Learning to Dance
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Learning to Dance

Written by Rick Archer
Last Update: August 2014


FORWARD

This is the story about an experience in the early Seventies that changed the course of my life.  It is the story of how I was knocked down and shattered to pieces only to find a very unusual way to patch myself back together.  As one can assume from the title, "learning to dance" became my form of self-therapy.  

Twice in my life, Dancing has helped rescue me from a serious crisis.  Back in 1986, I used Whip Dancing to recover from a deep depression brought on by my divorce.   201 Nights is also an interesting story, but this 1973-1975 saga is even more remarkable because I started my climb back from a much tougher place. 

The story begins in September 1973 with me on top of the world.  I had been accepted as a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at Colorado State University.  I had a full scholarship and was brimming with confidence.  Then in October just one short month after my arrival, I began dating a stunning blonde who worked in the department.   Things could not have been better.

Fast forward to May 1974.  Following two enormous setbacks, I returned to Houston in the pits of despair.   I was deeply depressed with no idea how to get my confidence back.  At this point in time, I was little better than a zombie.

Due the discovery of an odd little paperback book, one day I decided I wanted to learn to dance. I had never danced in my life, so I was surprised at how strong the desire was.  Unfortunately, after one lesson, I realized I was absolutely terrible.  This wasn't going to be as easy as I hoped.  Although I was discouraged, I decided to continue.  Even though learning to dance was always an uphill struggle, I refused to quit.  I was possessed by a relentlessness I didn't completely understand.

I often wondered why I took this project so seriously.  I certainly never imagined that pursuing a skill like freestyle dancing would accomplish the miracle of resurrecting my shattered confidence.  Nor did I have any idea that dancing would help pull me out of my terrible downward spiral.  It just seemed important, so I stayed with it.

I encountered several devastating setbacks during my dance project.  Fortunately, despite these dark omens, I refused to give up.  I stayed on the path for no better reason than it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. 

One thing that helped was the discovery that I felt better about myself when I practiced my dancing.   As I learned to dance, I noticed my depression would disappear for a while.   That was all the reason I needed to know I should stay with it.

In the end, I did manage to climb back up the mountain.  But as God is my witness, the climb was nothing short of arduous.

 


SETTING THE STAGE
- HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE


Rick Archer's Note:  I believe there is more to this world than meets the eye.  I can't prove it, but I really do believe we are put on this earth to learn lessons. 

With this in mind, I believe everyone is born with a set of talents and handicaps.  It becomes our job to put our talents to work and find ways to overcome our handicaps.

In my case, I had two wonderful talents.  I was given a healthy, athletic body and I was given a sharp mind. 

I was also given the gift of a marvelous education.  Through a series of intricate moves, I was given one of the finest educations America can offer.  I had a full scholarship at an exclusive private high school in Houston (St. Johns), a full scholarship at an elite Eastern college (Johns Hopkins), and a full scholarship to graduate school (Colorado State University).   I consider my education the great miracle of my life.

I was also given some pretty serious handicaps.  I was an only child born to two parents who divorced when I was nine.  When I say these two people were perhaps the least nurturing parents imaginable, that is no exaggeration.  I was forced to practically raise myself.  This had both positive and negative consequences.  On the one hand, I learned to be self-reliant and independent.  On the other hand, I was vulnerable to depression and loneliness. 

I had two physical handicaps.  I cut my left eye out with a knife when I was five.   It was my own fault, but then what parent allows a child to play with a knife at that age?   The loss of my eye would be significant because it prevented me from playing sports in high school.  This cost me the chance to make friends and feel like I belonged at my rich kids school.  Instead I stayed on the sidelines throughout my teen years while the other boys caught the passes and the cheerleader's smiles.

My other handicap was even more devastating.  I developed one of the worse cases of acne any a kid has ever suffered.  What happened is pretty gross.  One night my mother decided to attack a mild case of pimples with a sewing pin.  Somehow her intervention allowed an infection to develop in my lymph gland system.  Overnight my face bloated to the size of a balloon.  It would take ONE AND A HALF YEARS to solve the problem.  During this entire time I had the face of a leper.   Imagine what this did to my self-esteem.  Even worse, when we were done, the acne scarring had turned my face into pockmarked moonscape.

The consequences were devastating.  I never dated in high school.  Not only was I the poorest kid in school, now I was the ugliest kid in school.  I stayed a hermit the entire time.  Whenever there was a party, I stood in the shadows and watched while the other kids danced.  I cannot begin to explain the anger and loneliness of those years.  Nor can I even begin to explain the bitterness and the insecurity that grew within me.

College was better, but it too had its up and downs.  I was given a full scholarship to a men's school.   Now don't get me wrong - I really appreciated my college education.  But it did have the frustrating effect of postponing my education with women for yet another four years. 

By the end of college, I occupied a very strange life space.

On the bright side, my face had cleared up to point where I was at least tolerable to look at.  I wasn't pretty, but I was okay.  It didn't hurt that I had the physique of an athlete.  Too bad I didn't have a personality to match.   Nevertheless, I made some awkward stabs at flirting and was beginning to make progress.  Slowly but surely I was developing at least a semblance of confidence around women.  

Best of all, my incredible education had gained me admission to graduate school.  I had every reason to be very optimistic about my future.  Maybe I could finally begin dating in graduate school and take the final step towards my career as well.

On the dark side, I had some serious character flaws.  Having basically raised myself, I was extremely independent.  While in some ways that is good, it meant that I was fiercely resistant to being told what to do.  I had serious problems with authority.  If someone tried to boss me around, I would puff up like a hostile porcupine.

I did not handle criticism well at all.  If someone chewed me out, I would immediately begin an argument.  I was the proverbial angry young man. 

Worst of all, I was politically ignorant.   I did not understand that there are times to keep my mouth shut and there are consequences to speaking my mind. 

Fortunately, these character flaws didn't cause any major problems in high school.  Starting in the Fourth Grade, I went to the same school for nine years.  By the time I reached high school, my teachers were quite familiar with my problems at home.  Because they felt sorry for me, they used an unusual amount of patience with me.   They understood how touchy I was and treated me with kid gloves.  Realizing just how desperate I was for any sort of warmth, I received nothing but praise, compliments and encouragement.  That worked like a charm.  Just show me some kindness and I would do ANYTHING they asked.  Consequently I thrived.

Nor did my rough edges cause the slightest problem in college.  Why so?   Because everyone left me alone.  No one ever criticized me in college.  No one ever told me what to do.  Since I was already used to being on my own, I simply went to class for four years, did my homework, took my tests and graduated with a 3.44 GPA.  

Although I was lonely as hell during college, I suppose the absence of women at least allowed me to study harder.  Mostly I spent my college years thinking about the meaning of life, playing a lot of pickup basketball and dreaming of the day when I might have a girlfriend. 

Then came the magic day when I was accepted into graduate school.  Now I assumed I was set for life.  I had no idea what was about to hit me.

So here we go.  Let the games begin.

 


Learning to Dance:  Part One    Nine Months of Hell

 

   
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