How to Build Confidence

A True Story

As an eight-year-old with an overbite and a giant gap between her teeth, not to mention God awful frameless glasses, confident was the last thing I felt like. But I wanted to be. I dreamed of stepping out on stage, dazzling people with my confidence and intensity.

So in fifth grade, I started dancing in my room. I had to be discreet about it because what if mom and dad walked in on me testing out dance moves, so I plugged in my earbuds, propped my computer with one hand, and started dancing.

I practiced for school dances. I vividly remember in seventh grade, before the big Halloween dance, I looked up easy hip hop steps and tried to fuse them with my Latin routines. Cha cha is apparently really easy to do to almost any pop song, but I didn’t know that as a seventh-grader. I just danced to the music with the steps I thought fit best. It was improvisation at its finest, and when the opportunity arose, when people gathered in a circle, I gathered up the courage to step in the middle. After that came a stream of compliments and all I could think was how badly I wanted more. Next school dance? Same formula: practice in my room, figure out new steps as I improvised, impress people at school dances.

Unfortunately, my ballroom lessons didn’t have the same success rate. I danced with a group of kids my age, and because the only parents who seem to encourage boys to dance are Russian or Asian, we only had two boys to split among four girls. It was unspoken, but clearly, I was part of the group of girls that weren’t considered as “advanced” the others, and therefore not given the same amount of opportunities. My training sessions were often cases of me practicing alone while waiting for my partner to finish with another girl, and it honestly crushed my confidence. I cried a lot over it, but I also grew hungry. I wanted to beat those girls, I wanted to prove to my coach that I deserved to be given the same treatment, so I worked. I observed what the advanced girls were doing, I watched professional ballroom competitions in my spare time—I wanted my own partner, not to have to share a partner with somebody else.

And even though my old coach could’ve cared less, I was the only person out of our group who stayed with dancing. They had moved on to things like swimming and boxing—meanwhile, I fell in love with the sport.

I found another studio, the one my parents took lessons from, and it was full of older people. I was the only young person there, but I trained with teachers who have made me the dancer I am today.

All while I was dancing, I lost my baby fat, went through measures to fix my horrible teeth (headgear then braces), and replaced my glasses with contacts. But even though I changed appearance-wise, making me look like everyone else, in my heart I still felt as insecure and out of place as I did pre-puberty.

I fought that. I made it my goal to put myself out there, starting in little ways. The scariest thing for me started out getting my ears pierced. Then it was auditioning for a solo. I told myself: if I can get my ears pierced, I can try out for a solo. If I can sing a solo in front of a hundred people, I can dance for an open mic. If I can dance for an open mic, I can give a TED talk. And so on and so forth, until I had unknowingly built my confidence...and my resume. The comforting piece of advice I told myself before I did anything to put myself out there was: no one cares about [you] anyways, so you might as well do it. Obviously that’s an exaggeration, I know plenty of people who tolerate me (I can even count them on one hand—I'm kidding), but for some reason, it worked.

Confidence doesn’t happen in a day. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone to see that I could do it. Dance helped me get out of my comfort zone, but everyone has their own unique formula.

I try to use this mentality for everything: school, performances, and whatever difficulties life throws at me:

“If I can do ____, then I can do anything.”

“If I can get through ______, then I can get through anything.”

Fill the blanks accordingly, and do something that scares you. You got this.

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©2020 by Sasha Sway.