It was ‘International Dance day’ recently and anyone who knows me, will realise what an important part dance has played in my life, both as a catalyst for change, as well as in improving my physical and mental health.
Historically and intrinsically I feel dance culture has always influenced my life in some way, whether through exposure to ‘Sama-zan’, the Persian form of meditation by Sufi dervishes of the Mevlevi tribe, or the Gujarati ‘Garba’ , its not so distant Indian relative; not mentioning modern day Bollywood and Disco-dancing of course, which is what I grew up with in the 70s & 80s. But, somewhere along the line it seems that I developed two left feet and lost my way, that is until Tango found me in my 30s. Most of you who’ve followed my blog will probably know the rest about #My Tango Journey and ‘Tangoing to Argentina in 80 days’ to raise money for #Parkinsons UK , if not feel free to explore it from ‘The Beginning’
So, earlier this year, before we all had to go into #lockdown because of #Covid19, I had the good fortune of being invited to be part of TEDxBanbury2020 . One of the original speakers had to pull out and I just happened to be available. So despite being an introvert who’d always shied away from the limelight, I graciously accepted the offer.
I’ve given many talks & speeches previously, whether in a religious context, or as part of work, but this was different. It had been many years since I’d managed to escape the rat race and been up on a stage, however, inspired by the amazing TEDtalk given by the formidable Brené Brown on ‘The Power of Vulnerability“ I decided to take a risk and ‘lean into discomfort’. Yet again the universe was offering me a golden opportunity, and I felt that I had to use it as a platform to showcase my first ever staged dance performance, and also to share a little about #MyTangoJourney. Given the slightly unusual story , who knows it might inspire others to make some changes too.
However, things didn’t quite go to plan. Unfortunately before the event, me and my dance partner, Lyndsey, were informed that our performance may not be shown online, due to possible copyright infringement issues. As we didn’t feel there was enough time to prepare ourselves to dance to a new piece of music, I decided to go solo and changed my talk instead. But there was more to come.
Just a few days prior to the accident, while driving along the motorway to Oxford, I almost had a terrible accident. Imagine driving along happily, when you suddenly spot a wooden board flying off the back of an open white truck. Within seconds the board had somersaulted into the air carried by the wind, and started hurling itself towards my car. Tried to steer the car away from the flying object ,and I somehow managed to use a little wiggle room to avoid most of it, while trying not to collide with another car which was just inches away. Although the UFO (Uninvited Flying Object) did eventually make contact with the front end of my car, luckily it only caused minimal superficial damage the grill and number plate. Physically I was fine, but it did shake me up a bit. A few inches higher and it would have slid right across my bonnet like a giant solid wooden frisbee, and shattered my windscreen , but as luck would have it, that was not to be the day that I was going to die. I guess my guardian angel was taking care of me.
After my “near death experience” and some additional personal family ‘stuff’ which I had to deal with that week, I’m not sure how I managed to show up on that Saturday. Although I maintained my cool demeanour on the outside, on the inside I was wobbly, and I have to confess that I came very close to backing out at times, but I didn’t want to let the team down . So despite the fact that I hadn’t had as much rehearsal time as all the other fabulous speakers, who had lovely polished talks, and despite all the other stuff leading upto the inaugural event, I somehow managed to dig deep and turned up on the actual day, hoping for the best.
As many of my friends will probably tell you, I’m usually fashionably late to most appointments – on ‘Standard Indian Time’ you could say – to the point that they sometimes lay bets on how late I’m actually going to be, however, on this particular day I left Oxford at the crack of dawn and dropped off my charge, Peggy , a Lurcher dog I’d been looking after, at my mum’s place, and I actually ended up arriving extra early at the historical and beautiful venue of St. Mary’s Church in Banbury.
The TEDxBANBURY management team and the crew from Visit Banbury CIC and all the other brilliant student volunteers and church volunteers, who’d contributed their knowledge and skills for free to support Banbury’s latest community project, were already hard at work preparing the stage and venue, and serving drinks and snacks to those on the early shift. Alan, one of the sound engineers welcomed me with a big warm smile, which was very re-assuring. After all my hellos and hugs, and a brief conversation with Karen Baldry, the brains behind the entire operation, I dropped off my ‘costumes’ (including 3 changes just in case there were any wardrobe malfunctions) , and we all ‘miked up’ for sound checks, and then the waiting began.
As ‘Kick off’ was around noon, I decided to stretch my legs a little and go for a little walk around OX16 , to explore the quaint little lanes of ‘Old Banbury’, and to use the opportunity to get a printout of my script, just in case my temperamental lap top decided to crash. As I had some time left, I also decided to get a beard trim/shave from my friendly local Pakistani barber across the road from the train station. My ‘salt & pepper’ beard, which by then had grown into a unruly jungle, was in a terrible state and so the visit was long overdue.
With only 30 minutes left until the doors opened, it felt surreal as I sat on the Brown, faux leather barbershop sofa, staring out of the window while trying to stay calm and to forget the incident which happened nearly 40 years before. At the tender age of 11, I once froze during a speech competition in front of hundreds of people.
I’m suddenly woken up to reality as my barber asks me in Urdu if I’m a ‘Filllmmmm star’, which seemed funny and a little flattering at the time. He’s sure he’s seen me in a film or somewhere. He then realises that it wasn’t in a film but in the local Banbury Guardian newspaper. I guess like some of the other local immigrant population, who had come over from Punjab, his knowledge of English may have been insufficient to read the entire article. While trying to keep my foam filled face covered with shaving cream as still as possible, I confirmed that I’d been in a film recently, but clarified that I was not actually an actor, but an amateur dancer, who was about to give a talk at a new event in Banbury, which he seemed to find amusing. An incoming phone call cut our conversation short, and he proceeded to have a bizarre conversation in Urdu with some guy about the butcher next door being closed , while using a cut throat razor. All I ld think of is ‘Seriously dude!!’ I definitely don’t want any scratches or cuts on my throat, thank you very much. I give him a questionable stare and point my eyebrows towards the giant cream colour clock. Luckily he picks up my non verbal cue and promptly hangs up.
