Fear and Tap Dancing

You’ve never truly experienced fear until you’ve tap danced onstage in a leotard at the age of 55.

Fear is something I thought I had banged to rights.  I spend my training career coaching delegates through presentation skills (average fear level: scared stiff) and media interviews (fear level: through the roof terror) and have a nicely capacious bag of well-tested techniques to help them work through to the other side. 

Unfortunately it appears that those who can do and those who can’t teach. 

When I took up tap dancing in my early fifties, I hadn’t accounted for the fierce, yet entirely deluded, belief of our teacher that we were Performance Ready.  And the even more deluded belief that the audience was mentally strong enough to cope with a group of middle-aged ladies in a series of costumes that were either a) short b) tight c) sparkly or – in one nightmarish costume collision – all three.

Here’s where I had to dig deep into my training mantras – #1 being that it’s all about the audience.  And, given it was unlikely that many would recognise a perfectly executed triple time step from the back of the stalls, what we really needed to do was to focus less on the details and more on Putting On A Show.

 Fear the Feel and Do it Anyway became our catchphrase as we bravely slapped on several layers of lipstick and a sparkly hat (distract the eye upwards), grabbed our canes (something to grip on to) and stepped out.  And guess what?  No one fell over and – a cane-in-the-eye moment aside (sorry Debbie) – we all had a bloody great time.  And got almost as big a cheer as the cute four-year-olds in penguin outfits.

What I truly appreciated from this was what the audience remembers is the overall impact of your performance.  If you come across as sincere and emphatic in your TV interview, or have real enthusiasm for your presentation subject, it doesn’t matter if you stumble over the odd word or forget one of your slides.  Just make like me and my tap ladies and style it out!