Why starting a new hobby is so good for a perfectionist
I was in one of those stressful patches.
Deadlines, early starts, late finishes, sleepless nights. Nothing out of the ordinary for your average working girl (sadly!), but late nights out, lazy weekends or the prospect of a little holiday were no where to be seen and I was in need of a little sparkle to break up my week.
So a few months ago, on a whim, I signed up for a beginner tap dancing class at Sydney Dance Company. I roped in a friend and the weekend before the course began we went out to buy our shiny new tap shoes. With the satisfying click sound they made and the flattering heel, I couldn’t wait to start!
On the day of our first class, we signed in and joined a crowd of people outside Studio 4. The group was a total mix of ages from teens to older women. Unsurprisingly the class only had two men among about 40 women.
I felt good standing among this group. They were not the intimidating gym bunnies you typically see at every fitness class in Sydney. They were people of all shapes and sizes who had purchased a pair of shoes that they had no idea what to do with and as the class began I could see we were all as bad as each other. This was a place for the first-timers, for the mediocre, for the uncoordinated.
Of course, no class comes without that irritating perfect girl that stands at the front and gets praised for every step she takes. From my position in the back row I could see her legs were long and tanned and I bonded with my fellow back-row-ers about how annoying she was.
An hour and a half passed quickly in my bubble of concentration. We learnt a few basic steps and how important balance is in tap. The teacher was infectiously enthusiastic and would jump and point when she sore someone nailing the tiniest step.
We stamped and tapped and tripped and stumbled and all in all totally killed the art of tap dancing. But everyone left feeling bloody brilliant.
After a few more classes of sucking, occasionally mastering a step, then returning to sucking I realised life was feeling a little less stressful. There was a noticeable drop in my stress levels at work and tap dancing was the reason for it.
I am someone that struggles with high-functioning anxiety, or in other words, perfectionism. This means I am constantly striving for a standard I will never actually achieve and it is completely exhausting. Doing something I was fine with being bad at was so good for my stress - it was a blissful release from the pressure.
In modern day life we work really hard, put in the hours, push our strengths to new heights and work on our weaknesses. We go to Body Attack classes, stifle tiredness with Flat Whites, and use any spare time left looking for the one on Tinder. 110% is our norm.
But when I step into my tap class each Sunday and take my place in the back row, no one (and by no one I mostly mean myself) expects me to be good at this. There will be no photos of my dancing on Instagram and no annual performance reviews with the teacher. I just concentrate and enjoy the process without any judgment of how I’m doing.
I cannot believe how earth-shatteringly refreshing and freeing that feeling is. When we live in such a high pressured world, to not care how good we are at something is rare.
After each weekly class I simply congratulate myself for showing up and eagerly dance around the kitchen in my noisy shoes, making enemies of my downstairs neighbours and forgetting Monday to Friday's responsibilities.
So to any of my perfectionist friends out there, anyone struggling with high-functioning anxiety or those who just feel the pressures of life sometimes, I invite you to try a brand new hobby. Perhaps you’ve always had a curiosity about ceramics, archery or circus training. Leave your self-inflicted standards at the door, be willing to laugh at yourself, and redirect any self-judgement towards the perfect girl in the front row!