A Difficult Lesson
Home Up Lost Love

Perseverance A Difficult Lesson Lost Love

A Difficult Lesson

Written by Rick Archer
October 20


Rick Archer's Note:  My previous story about "Perseverance" detailed how I used my social dance project to cure a serious depression.  Of course I didn't realize at the time that was what I was doing.  In my mind, I was learning to dance strictly as a way to meet girls, plain and simple.  To my chagrin, I never expected I would have so much trouble learning to dance.  That was the Cosmic Joke.  Too bad the joke was at my expense.

As a timeline, my crisis with Jan, my two-timing girlfriend, took place from October 1973 to Christmas.  My expulsion from Graduate School took place in May 1974.  I took my first dance class in August 1974.  I got my first compliment on my dancing in March 1975. 

After my problems with Jan, it had taken me 17 months to work up the courage to ask a girl out again.  As you might gather, one compliment was not enough to restore my confidence. 

My self-esteem around women was still pretty thin.  Considering how vulnerable I still was, you would think the Universe would cut me some slack and send me an uncomplicated woman (assuming one even exists).  Guess what?  The Universe didn't do me any favors. 

The next girl spun my head around faster than you can say 'Exorcist'.  Maggie was a young lady I had met at the Rice University Graduate Students Lounge.  Maggie was the woman who had given me the much-needed compliment on my dancing. 

A Difficult Lesson

Maggie Has a Suggestion

It was now April 1975.  Maggie and I had been dating on and off for a month.  We weren't serious, but we had fun when we were together.

One afternoon Maggie called me up.  Maggie had noticed an advertisement in the morning paper.  The ad said the two of us could take 4 half-hour Introductory Ballroom lessons for $5 a person.  Maggie wanted me to take these Ballroom dance lessons with her at a franchise Ballroom studio over in the River Oaks shopping area.

Maggie knew I had been taking Disco lessons to learn how to "Freestyle".  In fact, she still talked about our first date.  I had been taking dance lessons for 8 straight months.  I had finally gotten enough confidence to ask her to go dancing with me.  Fortunately, my invitation had paid off.  Maggie said I was a great freestyle dancer.  As she put it, I was the only man she had ever met who had shown a serious interest in dancing.

I expressed hesitation about the Ballroom class.  All I knew were some freestyle moves and a bunch of Disco line dances. I had never 'partner danced' in my life.  As I listened to her pitch, I had serious misgivings.  Maggie said nonsense.  I was a great dancer!  Certainly my Disco skills could be transferred over to Ballroom dancing.

I wasn't so sure about that. I had never confessed how hard it had been to acquire those Freestyle moves.  Besides, Ballroom dancing didn't interest me at all.  I loved Disco music, but the only Ballroom music I had ever heard was pure schmaltz.  However Maggie was right about my interest in dancing.  The Paperback Book had been clear:

In certain situations there is no easier way of meeting a girl than asking her to dance.  There is no faster way known to man to get a strange woman into your arms than dance.

Maggie sensed my indecision, so she turned up the charm.  I resisted for a while, but I finally gave in.  I agreed it was time to broaden my horizons.

The First Lesson

Our first half-hour lesson consisted of one move to 3 different dances - Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, and Cha Cha.  The ad said 4 dances, but the receptionist who took our $10 explained we skipped one dance each week.  Since the lesson ran 30 minutes, this would allow us to concentrate on each dance for ten whole minutes.  I wondered to myself how much I could learn in ten minutes.  

We were introduced to Henry, our instructor.  He was cool towards me from the start. 

I never quite figured Henry out.  At first I thought he was gay, especially when he took one look at my blue jeans and sniffed with disapproval.  I had gotten the same reaction from the gay dance instructors at my first studio.  Obviously I needed a style upgrade. Teaching dance has always been a profession gay men have been drawn to.  I smiled grimly at the awkward memory of how I had been propositioned by my first dance teacher eight months ago.

However, as the lesson progressed I noticed Henry showed interest in Maggie that clearly went beyond the expected instructor-student relationship.  He was not gay.  Not by a long shot.  Judging from the look on Henry's face, I idly wondered if every dance teacher hit on their students.  Oh well, look on the bright side.  At least I wouldn't get propositioned by this teacher. 

I got that right.  As the lesson progressed, Henry was not the slightest bit interested in me.  In fact, I think he disliked me although I couldn't imagine why.  The two of us barely spoke.  I assumed the reason was my obvious inability to respond to his teaching.  The moment Henry took one look at me dancing with Maggie, he realized I possessed little natural affinity for this style of dancing.

One reason for his disdain might have been his poorly concealed interest in Maggie.  Henry and I were the same age.  Perhaps he saw me as a rival.  Why help a rival?    

