I take a deep breath and bring my focus to putting one foot in front of the other, ignoring the pain in my stomach and the dull pounding in head. Slowly I move up the mountain. A breath for every step. The weight of my pack becoming like a piece of the mountain being piled upon me with each step. I look back and see no one there. I look up and see my team slowly moving up the mountain.
“Do it again,” says my teacher. I stand in front of the class and attempt to do it right this time, but all eyes are on me and I stumble even more as the feeling of ineptitude wells up inside me. Practice more says my teacher and moves onto the next student as I over hear “good job” and I feel as if I’ve been left behind on that mountain.
I’ve learned many life lessons from having spent years climbing and exploring the Cascade Mountains. You learn to get outside your comfort zone. Fear keeps you alive, but too much fear can also be your enemy. You learn to control your emotions and be present in the moment. You struggle, you endure and you press on because turning back is not an option when you’re on a precipice thousands of feet above the ground. Never in all my years in mountaineering did I ever cry, wish I could say the same for dance.
It may seem odd to compare the two, but I often find myself applying many of the lessons I learned from climbing in dance. The ability to focus and not let fear rule my emotions has helped in managing stage fright. The adrenaline rush of arriving at the summit, equating to the joy I feel on stage. Dance isn’t something that came naturally to me. A car accident forced me to find a low impact exercise class and when a friend suggested belly dance I thought, “why not”?
I sucked liked a sour lemon with salt. My teacher would ask me to do things over and over and over. While the class was rehearsing choreography, I was in the back corner being taught the basic steps by some poor soul having the misfortune of standing next to me. I felt stupid and slow, but I didn’t give up. The determination to never lose sight of the summit and to press on despite the challenges was drilled into me like a piton in rock.
In mountaineering, you will never climb the same mountain twice. Different terrain and weather leads to different challenges to face each time. Although, I’m no longer climbing the big peaks, I have found that since my first belly dance class, each new repertoire I’ve added to my practice has become like climbing a mountain. Each time starting at the very bottom, facing challenges along the way and working making my way up.
This weekend I leave for Spain to study flamenco. It is a mountain I’ve climbed before. I struggled to keep up with my peers, often pausing to catch my breath and holding back tears. I’m afraid of not being able to keep up and looking like an idiot in front of others, but mountaineering taught me to never let discomfort get in the way of accomplishing a goal. My footwork may not be as fast as the rest of the class and I may fall behind, but eventually I will reach my summit by putting one foot in front of the other, only this time on compas!