Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dancing, Muay Thai, and the Hater Inside Me


    Four months ago I embarked on an exciting journey. I began taking my first college classes. Being that I had never registered for college, mistakes were made. One of those mistakes was my enrollment in a class  for something known as The Nia Technique. I didn't know what to expect, and in my naiveté I didn't google it to find out.
    Upon arriving to my first class I noticed that the class was mostly made up of empowered middle aged women. There was one other man, and he didn't look like my type of guy. He looked like he enjoyed tofu and saying namiste.
    After introductions we engaged in an activity that I think is best described as 'hippy dancing'. It involved a lot of waving arms, swinging hips, and spins. This first class, I mostly stumbled around as I tried to mimic the instructors footwork and battled my inner demons. These demons, kept up a constant dialogue, telling me how foolish I looked, telling me men aren't supposed to move that way, as well as spitting vitriol about the other people in the class and how they danced. Overall, it was an illuminating experience that showed me two things about myself. I didn't know how to dance, and I was incredibly insecure, which is something that I thought I had overcome.
    Over the next few weeks, I continued to go to the class, even as I was informed that I should not have taken the class, and that I was not receiving credits for it. I continued the class because it made me incredibly uncomfortable. One rule I have created for myself, and a subject that deserves full exploration in its own right, is to move toward my anxiety. If I am worried about something, or something scares me, I want to move toward it, figure it out, and conquer my fear. 
    I found that learning these dance moves much like learning new martial arts techniques. It involved watching someone's body, then mimicking their movement, and eventually making it my own fluid motion. While I learned these moves some part of my mind was continually trying to convince me that I looked like an idiot, that everyone else looked like an idiot, and that I should be angry. This struck me as interesting, because it reminded me of when I first started practicing Muay Thai.
    The first Muay Thai class I attended began with jump roping, and then the instructor said "Shadow Box." Before this class I had no real idea what shadow boxing was, though I'd heard the term. Everyone else in the room began punching at the air, doing roundhouses, and making funny noises. I tried to mimic them, though I had no idea how to throw a proper punch. In my head, a ruthless judge popped into being. He attempted to find any fault he could in my fellow classmates, as well as telling me I was doing everything wrong and looked foolish. This voice persisted throughout class, and many classes thereafter. At times, it made the experience wholly unenjoyable. Eventually, once I reached a moderate level of ability, this voice subsided. Instead of degrading myself and those around me, I simply enjoyed practicing the movements. I thought that harsh judge within me had disappeared.
    Fast forward to my Nia class. The dark judge had cometh once again. I recognized it, though that didn't help to quiet the chatter. The only thing that did seem to help was coming to the dance class regularly and pushing through the dance moves, no matter how uncomfortable they made me, which is the same technique I used to get through my Muay Thai class.
               I've been in the dance class for 15 weeks now and more than half of the people who started in the class have stopped coming, including the only other man in the class. I comment on this, because I see the same thing happen in Muay Thai quite often. We will get classes of 15+ people every few months. Slowly, the class will be whittled down to about 6 people again. I'm sure there are many reasons for people to stop taking Muay Thai or Nia, but I believe this harsh self criticism might have something to do with it. For those who may suffer from this, I encourage you to continue taking these classes. Your discomfort will fade and you will learn to enjoy the movement, whether it's a roundhouse or pirouette.

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