Using a popular expression of the day, there were definitely vibes here.  If anything, Maggie may have even started it.  She had been flirting with Henry from the moment she met him.  Was Maggie trying to get Henry interested in her?  If so, judging by his drool, she had succeeded. There were definite sparks.  But why conduct the mating dance right in front of me?  Wasn't there a more discrete way to handle this?  Why was Maggie acting like this?  Her behavior baffled me.

I danced very little in our first lesson.  We started with Tango.  I won't deny it, I struggled mightily with this strange dance.  After Henry showed us what to do, he put some music on and let Maggie and I try the Tango.  We danced for about a minute and Henry took the needle of the record.  I was grateful he ended the song early.  It was actually an act of mercy.

My dancing was so bad I got the feeling he gave up on me on the spot.  Henry's expression was something close to pity.  Or was it contempt?  There is an expression known as "getting off on the wrong foot" that described our interaction precisely. 

That was the last time I danced to music that evening.  The rest of the first lesson consisted of Henry telling me to watch as he took Maggie in his arms and swept her away.  Maggie enjoyed herself thoroughly.   She seemed to glide effortlessly across the floor in his arms while I watched in consternation.  How did Maggie learn those moves so fast?  I was baffled at her progress.

I could not wait for this lesson to end.  It was the longest 30 minutes I could remember.

The receptionist definitely had her math right.  In 30 minutes, we did exactly 10 minutes of Foxtrot, 10 minutes of Cha-Cha, and 10 minutes of Tango.  How much do you suppose I learned?  The only time I was actually allowed to try, I didn't understand the rhythm, I had no idea how to lead, and the footwork was a complete mystery.  In addition to Henry's rudeness, I also disliked the music. 

Maggie made light of my struggles, but I felt very ill at ease with her thanks to her confusing behavior.  Truth be told I didn't even want to touch her.  Henry's perpetual frown at my awkwardness didn't help either.  This lesson was no fun at all. 

It didn't help that I was losing my girlfriend right in front of my nose.  Considering my last girlfriend had two-timed me, this was a real sore spot.  Henry was no more attractive or witty than I was, but here on the dance floor he was Apollo to my Quasimodo.  I was clearly at a disadvantage and resented my handicap bitterly.  When it came to dancing, I always felt inadequate, but I could not remember when I had felt more insecure about my attractiveness.

I could tell as far as Henry was concerned, I had ceased to exist.  From that point on, Henry had put all his energy into hustling Maggie right in front of me.  Maggie responded in kind.  She thought Henry was wonderful.   Maggie was all laughter and lightness. 

I bristled inside.  A lethal combination of jealousy and irritation at Henry's lack of respect had a lot to do with my bad attitude. No matter how poor my dancing was, there was no reason to hit on my girlfriend and be rude to me.  Just because I couldn't dance was no reason to humiliate me.  However, I felt too lousy to make an issue out of it.  As I grew more sullen, I retreated into my shell. 

My shell was a constant companion.  In those days, I always had a chip on my shoulder.  My problems in Graduate School and with the ill-fated love affair were still vivid reminders of my inadequacy.  Now Henry's disdain only served to make me more tense.  What an awful night.

As we left the building, Maggie could tell I was upset.  She begged me to try again. I was dismayed at how hopeless I was and didn't want to continue.  Nevertheless, I promised Maggie I would return for our second lesson.  I had given my word.

Plus I am not a quitter by nature. 


The Second Lesson

I spent the next week analyzing Maggie's behavior. She and I had been drifting apart before these lessons had begun.  Was she genuinely interested in that guy or simply trying to make me jealous to fan the flames?  If Maggie was trying to make me jealous, she had succeeded.

But if Maggie thought I would regain interest, she was mistaken.  Last week's shenanigans had irritated me to the point where I didn't even want to date Maggie any more.  Considering my constant fear of betrayal, Maggie was now damaged goods.

I had mostly shown up for the second lesson out of obligation.  I showed up for another reason as well.  During the week, I nursed a secret hope that I could overcome my jitters and figure this Ballroom stuff out.  Deep down, I wanted to learn to dance. 

Maggie and I came in separate cars.  When I arrived, I was surprised to find Henry and Maggie were already out on the floor dancing together.  I was so ignorant, I didn't even know what dance they were doing.  Whatever it was, it was working.  Maggie was twirling around the floor like she had been dancing all her life.  She was having the time of her life.  I felt a deep pang of envy.  Maggie was really good at this!  How did she ever get so far ahead of me?

