By Ingrid Miller, guest writer for Unwind and let go.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to my dad, his advice has always been never to volunteer, but there I was, a volunteer member of the Parents Association of my children’s school. “We need a new soft surface playground” the Principal said. An emergency meeting of the Kitchen Cabinet was convened – in my kitchen. After a few glasses of wine and some serious brainstorming we agreed as a team to take on “Strictly”. As the bottles were emptied, our confidence grew… and so it began.
Based on the concept of the BBC Hit TV Show an adapted version, Strictly Dance is a huge fundraising opportunity for schools or clubs. It was the biggest, fastest, hardest ‘learning’ I ever had in my life. I haven’t returned to my comfort zone yet. The magic that made the impossible possible was volunteering. The unbelievable variety of different tasks got done because everyone was so generous with their time and talent, and willing to co-operate and pull together – dancers, fundraisers, parents’ association members, local community, local businesses, teaching staff, parents – everyone went the extra mile and, wonderfully, a true sense of camaraderie developed. It was a gruelling schedule for our families too! As the big day drew nearer, the dancers were practising, as a group and as couples, several times a week. The atmosphere was relaxed yet the group keenly focused.
Where in all of this was I stepping out of my ‘comfort zone’? I could never have imagined myself on a stage, in front of a large function room packed to the rafters, taking part in a dancing competition. It simply isn’t who I am, well, who I used to be! Why did I do it? I’d always seen myself as devoid of rhythmic talent. Before ‘Strictly’ my dancing skills were primitive more random wriggles than formal dance-steps, or hopscotch on acid. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and into my ‘enhancement zone’ – doing something unfamiliar, something mentally, physically and socially challenging, learning not just one new skill but a whole cluster – not just steps, but steps in a group-dance, steps with a partner routine, and worst of all, doing it in public.
Psychologists tell us when we take on this kind of challenge we’re changing how our brain is wired on a deep level, but to do that, we have to step right outside our comfort zone. I knew this was going to be unnerving, challenging, threatening and awkward…. But as we practiced, the mood relaxed and it got smoother, more natural and comfortable. As the flexibility grew, it was like going from dial-up to broadband.
Working with the choreographers taught us that the quality of practice is just as important to improving the skillset as the quantity, and the willingness to accept feedback and direction was the secret of making progress. Initially my sole focus had to be on the individual steps – what am I doing wrong… what should go first, how should this step be executed, where should I place this foot – it was all about focusing on the individual moves. Learning to control your body and feet is one of the hardest things. You have to develop a sort of sensitivity and awareness to your feet and metatarsals especially, while also remembering to hold your head up and ‘smile’!
After weeks of practice, preparation and pain, the great day arrived. We were all caught up in the magic of the event, one moment star-struck, a moment later feeling stage-fright, and all-in-all, as high as kites, caught in a swirling current of turbulent emotions. But we were all buoyed up by the sense of having gone through the same adventure of preparation, now reaching its culmination under bright lights and a haze of hairspray. The point of no return arrived. We ran down the centre isle and up on stage. Music pumping, heart racing, this was it. There was no going back we just had to do it. In contrast to our initial ungainliness, we danced in near perfect synchronicity.
What have I learnt from my Strictly experience? There is huge value in trying new things that I wouldn’t have thought of trying before because facing challenges makes you grow as a person. Since then I have been swimming in the Forty Foot, contributed to this Blog and taken on role of Chair for the Parents Association. For me now, life is about taking chances, trying new things, having fun, making mistakes and learning from it. Who knows what’s next…
Ingrid Miller has been trapped in the body of a delinquent teenager since turning 40 but tries her best to look for all intents and purposes like a well-balanced 40-something career driven wife and mum of two, living in a semi-d in South Dublin. She would like to say she enjoys quiet walks, good food and gardening, but she would be lying, so instead she will admit she loves dancing till dawn, wine flavoured drinks and sunrise swims in the Irish Sea!
Note the photographs of Ingrid posing and dancing were taken by Paul Lundy photography.