Saturday, January 6, 2018

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE by Peggy Jaeger, Revisited

For the balance of the year and the first week of January, 2018, I'm reprinting some popular posts dating back to 2013. Hope you enjoy again or for the first time.

August, 2015

Please welcome my guest, Peggy Jaeger and enjoy her fun post!

I used to think I danced well. I always had fun at weddings and parties when the music played, as long as it had a recognizable beat. So last year when I was asked to take part in our town high school’s fundraiser Dancing with the Keene Stars, I said “yes” without a moment's hesitation. The event is patterned after the television show where 10 stars or people active in community affairs are partnered with 10 pros or people with dance experience. I agreed because it’s a wonderful fundraiser for Project Graduation. Plus, I knew I could dance.

Turns out I can't. Not according to Ballroom rules.

I was assigned a much younger partner (read 24 to my 55), given the Cha-Cha to learn which we would dance to CeeLo Green's Forget You. Snappy, upbeat tempo song, perfect for a fast cha-cha.

And someone who could actually dance.

From the first day of rehearsals I tried to put on a good game face. I listened to all the instructions given by the dance director, only managed to step on my partner's toes three times and fell down flat on my a** twice.

Yeah, I thought I could dance.

The closer we got to the actual performance, the lousier I danced - if what I was doing could be called dancing. In reality my partner guided me around the dance floor while I tried to keep up and not fall...or come out of my shoes. I put my good, game face on again, answering people who asked if I was nervous, "of course not. What’s to be nervous about? It's a fundraiser, so everybody wins. Besides, what's the worst that could happen?"

I realize now I didn't think that statement through.

At dress rehearsal the night before the first performance, I glanced around at all the other stars. None of them looked like me, were as old as me, or seemed as scared as I did. What was I doing here? I was a 55 year old, bottled blonde, menopausally chubby (read: fat!) woman, sweating like a farm animal from non-relenting hot flashes, trying to compete with girls half my age, NOT going through menopause, and who all looked model-amazing in their skimpy dance costumes, while I was wearing a black Amish schmatta with fringe covering me from my neck to the bottom of my knees. Not a good look. On anyone.

My rehearsal did not go well. It fact, I was pretty certain they were going to pull me from the line up. Of course they didn't (no such luck!). I wanted to run out of the auditorium, straight to Dunkin Donuts, and drown my self-doubt in Boston Cremes and chocolate munchkins. I didn't have a month to drop 67 pounds; I didn't have time to get a new costume; I didn't have any more time to practice the dance. Tomorrow night I would be forced to make a complete and utter fool of myself in public with friends, family, and business leaders watching me, look sweaty and fat-jiggly doing it, and have to face the community afterwards.

Driving home from the debacle, I realized I had two opposing forces working inside me: a truckload of fear and a lifetime of attitude. The fear was from pure performance anxiety. I don't like being the center of attention on any day, so what the heck had I been thinking when I'd said yes to being in the cast? It must have been a menopausal brain synapsis misfire moment. Well, aside from food poisoning, running away, or sudden death, I was committed to performing, so I decided to put the attitude to work, in spite of being scared to death.

FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Tell it to the chick in the black dancing shoes, shaking like she's going through an earthquake and sweating enough to raise steam from her body. But I digress.

The night of the first performance I was scheduled to go on second to last - sheer torture for the nerves- and stayed back stage, running the routine in my head a thousand times, a smile tinged with a boatload of crazy of my face, my hands folded in front of me so no one could see them shake. Never let them see you sweat...remember that one?

The curtain rose, the music started, and my partner and I danced out.

We were...okay. I didn't fall or forget my routine. I did come out of a shoe at one point though, but I stomped my foot back in and kept the maniacal smile on my face. When we were done there was even applause. Thunderous applause. So much applause I looked around the stage to try and see who everyone was clapping for. Well, jeez: it was me! (and my partner).

During the interview phase after the dance the 3 judges all commented on how fabulous my legs looked - the only skinny part of me - and how I kept my smile in place through the routine, which they all agreed, I seemed to be enjoying. If they only knew. I'd been detailing my comical woes of dancing on my website blog throughout the week as a way of promoting the event, and one of the judges had been following my entries. I got teary-eyed when she quoted something I'd penned the night before after the rehearsal disaster. She read aloud to the audience, "...challenges come in all forms, and in order to grow and thrive as humans, we need to take them up from time to time. Learning how to dance the cha-cha has been an enervating and exhausting thing for someone as sedentary (both in mind and body) as myself. I have to think logically, count (not my strong suit!) and concentrate on so many aspects - head up, don't look down, keep your shoulders square, smile. It's a lot for someone like me who basically hibernates in a solitary writing room."

It felt a little weird having my written thoughts repeated back to me, but in a way it was empowering as well. Since the first performance was over and I'd succeeded in not breaking a leg or doing some serious damage to my partner's toes, the fear of performing in public ebbed a tad.

Less than a tad, actually.

Night two went...okay also. Same thunderous applause again, and this time the judges said the toe-tapping song, my dance routine, and my happy smiling attitude had energized the audience who'd begun to wane a bit. Imagine!

I may never dance in public again but I was able to put my self-doubts and fears of not looking perfect and of not performing flawlessly aside for a good cause. The take away lesson for me was to just do the best you can with anything you attempt, smile through it, and...never let them see you sweat.

Oh, and one other thing I learned: I did know how to dance...freestyle, that is. I'm leaving the ballroom stuff to the pros from now on.

Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance author who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can't live without them. 

Her current titles, available now, include SKATER'S WALTZ and THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME, books 1 and 2 in her 6-book The MacQuire Women Series, published by The Wild Rose Press. Book 3, FIRST IMPRESSIONS releases on 9/23/15.

Tying into her love of families, her children's book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law.

Peggy holds a master's degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer's Disease during her time running an Alzheimer's in-patient care unit during the 1990s. 

In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance.

A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.


  1. Brenda _ rereading this brought all those angst ridden days of dance rehearsal back to me and made me smile!!! My little stage fright seems so inconsequential with a little bit of time and whole of hindsight!! thanks for reposting this!

    1. It was such a great post. A lot of people enjoyed it today. Glad you got a smile out of it!