Trying to be polite, I had arrived a little early so that Maggie wouldn't have to wait for me.  That had to mean Maggie had come in very early.  Hmm.  Warning signals popped up.

There was a good chance Henry wasn't operating solo here.  I had a hunch Maggie had come early on purpose.  I wondered if they had talked behind my back.  Maybe she had slipped him her phone number or vice versa.  It takes two to Tango, yes?  I frowned.  If Maggie was so interested in Henry, what did she need me for?  Why did I have to suffer? 

When the song ended, Maggie came over to greet me.  She hugged me and gave me a big smooch on the cheek.  What was this big show of affection all about?  Did Maggie have absolutely no idea what was going on in my mind?

Henry reluctantly came over tagging behind.  If I didn't know any better, Henry was trying to steal my girl.  If this was Maggie's new flame, so be it.  Henry could have her.  I was in no mood to fight for her nor did I see any point in raining on the parade.  I did, however, wonder why Henry was so indiscrete.  Maybe he could dance, but this guy could clearly use a few lessons in manners.

This week Henry skipped Cha Cha and added Waltz.  I could not get the hang of this Waltz rise and fall business.  Plodding along, I moved with the grace of a three-legged elephant. 

This lesson was a repeat of our previous visit.  I was disappointed to find my second visit was going to be no better than the first.  The Tango gave me fits.  I was very uncomfortable dancing hip to hip with Maggie.  I was very tense, very self-conscious.  Tonight I danced twice to music... one minute each time. Henry couldn't wait to pull the needle. I frowned as Henry basically gave up on me again.  Either Henry did not like me or I didn't have enough ability for him to bother with.

Instead he spent most of the half hour flirting with Maggie who behaved like she was the glamorous Belle of the Ball. I stood still and fumed while Maggie danced the night away in Henry's arms.  At this point, I had pretty much had enough.  I left in a very bad mood.  The advertisement had said Ballroom dancing was fun.  Not in my opinion.

The Third Lesson

In mid-week, Maggie called me on the phone to make sure I was coming to the next lesson.  As one might gather, it wasn't easy for Maggie to persuade me to show up for the third lesson.  I really didn't want to go back.  However I did want to ask her why my presence was so important considering how little I was participating.  Unfortunately I did not have the guts to confront her.  I resisted mightily, but finally succumbed to Maggie's Magic Words.... "But Rick, you promised!"  Okay, okay, I'll do it.  Like I said, I don't quit easily.

Maggie said she would pick me up.  I think she figured it would be tougher for me to renege this way. 

The 30 minutes of the third week was an instant replay of the first two, except that Henry ignored me even more as if that was possible.  I didn't care anymore.  Promise or no promise, I wasn't coming back for the Fourth Lesson.  I could not wait to get this over with.  I had my eye on the clock the entire time. 

At the end of the lesson, Henry surprised me with a twist so bizarre I could never have imagined it.  He called Maggie and me over for a meeting.

Before my very eyes, Henry actually got out two Report Cards, one for me and one for Maggie.  Henry proceeded to pencil in a letter grade for each dance we had learned!  

I stared at my Report Card in open-mouthed shock.  I could not believe for a moment that
Henry had the nerve to grade us!  Whose ridiculous idea was this?  I deeply resented being treated like a kid from the Third Grade.  What planet had Henry beamed down from? 

Finally I got hold of myself and took a look at my Report Card.  I frowned. 
To his credit, Henry was at least honest.  I got a C in Foxtrot, a C- in Cha-Cha, a C in Waltz, and a D in Tango.  A bitterness welled up inside.  I had about 20 minutes of exposure to each dance.  What gave him the right to grade me so harshly when I didn't even get much a chance? 

Hmm.  I stared darkly at my "D" grade.  This wasn't a letter I was fond of.  Was Henry suggesting I didn't have much potential to be a Ballroom dancer?  If so, he wouldn't get any argument from me.  I hated this stuff.  I hated the music and I hated the pomp. 

Meanwhile Maggie got straight A's.  No surprise there.  If ever there was a teacher's pet, that would be Maggie.  She yelped with glee and jumped into Henry's arms to give him a big hug.  As introverted as I was, Maggie was completely uninhibited.  I wished I could be that outgoing.

When I saw her hugging on Henry, I felt a burning inside.  I knew I was actually just as bad as my grades suggested, but I couldn't believe this man had the nerve to point it out to my face.  This guy had insulted me every possible way he could think of.  And why?  I had never done anything to him.  I had never in my life met anyone who took such an instant dislike to me.  I could not help but wonder what I was missing here.

My anger gave way to a despair.  I knew I was a pretty good Disco dancer and I definitely knew my right foot from my left.  But I had discovered that freestyle dancing and partner dancing were two completely different ballgames.  At the time I knew absolutely nothing about how to lead a woman.  Nor did Henry offer any tips that might have helped.

