Last night, I taught a Zumba class on my own for the first time, in front of 25 women. Most of them complete strangers. Most of them staring directly at me and relying on me to not screw up.
Rewind 14 years to the 4th grade, where I had to give a speech on… well, frankly I can’t remember what it was on because I was so crippled by shyness and social anxiety. I remember standing up in front of all my classmates and completely and utterly losing the ability to talk and function like a normal human being.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been an awkward person. This isn’t just a self-prescribed diagnosis. Many, many people have informed me that I’m shy, in one way or another. “Why are you blushing so hard?” “Wow, I never hear you talk.” “Honey, just answer the phone, it won’t bite.” As if I wasn’t already blatantly aware of it, there were reminders at every corner.
Both my parents are social butterflies. My mom was school captain in high school, and my dad is the life of every party. So, why the shyness on my part? Surely their outgoing nature should’ve rubbed off on me? It wasn’t until I went to university and began studying Psychology that I realised not all aspects of our personality are heritable. I wasn’t a freak just because I couldn’t function in front of a group of staring, judging classmates or stumbled over almost every word in a job interview, and neither was anyone else who suffered in the same way.
When I joined a gym in 2007, I was petrified at the thought of wearing skin-tight clothing and sweating in front of strangers. But, I forced myself to go on occasion because I was paying for it, so why waste the money? It wasn’t until 2 years later that I got up the courage to try group exercise classes, where even more people were there to potentially watch and judge me. I started to gradually push myself out of my comfort zone and, though it took a lot longer than the “average” person, I began attending the classes regularly… and enjoying them.
One thing I’d refused to try was Zumba because… well, you’ve probably seen the advertisements. Zumba is a “party” – it’s all about shaking your booty and thrusting your hips, right? I’m no prude, but the thought of doing those things in front of strangers, in a structured, well-lit room was… basically, pretty terrifying. One day I’d forgotten to check the class schedule and, as luck would have it, I walked straight into a Zumba class without realising. As it began, and the realisation washed over me, so too did the shyness and anxiety. I couldn’t leave now that I was stuck there. If I left everyone would watch me and think I was a quitter. So, I stayed. And you know what? I loved it.
Fast-forward two years and here I am teaching Zumba. Don’t get me wrong, teaching that first class was completely nerve-wracking and I felt anxious for days beforehand. But once the adrenalin kicked in and I saw the smiling faces in the audience, I felt okay. I got through it. And for the record? I didn’t screw up. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that shyness, or social anxiety, isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t permanent. I’m not saying Zumba cured me. When I’m on that stage I do still feel like the lanky, skinny girl with practically non-existent boobs and big teeth that I’ve always been. But the next time I get freaked out over a job interview or a presentation at work, I remind myself that I can be brave. I can stand up in front of a group of people and shake my booty until it’s practically ready to fall off, so I know that I can step out of my comfort zone when I need to.
Some days are worse than others, but I no longer refer to myself exclusively as “shy.” Sure, I’ll probably always be at least a little awkward and anxious around new people and in intimidating situations, but so what? Everyone has something they’re good at or something they can excel at, it’s just a matter of exploring your options and finding what makes you grow as a person. It’s no easy journey for us shy girls, but that just makes us all the more courageous!
You can read more from Ellie Johnston on her blog.
Feature image via.