It’s a sickeningly familiar feeling, that deep-gutted fear, that fluttery breathless panic spreading like hot infection through my veins. I’m watching from the wings, about to take the stage as the star of the show, the entire cast already mid­-number under the bright lights as I realize that I have never actually been to a rehearsal for this show. I’ve listened to the music, and I can fake my way through pretty much any piece of music if I’ve heard it a few times. I’ve read the lines…I think I can muddle through those on instinct for at least a performance or two until I nail it solid. OK… I can do this, I’m a pro, the show must go, and I’m turning it on and…then it dawns on me: ­


Now it’s a full-blown Stephen-King-sized nightmare, because I know without a doubt I can NOT fake my way through choreography. S*#T! The stage manager is pushing me out onto center stage, the spotlight blinding me as I scramble to step into the “kick - jump - turn” of the big number, as I stumble over my own feet bumping into my handsome leading man, as I lurch like a drunken bowling ball across the stage to crash into the climactic full-cast pose while the audience falls apart in alternating fits of laughter and horrified shock.

This is my recurring nightmare, the one that keeps coming back to haunt me over the years, more frequent than the “college final exam having not been to class all semester” dream, more disturbing than the “naked in public” dream. The perennial screamer that exposes my secret insecurity: Fear of Dancing.

This is the primal terror coursing through my body as Karen Conrad sweetly invites me to be a Celebrity Dancer in the Safe Haven “Dancing With The Stars” fundraising event.

“It’s so much fun!” she’s saying. “You’ll have a ball…”

“It sounds like a blast,” I say as I reach for my wine. I’m glad it’s dark so she can’t see that my left eye is twitching. “Let me check my calendar…” That’s a politely vague enough way to defer the emphatic “NO” I fully intend to deliver via email next week.

I mean seriously, I will sing, I will speak…hell, I will roller skate in a bear costume, just please, don’t ask me to dance!

Later that night I make the mistake of going to the Safe Haven website and my eyes are opened to this Family Shelter’s profound service to our community. I read about Charles, the homeless single father of a bright-eyed boy, who found help and empowerment at Safe Haven that allowed him to keep his son and become the strong father he knew he could be, and the Williams family who regained their confidence and dignity through Safe Haven’s financial and emotional counseling programs, and the beautiful mother who went from being a Safe Haven homeless shelteree to volunteer to Board Member to major fundraising philanthropist.

That’s when I hear this twisted Jiminy-Crickety voice taunting me, “Oh, so you’re going to turn down the opportunity to help these families because why? Oh yeah, because you’re SCARED! Poor Baby Lawi is afwaid of the scawy dancing…”

which triggers the annoying recollection of a “note to self” I’ve had to make more than once before: If the thought of doing “X” scares you, that’s a sure-fire sign that you should most definitely do exactly “X.”

I know this.

I know that “comfort zone” is a euphemism for “mediocrity-breeding stagnation zone.” I know that a human heart grows best in the hothouse of a new challenge. So why do I still have to fight the urge to tuck tail and run every time I face something intimidating? I’m like that guy in “Memento” who loses his short-term memory every time he goes to sleep. Do I have to tattoo the tiny bits of wisdom I’ve learned on my emotionless flesh to remind me of what I already know?  

So I email Karen. “I’m in!” I say.

Maybe there’s a counselor at Safe Haven who’ll let me sneak in a couple of sessions…for Tangophobia.