Being so tense didn't help much either.  I couldn't hear any beat to the music.  I think my tendency to over-analyze everything was my enemy here.  I was so busy listening to my incessant mental feedback that I could not listen to the music. 

Everything was stacked against me. 

I was a slow learner to begin with and this style of dancing did not come naturally to me.  I did not like the music and I did not like the instructor.  Not only did Henry fail to explain how to lead, he moved our lessons too fast.  No one can expect a man who is a beginner to learn the leads and footwork to four dances in the limited amount of time we had.  Too bad I didn't know that.  Instead I took my clumsiness as another sign that I was the world's worst dancer. 

Had the situation been presented better, I am sure I would have done better.  If Henry had shown some patience and worked with me, I am sure I would have begun to pick it up.  Or if he had offered something fun like Swing, I am sure I would have enjoyed that much more than this difficult and highly foreign hip-to-hip dancing like the Tango and Foxtrot.

Let me add that no one learns to dance by watching some instructor dance with his girlfriend the entire time.  If that were the case, I could just rent a Fred Astaire movie, right?  The only way a man learns to partner dance is to put a girl in his arms and practice.

The whole thing was a set-up.  I never had a chance.

Unfortunately, since this was my first experience at Partner Dancing, I had no way to realize this latest failure was not my fault. Clueless to the realities of partner dancing, I began a new round of profound self-criticism.  All my serious doubts about my lack of dancing ability came flooding back in.  Furthermore, thanks to Maggie's blatant flirtation, my lack of confidence with women was reinforced. 

These lessons had been a huge blow to a self-esteem that bordered on fragile to begin with.  I was disgusted at Henry, disgusted at Maggie, and disgusted at myself.

Meanwhile Maggie would not shut up about her straight A Report Card.  In addition to my disgust with this ridiculous grading system, I was ready to kill Maggie for rubbing it in how she had danced so much better than me.   Even though I agreed it was true, what exactly possessed Maggie to put me down like that?  I wasn't aware dancing was supposed to be competitive.  I guess she thought she was being funny.  If so, I wasn't laughing. 

I was upset.  This entire experience was deeply humiliating.  Maggie's teasing touched a very raw nerve inside me.  By laughing at me, she shamed me over my poor dancing ability almost as much as the Country Club Seven had nine months earlier. 

I couldn't believe this was the same woman who had previously complimented me on my Freestyle dancing.  It stung to have her turn around and be disrespectful to me like this.  I have never taken criticism or ridicule well.  I turned cold as ice with a silent fury.

Let me add it is a good thing I did not realize my pathetic performance was mostly the fault of my instructor or I would have given that jerk a serious piece of my mind.  

The Shakedown

After the Report Card presentation, I was ready to leave immediately.  But Maggie lingered on despite my request to leave. 

While Maggie and Henry celebrated Maggie's wonderful Report Card, some new guy came up to Henry and whispered something to him.  Henry turned to us and asked if we would follow him to the back.  He told us the Dance Director wanted to see us.  The Dance Director?  Although I did not understand what was going on, the tone in Henry's insistence put me on guard.

I looked at Maggie and said, "It's time to go.  We can see the Dance Director next week after our fourth and final lesson."

Maggie took a look at Henry for reassurance, then shook her head in disagreement. "No, Rick, let's see what this is all about."

I was incredulous that she was making me do this.  I had no idea how dance studios worked, but it didn't take much to sense a trap.  I had no idea what it could be.  So far nothing had gone right in this place so I wasn't optimistic.  As we walked down the hall, Henry was leading and the new guy was behind us.  It was pretty obvious they weren't taking any chances that we might slip away.  They must have had suspected something, because slipping away had definitely crossed my mind. 

I regretted that Maggie and I had come in the same car.  She had insisted on coming to get me... probably because she suspected it was the only way to guarantee I would come.  If Maggie and I had not come together, I would have just walked out.  Instead I reluctantly trudged down the hall to the fate awaiting me.  I had the strangest feeling that Maggie had insisted I show up because she knew about this meeting ahead of time. 

Maggie and I were shown into a cramped room.  We were given two wooden chairs which faced a desk. The door was behind the desk.  In other words, if we wanted to leave, we would have to walk around the desk.  Once we sat down, we were basically trapped.

Now the door opened and the Dance Director entered the room.  He greeted us with a big smile and shook our hands.  His name was Dave.  Escape was made even more difficult when Dance Director Dave invited Henry to join the meeting.  Now we had a desk plus two men blocking our exit.  Henry would literally have to move his chair in order for us to leave. 

