discovered something about myself that is so liberating: when I’m dancing, I’m thinking of nothing else. The world stands still for me. I am completely lost in the movement of my body and the music and how they become one. I am purely in flow, and I allow the rhythm and emotion of the music to carry me… oftentimes away from burdens (real or imagined). To carry me into the depths of me, where the good stuff is — truth, love, joy, wisdom, power, strength — even if it’s painful there at times.
On Sunday afternoon, we performed the dances we’d created in front of the group. There were about ten of us. I danced to Usher’s “Numb,” which is a very meaningful song to me.
In a perfect world, my goal for my dance lessons and weekend intensive with Jess would be to learn to dance like Usher. I’d embody fluid, gorgeous dance moves and inspire audiences to feel their emotions deeply just through watching my body move so effortlessly to the music.
But let’s get real. I’m never going to move like Usher. And you know what’s brilliant about that? I’m going to move like me, express like me, entertain and inspire like me. Dancing is the ultimate rebellion against my obsession with performance and perfectionism. It will never be about striving for a “perfect” performance, because dancing is not in my skill set. I’m learning that the “perfect” performance in dance and anything else I dare to try means being willing to show up, try my best, and not be great at first, or even ever. And there is so much freedom, beauty, and wonder in that.
When I danced in front of my classmates, I felt so powerful, so free, so connected to my emotions and my body. I was raw, messy, alive, exhilarated. In that sense, I became a dancer.
When we show up and do something, there’s no longer this question of “can I do this?” or “who am I to do this?” because you are doing it! That’s why getting into action is such a massive confidence booster. And the more you show up and just do the thing, whatever that is, the easier it gets, and then you get to be in charge of your life. Not your limiting beliefs. Not Kim.
The act of doing changes your core beliefs — you’re not just rewiring your brain; you’re also rewiring your heart, your inner “knowing,” and that’s a powerful force to be reckoned with.