WICKER PARK — Participants of a class called "Fear Experiment" don't have the luxury of dancing like nobody's watching.
The 17 amateurs — who have never studied dance before — have three months to learn and polish a routine before they perform in front of an audience of 750 at the Park West theater in Lincoln Park.
The idea behind the classes, a part of the offerings from Mac and Cheese Productions, is "doing something that terrifies you for the better," said dance instructor Gloria Mwez.
There are two different kinds of fear, explained the Ukrainian Village resident:
"There's one that’s motivating, where you're scared to death but it makes you want to do something. It's exhilarating, like that bungee jumping kind of feeling," Mwez said. "And then there's the other side that’s paralyzing, where you're scared to death and you're a deer in the headlights."
"'Fear Experiment' tends to be about turning that deer-in-the-headlights feeling into that exhilarating, roller-coaster, bungee-jumping feeling," she said.
Twice per week, the dancers stretch and twirl in a Wicker Park dance studio, learning new steps and practicing familiar ones before the big night on March 29.
Classes are also offered in improv, stepping, storytelling and a capella.
Felicia Lampkin Jones, of Roseland, said she signed up for "Fear Experiment" to inspire her children and to set an example of challenging herself to try new things.
"It was a little overwhelming at first," Lampkin Jones said. "It had that feeling of, 'What did I sign up for, did I really do this?'"
Participants are required to dive in to the challenge without knowing anyone else in the class, but that's also one of the benefits, Lampkin Jones said.
"At the end, you now have 17 new friends who are encouraging you, have your back ... because everyone wants everyone to succeed," she said.
The dancers will have friends and family in the audience, and they'll be sharing the night with the group of performers who studied improv.
Park West always sells out for the event, according to Mac and Cheese Productions.
Wilfred Mejia, of suburban Cicero, describes himself as a "not a really good dancer at all," but he's looking forward to the final performance, turning a bit of those initial paralyzing jitters into motivating ones:
"It’s natural to feel those nerves, but at the same time, I just can't wait to get on stage and show what we’ve been working on so hard," Mejia said.
The performance takes place at 8 p.m. March 29 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be bought online at macncheeseproductions.com. The next session, which includes options of a capella, stepping, or storytelling, begins in September and the application process begins here.