Shall We Dance?

+ Dancing Stick Figures May 14 Blog 10274654_sThere’s a scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch and Sundance are poised on a rocky cliff, trapped. Far below them is a churning river, behind them, a posse of lawmen pressing ever closer. Butch indicates to Sundance that they have no choice but to jump off the cliff into the river in order to escape the lawmen, but Sundance is balking, frozen in place.

Finally, he tersely explains to Butch that he can’t make the jump off the cliff into the river because he doesn’t know how to swim. “You’re worried about swimming, Kid?” Butch wryly replies. “Hell, the fall’s gonna kill you!” They look each other in the eye, gathering their courage. Leaping into the air, Butch and Sundance land in the water and somehow make their way down the tumultuous river to safety.

While our day-to-day lives may not be riddled with cliffs and pursuing posses, we’ve all been pushed to the edge of our comfort zones and felt pressure breathing down our necks. These times generate nervousness, anxiety, and fearfulness. How do we navigate these situations, handle these feelings? How do we take a running leap off the cliff into the raging river below?

I think a first step is to recognize that nervousness and anxiety are actually kinds of fear, and that there is a whole spectrum of fear – from terror to “butterflies.” There’s also a spectrum of situations in which fear comes up. At one end of the spectrum, there’s the rare, primal, life-and-death situation that triggers our fight-or-flight response, at the other end, the more day-to-day nervousness of business presentations or unfamiliar social settings.

But, it’s all fear – even though our culture shies away from calling these feelings fear.

We prefer to describe ourselves as “stressed out.” We say, “I’m so stressed! I’m afraid I won’t get my report to the committee on time,” or, “My financial worries are stressing me out.” Hiding behind our stress, we use the words afraid and worry so unconsciously that we forget they signify fear. Perhaps by acknowledging what it is we’re really feeling, we’d be better able to help ourselves.

I can identify with Sundance’s frozen stance up on the cliff. I’ve balked and held back when I wanted to move forward, unsure I could swim in the waters of the river I was jumping into. Those waters churned with the fear of failure, disappointment, not getting it “right.”

I’ve worked on this fear pattern and really thought that someday I would fully overcome it and stop feeling afraid.

That’s not going to happen, according to Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker. He says that fear doesn’t go away – unless we’re willing to stop doing what it is that makes us fearful. Of course, the down side of staying away from the unfamiliar territory that might bring fear is that we lose the opportunity to grow and develop ourselves beyond what’s easy, known and safe.

Now, I don’t love fear, but I’m not interested in staying in one place – I want to keep evolving!

So, if we choose to keep going into those kinds of situations where we feel ourselves freezing up with fear, Seth’s idea is to ask ourselves, “How do I dance with the fear?”

Not overcome it, not wait it out; dance with it.

Dancing keeps us moving, instead of frozen in place. Taking fear as our dance partner acknowledges fear’s presence instead of pretending it’s not there or waiting for it to go away. Think of the fun – dancing with fear, we can choreograph our moves, even be a little playful. We can waltz cheek-to-cheek for awhile, we can spin our partner off for a moment, turn them around, do-si-do.

It sounds like a more graceful and effective approach than the classic advice to battle our fears. Just dance with your fear! Keep the energy flowing.

An actor friend once told me about a transformative moment he’d experienced before a performance. He was standing off-stage, waiting for his cue and feeling utterly paralyzed by stage fright. Suddenly, he realized that his fear was just energy, energy he could use in his performance. Instantly, his fear shifted and fueled his character. Fear became his partner, rather than his enemy.

How do I dance with fear? I bring my awareness to it, surround it and myself with love. I go outdoors to get grounded and let the expanse of the sky remind me of the big picture, the goal I’m intending to achieve. I also try to lighten up and not take it all so seriously. Perhaps most significantly, I connect with Spirit and remember that Spirit is one of my dance partners, too.

Like Sundance, I’m not much for jumping into unknown waters. But, I can dance, I can keep moving. There really isn’t any choice.



  1. Wow, Janet. This is IT! I’ve been stuck in fear for a while now. So, the dance, huh???

    • Fear is a real easy place to get “stuck” – isn’t it? Let’s try the dance and see if it helps! Thanks for commenting, Pam.

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