Then they strapped us both to our chairs... well, just kidding.  However we were clearly cornered.  What kind of racket were they running here?

Dance Director Dave began by saying there was an important dance competition coming up.  He said he had been walking by and had noticed how well we were picking up the material.  Dave said he noticed we had unusual promise as a couple.  He emphasized 'unusual promise'.  Dave added that he had spoken with Henry who confirmed the two of us had real potential.

I frowned.  Oh, give me a break.  Dave obviously hadn't seen me dance.  Had this guy forgotten to coordinate his sales pitch with Henry? 

I turned my gaze to Henry.  After that line about our "unusual promise", Henry was deliberately avoiding eye contact.  Instead he spent his time staring at the wall.  Was Henry really that stupid?  I assumed Henry was making a mental note not to give anyone a "D" in the future just minutes before the big Sales Meeting. 

By the way, in case you are curious, no, I am not making this up.  No, I am not exaggerating. This took place exactly as I write it.  When I say Henry had just given me a "D in Tango" report card and ten minutes later I was being told about my dance promise, that's the way it was.  How utterly ridiculous.

I toyed with the thought of producing my report card to show Dave that maybe I didn't have as much unusual promise as he thought.  Then I remembered I had ripped it up and thrown it away in disgust.  Too bad.

Dave continued. 
Since we had shown such unusual promise, the studio wanted us to represent them in the upcoming Big Contest against a rival dance studio!  We would be this studio's entry in the 'Rising Star' competition.

Maggie beamed with pride.  This was right down her alley.  I think she actually believed the guy. 

I stared at her in total disbelief.  Then I stared at Dave in total disbelief.  This guy was so phony it was ridiculous.

And Maggie was buying it.  Had Maggie taken some kind of medication?  

I still could not get over the disconnect between Henry's poor grades of my dancing and Dance Director Dave's bullshit.  The more I thought about it, there was definitely something strange going on here.  I began to wonder if Dave had no idea what Henry had just said to me.  In fact, this whole meeting seemed impromptu.  What gives?

I also couldn't help but wonder if this trap had been sprung a week early.  Was this supposed to take place in the Fourth Week?  I sighed.  What difference did it make?  I wasn't about to take more lessons from these people.  My pride couldn't take another beating like this.

They ignored me completely.  Apparently Henry had at least explained to the Dance Director that I was unimportant.  Paying no attention to my existence whatsoever, the Dance Director riveted his gaze on Maggie and continued his happy talk.  He announced that he was counting on Maggie and the Invisible Man, aka Mr. D in Tango, to help them win the big dance competition. 

"We can't do it without you! However, in order for you to do well, you will just need a little more polish!!"

And because they desperately needed our help with the Novice phase of the competition, tonight they were going to make a special offer.  Due
to our 'unusual promise', they would give us a Large Discount if we would sign up Right This Minute

Dave looked straight into Maggie's eyes and said how important it was that people with our kind of potential should fulfill their dance destiny.  Maggie smiled and nodded her agreement.

On cue, the Dance Director magically produced a Contract for Dance Lessons.  On the Contract in bright red ink I could see the word DISCOUNT in bold letters.  Then I looked at the numbers.  The discount reduced a $2,000 sales price down to $1,000 ($979 to be exact). 

Oh boy, a fifty-one percent discount!  I rolled my eyes. Thank goodness they were desperate. It would have been $2,000 if they hadn't been desperate.  Now it would only cost us $979.  We would be saving over a thousand dollars if we signed up now.  What a deal!

Their sales pitch was so lame I just stared at Dave in total stupefaction.  Dance Director Dave was the first hard-sell person I had ever seen in action.  That meant I had no one to compare him to. However, this pitch didn't seem smooth at all.  I imagined a used car salesman or two guys selling fake watches in a back alley would have more skill than this guy.

I was amazed at Dave's audacity.  Does this stuff actually work with anyone?  I don't suppose it ever dawned on him how stupid it sounds to beg someone for their help and say it will only cost $1,000 for the privilege.  If they are 'desperate', shouldn't they be paying us to help?

Maggie Takes Control

Okay, I have an admission to make.  I had actually been curious to know what was going to happen in this back room. I had guessed some sort of sales pitch was awaiting us, but I naively assumed it would be at the end of the Fourth Week.  Obviously they already knew very few people showed up in the Fourth Week.  Since I was stuck here, I at least wanted to see how it was delivered. 

Thanks to my sheltered life, at age 25, I had never faced a hard sell situation before.  Now, however, my morbid curiosity was satisfied and I was ready to leave now.  What person in their right mind would cooperate with such a stupid sales pitch? 