After my ‘close shave’, I rushed back to St Mary’s just in time to watch members of the public starting to arrive. My mind became temporarily distracted as there were people to meet and greet, as some friends had specially travelled into Banbury to listen to my talk. Unfortunately, not everyone could make it due to financial reasons, especially as many were students or people with family responsibilities and child care was an issue for some families.
I made way upstairs into the gallery, which was a restricted section, and spotted some of the other speakers pacing up and down the aisles, either on their phones, or practicing their lines. Former tv presenter and author, Simeon Courtie, now a Commmuications Consultant who helps people to speak publicly, looked very cool and fresh, and was busy filming a ‘behind the scenes’ piece. I also spotted the legendary champion boxer, Dave Earle , with his trademark bandana and ear piece, reading lines on his laptop, while I sat quietly in the gallery waiting and wondering what on earth I was doing there amongst these well respected professionals. I managed to have a little chat with my mate, the formidable Karen Irvani (of Parents talking Autism), who was also nervous , but maintained her usual effervescent humorous smile.
Eventually it was time to start, and so we all took our seats on the wooden church pews. I waited as each speaker in turn got up on stage to give their talks, while I watched and listened, cheering them on, and of course mine was saved for last.
As it gets dark outside and one of the speakers finishes their talk, I could tell my time was getting close, especially by the churning in my stomach. So I slipped into one of the toilets, to change into my ‘costume’. I’d initially considered wearing a formal shirt and tie with a suit, but decided against the idea. Instead I opted for a traditional Indian silk terracotta coloured kurta style top, in the hope it would keep me cool, with black trousers and a black velvet pin stripped jacket and grey scarf to match, just in case it was too cold in the church.
Walking out of the toilets, I suddenly heard banging noises on the door and a loud voice which sounded a lot like the legendary Dave Earle, who’d somehow managed to get himself locked himself out and couldn’t seem to get back into the building. Unfortunately, the locked door served as a fire exit, so I daren’t open it just in case it set off any alarms and disturbed the speaker on stage. I also couldn’t talk in my normal voice, as given the acoustics of the old building, the sound would have easily travelled out into the auditorium. I felt like I was in a sitcom as I calmly tried to explain to Dave, in a very loud whisper, that the door was locked and he needed to go around to the main entrance, but of course he couldn’t really hear me. Then the banging started again but eventually, one of the lovely Event Coordinators, Suzette Neptune, finally came to my rescue, and someone helped to get the message to Dave from the outside. Later, I discovered he’d been down the pub to celebrate.
After this farcical little incident, I get ‘miked up’ again, for the second time that day. I now know what Madonna must feel like !! I kept sipping lots of water, to keep hydrated and make sure my throat didn’t go dry. I try to picture my ‘happy place’ or in my case say a ‘happy face’ of a loved one , a strategy recommended by Wendy Fell, one of the brilliant Confidence coaches who was also volunteering her services for the event, alongside her lovely husband, Jonnie Fell, one of the audio/visual engineers.
As Sim’s talk is about to finish, I walk slowly towards the speakers ‘holding area’. I congratulate Sim and wait for my turn to go on. Suddenly I realise I don’t have the clicker for the slides, as Sim still has it. Like a baton in a relay he finally hands it over. Phew(!) And then we’re finally off as my intro music comes on.
Suddenly it all feels very loud, and real. I try and ‘observe’ my breathing, which seems to have gone eratic. My body seems to refuse to shift and I hesitate for a second, but as Suzette ushers me towards the stage, I find my body suddenly moving as if in slow motion. I realise that I’m climbing up the narrow little staircase, heading towards the podium, and the deep red carpeted circle. As I scan the audience, the bright stage lights hit me. I efficiently set up my laptop and notice the doodle prompt on the top of my script sheet which says ‘Breathe – Smile – Breathe’ .
By this time, to say I was ‘bricking it’, would have been the understatement of the year, but in my head all I could think of is ‘I so wish I’d worn dark sunglasses today’. I look back around the audience, I smile , I take a deep breath and then I begin: “There’s a little secret I’d like to share with you all today……”
To say the aftermath of the talk was difficult, would have been putting it mildly. I just wished the earth had swallowed me up. My nerves managed to get the better of me and I had clearly not prepared sufficiently, to the point that it was so bad I thought there was no way TED could possibly agree to upload it, which would have been a saving grace, but guess what folks, they actually did! So, I guess it wasn’t too bad, after all, and for those who are curious how it ACTUALLY turned out, you can find the TEDx_official on the TED.COM website (see link below), which I would like to dedicate to my beautiful and generous tango teacher ‘Leroy Tango Cat‘, for his advice, support and patience over the years.
Last but not least, a BIG ‘Thank YOU’ to the amazing Karen Baldry and the rest of the TEDxBanbury team of volunteers who worked so incredibly hard to bring such an important Global brand to Banbury for the first time; and to all my lovely friends and family for all your encouragement and support, for which I am as always, continuously grateful. You are my treasures.
I hope you all enjoy the talk, and if you do, please feel free to share this link with your friends and family, or on Social Media and please do leave any feedback if you feel comfortable to do so.
Many thanks in advance. Aseem 🙂
In case anyone is interested in being a future TEDx speaker or performer, you may wish to consider taking a look at the following links:
Masterclass for speakers: https://masterclass.ted.com/
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