That's when I noticed Maggie's glazed eyes.  Oh shit.  She was buying this stuff.  If someone was actually interested in dancing, maybe this stuff really did work.  Well, not with me.

I made a motion to rise from my chair.  Just as I was about to say something to Maggie about leaving, Maggie put her hand on my arm to calm me.  She whispered, "Rick, sit down.  Let me handle this."  

Surprised, I reflexively sat back down.  This was the second time tonight Maggie had brushed me off.  What could she possibly be thinking?  Or, more to the point, w
ho was this woman sitting next to me? 

As I stared at her, I realized I didn't really know Maggie that well.  Before the lessons, she and I had been on three official dates over the span of a month. I had spent the night at her apartment a couple times, so I assumed I was at least somewhat important in her life.  Plus I had seen her at Rice University a couple times and we talked occasionally on the phone.  That was about the extent of it. 

It wasn't anything steady or committed.  I knew we were mismatched.  I was intense, brooding, and, sad to say, troubled.  Maggie was a non-stop talker, full of conversation I felt was meaningless, and "gay" in the original sense of the term.  I didn't feel the fireworks, but I had enjoyed Maggie's company up until the point when the dance lessons started.

Unfortunately, these dance lessons had changed my opinion about Maggie dramatically.  So far her behavior during this three-week Ballroom sequence had left me bewildered.  She had become a different person.  Her flirtation bordered on the outrageous.  And why did she rub it in that my dancing was so mediocre compared to hers?  Had the tables been reversed, I certainly wouldn't have acted that way.  I would imagine a friendlier way to handle it would be to offer to help or show some patience.  Now she was ordering me around like a servant and wasting my time with this contract nonsense.

As I stared at her, I realized I was fed up with being pushed around and embarrassed.  I wanted to get as far away from this woman as possible.  

I watched in silent fury as Maggie took control of the interview.  Maggie chose a negotiating style best described as "cute them to death".  Maggie started to talk her head off.  I stared in confusion.  I had never seen this particular ploy before.  What was she doing?

Maggie laughed and joked and made up one excuse after another why we couldn't sign the contract.  Every time they suggested signing up for lessons, Maggie countered with some reason why "we" couldn't do it.  I flinched every time she said "we".

  • 'We don't have enough money'
  • 'we are kind of busy right now'
  • 'we don't know much about dancing'
  • 'I don't know how we would feel with people watching us dance'
  • 'not sure if this is right for us, couldn't we think about it?'
  • 'how about if we let you know next week?'

As Maggie yapped away, I had to admit I was morbidly fascinated by Maggie's gabfest.  I may have been a failure in my chosen field of  psychotherapy, but I was still intrigued by unusual human behavior.  Maggie's performance wasn't just 'unusual', it was absurd!  Her 'kill them with cuteness' act was giving me a bad case of nausea.   I could not understand why Maggie was prolonging this conversation.  What is the point of toying with this guy?  

The longer we stayed, Maggie was forced to start repeating the same excuses over and over again.  It was time to go.  We were getting nowhere using her method.  I deeply resented Maggie for forcing me to participate in this charade.  I did not like her style at all.  In my mind, Maggie was prolonging the torture.  I wanted to scream, "Maggie, why don't you just say 'no' and let's get the hell out of here?"

Meanwhile, Dance Director Dave seemed thrilled that Maggie was matching wits with him.  To him, I suppose it appeared like she was negotiating.  That was exactly what he wanted her to do.  Maggie kept giving excuses and Dave kept hanging in there waiting for her to give him an opening.  I suppose Dave had nothing better to do because he showed no signs of easing up.  I watched the two of them bandy arguments back and forth like an endless ping pong volley while Henry and I just sat there. I suppose he was a captive too.

At first I wasn't all that mad at the Dance Director, just impatient.  In fact, once
I figured out that this was how he made a living, I felt sorry for him.  What an awful way to make money.  Selling a commodity like a car or a refrigerator is one thing, but it couldn't be easy trying to persuade someone to spend ridiculous amounts of money on something intangible they didn't need.  It crossed my mind if the price had been something more reasonable, I might have continued.  However in 1975, $1,000 was equivalent to $4,000 in today's money.  No way. 

Meanwhile, I remained the Invisible Man.  Probably due to the hostility that was written all over my face, the three people talked as if I didn't even exist. 

Caesar came, saw, and conquered.  Maggie smiled, laughed, and joked.  Ha ha ha!  Isn't this fun!?  As I fumed, I decided I liked Caesar's approach better.  Get it over with, damn it!  But Maggie just kept yapping away.  She never once lost her patience.  I think she actually enjoyed the attention. 

I stared at her with increasing confusion.  What is her objective?  Maggie seemed to be saying no, but not very forcefully.  If she didn't want the lessons, why were we still here?  If she didn't want the lessons, why didn't she say so?  What exactly DID she want?

This was the weirdest way of saying 'no' I had ever witnessed.  I had heard of women who say 'no' when they really mean 'yes', but I had never met a woman who used this tactic on me.  However, I will say that is exactly how Maggie seemed to behave.  Her mouth said 'no', but her body language said 'yes'.   She was leaning forward, not away.  Her arms were uncrossed and so were her legs.  Her smiles and her animated gestures showed she was fully involved in the process.  Were they keeping her on the hook or was she keeping them on the hook?  Who was zooming who?

It crossed my mind several times that Maggie actually wanted to take lessons.  That made sense.  She seemed to have a real talent for it and she certainly loved to dance.  If that was the case, why had she not asked for a price reduction?  And why didn't she ask me what I thought? 

Tick tick tick.  The conversation bounced back and forth.  Henry and Dance Director would not take "no" for an answer.  They pressed on.  Maggie didn't seem to mind a bit.  Whatever Dance Director said, Maggie parried it with the same broken record...  'too broke, too busy, not enough confidence, blah blah blah'.

Will this never end?  The longer it went, the more incredulous I grew.  I still could not figure out Maggie's strategy.  Was she trying to wear them out? 
I suppose erosion works when you are talking eons, but I am not as patient as the Colorado River wearing down the Grand Canyon.  

Finally I had enough. Life is too short for this charade. I resented the high pressure techniques of these con artists and I was disgusted with Maggie's evasive negotiating style.  So I stood up and said, "I am ready to go, Maggie."

The two men were surprised. They didn't know Mr. D Tango could even speak!  
Henry blanched at the look in my eye.  He had just begun to get out of the way when Maggie replied, "Wait, Rick, we aren't done yet."

I was incredulous.  I said nothing, but my eyes said, "Are you out of your mind?" 

Maggie gestured for me to sit back down.  I was incredulous.  This was the third time tonight that Maggie had contradicted me.  But I acceded to her wishes nonetheless.   

The room briefly fell silent thanks to my hostility. However, thanks to Maggie putting me back in my place, the two men decided not to give up.  Now Maggie was back in control of the situation.  She started talking again like nothing had happened.   Now even Henry was chiming in occasionally.  All three of them chattered away as if I wasn't even there.  I had regained my cloak of Invisibility.

Obviously I was fed up.  So why didn't I insist to leave?  The mystery of Maggie's behavior was the only thing keeping me there.  Maggie's forcefulness had renewed my interest in her strange behavior.  Maggie kept saying she didn't want to sign the contract, but her smiles and body language continued to be encouraging.  There was a part of me that desperately wanted to understand what was going on inside her mind.

Unfortunately, ten more minutes passed and it was just more of the same.  If you are bored from reading about it, imagine how I felt.

Finally I couldn't take it any more.  I may have been the worst Ballroom dancer in history, but I was also a muscular six foot, 200 pound athlete.  Considering my mood, I doubted they would try stopping me.  I arose and cleared my voice.   "Gentleman, I am leaving now.  Please get out of my way."

They took one look at my face.  That did it.  With obvious resentment, Henry begrudgingly moved aside to let me pass. 

To my surprise, Maggie threw in the towel.  Maggie followed me out the door wordlessly which I might say was a real departure for her.  I had never seen a woman talk so much in my entire life.  Heck, I didn't care if she followed me or not.  I was ready to leave her in the room.  So what if we had come in her car?  I would walk home; it was only three miles.  I didn't care one way or the other.

It was very awkward moment for everyone.  From the look on their faces, these two men had believed they had a real chance of making a sale.  By leading them on, Maggie had actually gotten their hopes up.  Too bad I had to ruin everyone's fun.

Maggie drove me home in wordless silence.  Neither of us said a word when I got out.  That was the end of it.

Another Failure with Women... or was it? 

I have no idea what happened next because I never saw Maggie again, not even at the Rice University Graduate Student Lounge where I had met her. 

As for the weirdness of that contract negotiation, I am still at a loss.  Maybe Maggie really did want to take more lessons.  But if that was the case, why not tell them so? 

Not once... repeat... not once did Maggie ever say she wanted to take more lessons.  All she did was explain to the men for 40 minutes  why "we" couldn't take lessons.

I have never seen anything so ridiculous.  Why did the woman continue to beat around the bush?  After watching Maggie chase her own tail for 40 minutes, to this day I really don't have a clue what she wanted. 

Obviously I still had a lot to learn about women or I would have demanded an explanation for her behavior regarding Henry and for that negotiating nonsense. The only thing I was sure of was that Maggie showed little respect for me.  Between her flirting, her put-downs, and her refusal to let me leave, Maggie exercised her dominance over me at every opportunity. 

As for me, I couldn't believe that I continued to let her push me around.  But then that was my problem, wasn't it?  I had so little confidence around women that I didn't stand up for myself very well.  I should have walked out after the first dance lesson.  Instead I was so easily manipulated that I let her subject me to three straight weeks of escalating humiliation.

I honestly don't know if Maggie and Henry ever dated.  The more I think about it, the more I think Maggie was using Henry in some strange way to make herself feel more attractive.  Maybe she didn't like the fact that I was clearly distancing myself.  Maybe her derisive laughter over my poor grades was a way to let her anger out over the fact that I had lost interest in her.

Another possibility is that Maggie and Henry already knew each before the lessons.  Maybe Maggie was already taking lessons.  Maybe she couldn't afford to take further lessons or maybe she needed a partner to progress in some way.  Maybe Henry wasn't happy about being forced to teach Maggie's boyfriend.  That would explain why he was so rude to me from the very onset.

Maybe Maggie took control of the sales conversation because she already knew both men.  All I know for certain was that Maggie did everything perfectly from the moment she entered the Ballroom on the first night.  Now I realize that women with "The Gift" can follow a lead and look as if they are already a pro.  So it is possible that Maggie was a true beginner like she said she was. 

All I can say is that something was going on behind my back and I was never able to figure out what it was.

Oh well, you live and you learn.  Actually I was learning.  The moment I sensed trouble, I put my guard up.   Yes, Maggie's behavior really stung the first week.  However, once I made a conscious decision to turn Maggie loose, her flirting didn't matter any more.  In fact, I was darkly amused at how silly she was acting.  I have never seen anyone require so much attention in my life. 

The bottom line is that we parted ways with my dignity intact.  I was upset that I was so bad at dancing, but at least I had kept my thoughts to myself and avoided making a scene.  Good for me.  That was progress.


Another Dance Failure... or was it? 

Oddly enough, although I had just lost the only girlfriend I had in eighteen months, I was actually more concerned about the Ballroom Dancing.  My time spent at the Ballroom studio had left a sour taste.  I left the place feeling pretty humiliated. Most of the confidence I had gained from my improvement in freestyle dancing had been erased by my poor performance at this Ballroom studio.  

As it stood, I now saw myself as the worst Ballroom dancer possible.  All my worst fears about my lack of dance ability had come flooding back in.  I felt miserable.

Four years would pass before I learned enough about dancing to realize I should not have been so hard on myself.  I had set up by a dance instructor with a very strange agenda. 

There was actually a silver lining.  When it came time for me to organize my fledgling dance program three years later, I completely rejected the Contract system of doing business.

After my Ballroom mishap, I felt that I had not really given Ballroom dancing much of a try.  I also remembered how much I wanted to try again under better circumstances.  If those people had just figured out a way to make Ballroom Dancing less expensive and more fun, I would have definitely stuck around... especially if they had offered a different teacher.

When the time came, I decided that I would use a different style of doing business.  No contracts.  If I could make my own lessons fun and valuable, I assumed people would sign up willingly for future classes without any need for sales pressure.  That became my fundamental principle of doing business.  Rather than pressure people to sign $1,000 contracts, I let people make up their own mind about returning each month.  No arm-twisting necessary. 

SSQQ became a powerhouse because I found a way to make 'group lessons' affordable and effective as well.  Yes, for people with "The Gift", group lessons were a waste of time.  But for everyone who wasn't in the Eye of the Pyramid, group lessons got the job done just fine. 

In fact, it gives me satisfaction to say our group lessons were so well-organized that many people without "The Gift" still managed to climb to the top of the Pyramid.  Group lessons took them longer, but thanks to their perseverance, they made it there anyway. Better yet, they saved a lot of money.

I discovered that when a student finds a group class with classmates at roughly the same skill level and a competent teacher who moves at the right speed, he or she would much rather pay $6 an hour for a group lesson than $60 an hour for a private lesson.  While it is true that very few of my students ever spent as much as $1,000, over the years I had so many people who preferred my style of doing business that my studio ended up doing very well financially. 

The funny thing is that I thought I was taking a real gamble at the time doing it my way.  Had I known that same Ballroom studio would eventually go out of business using their business model, maybe I wouldn't have been so worried.  Considering my own studio was still going strong when I retired 32 years later, maybe I learned something useful at that place after all. 


Lost Love

Written by Rick Archer
October 20

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