Lost Love
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Perseverance A Difficult Lesson Lost Love

Lost Love

Written by Rick Archer
October 20


Rick Archer's Note:  My previous story titled "A Difficult Lesson" detailed how my social dance project took a serious turn for the worse. 

After going 17 months without a date and spending 8 months teaching myself how to dance, I had finally worked up the courage to ask a woman named Maggie out on a date.  To my delight, I actually received a compliment on my dancing.  Knowing my struggles, this was like offering water to a thirsty man in the desert. 

So naturally I hoped I had broken my curse with dancing and broken my curse with women all in one swoop.  Not so fast, buddy.  There was not going to be a Fairy Tale ending to this chapter after all. 

One month after my Magic Night of dancing with Maggie, she invited me to participate in Ballroom dance lessons with her.  My experience was so humiliating you would have to call it "the Anti-Cinderella" Fairy Tale.  This story belonged in "Grimm's Fairy Tales" with me as the ogre... or maybe even "Tales from the Crypt" considering how bizarre things turned out. 

I was left reeling.  My confidence with women was back to zero.  My confidence in my dancing was back to zero.  There was not a single woman in my life I knew to ask out dancing and I was still too insecure to go to a Disco club and ask a girl for a dance.  Where did I go from here?  How would I get courage without practice?  And how would I get practice without courage? 

As usual, the Universe had another lesson for me.  As usual, it was painful.

Lost Love

After my failure at the Ballroom dance studio, my entire dance project hit a standstill.  I couldn't bear to dance in the mirror any more and there was no way in hell I was going back to the gay bar.  Maggie, my first and only dance partner, was so weird I never wanted to see her again. 

Then I got some more bad news.  David, my Freestyle dance teacher, was moving to San Antonio to be with his boyfriend.  Since no one had offered to take his place, his Saturday Freestyle morning class was gone.

The original plan had been to learn to dance well enough to meet girls in dance clubs. I thought my breakthrough evening with Maggie would bolster my courage, but my subsequent problems at the Ballroom studio put the kibosh on that.  My confidence in my dancing and in myself had both gone back to Square One.

I realized I was still much too worried about rejection. The thought of trying to meet girls by going to a dance club didn't seem like a very good idea at the moment.  Maybe someday, but not right now.  I slipped into a blue funk.  My dance project had just stalled out.  Now what? 

It was June 75.  One day I picked up a magazine advertising classes through the University of Houston Sundry School.  This program offered Adult Education courses in topics like Spanish, cooking and art appreciation.  I stopped leafing through the pages when I noticed that a course in Ballroom Dance was being offered later this summer.

My problems with Ballroom Dancing still had me rankled. 

I had thought I was a pretty good dancer till I took those lessons.  However, thanks to my problems with Tango et al, I wasn't at all pleased to see my rosy opinion of my hard-won dance skills contradicted.  For the life of me, I could not figure out why this dancing stuff gave me fits.  I was athletic.  Practically every evening of the week was spent playing volleyball or basketball.  If I was so good at sports, why did dancing give me so much trouble?  My mysterious inability to pick up dancing really troubled me.

I thought some more about that Sundry School Ballroom class.  I have always been a "try try again" sort of guy.  Since I clearly had some serious energy on my recent defeat at the hands of Ballroom Dancing, I wanted another chance.  In particular, I wanted to learn more about this mysterious subject known as "partner dancing".  I recalled what my inspirational passage had said:

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.

"No faster way to get a strange woman in my arms than dance"...  those words kept racing across my mind in a repetitive loop.  This phrase was my daily mantra.

The one thing I had noticed about Freestyle is that this form of dancing didn't guarantee the women would end up in my arms.  I ruefully recalled the time the man in the gay bar had grabbed me.  No, I didn't think grabbing women was a very good idea.  If I was going to stick to Freestyle, I would have to develop a personality to bridge the gap. 

This Ballroom dancing, however, placed the women directly in my arms.  Considering I was petrified of talking to women who were strangers, I figured it might actually be easier to learn to Ballroom dance.  I know it sounds strange, but I would do practically anything to avoid being forced to talk to women I didn't know.

I was also dimly clever enough to sense a Ballroom class might actually have a few single girls in it.  I certainly wasn't meeting any women at basketball.  Maybe I should give Ballroom Dance another try. 

The Sundry School Ballroom Dance Class

It was now July 75.  Week One of my 6-week dance class covered Swing Dancing.  Jack was my new instructor.  He was about 50, twice my own age.  Jack was a pleasant, easy-going guy who explained the steps in way I could actually understand.  I felt encouraged already.  

There were about 25 people in the class.  I was disappointed to note that everyone in the class was between 35 and 60.  I was the youngest by 10 years.  So much for my non-existent love life.

Jack said tonight we were going to learn Swing, the easiest and most popular Ballroom dance.  He handed out a syllabus which I immediately poured over like it was the Bible.  I glanced at the syllabus.  I could see he intended to cover six different patterns in just one hour.  I did the math - one pattern every ten minutes.  This had been Henry's ratio as well.  I frowned.  Would I be able to keep up?  Sure enough, Jack's dance class moved pretty fast.  Our class was only an hour long and Jack wanted to cover as much ground as he possibly could.  Fortunately I hung in there.

I had never heard of Swing Dancing before, but I recognized it.  Swing Dancing was similar to some of the partner dancing I saw kids do to Beach Boys music back at the high school dances.  This was a style of dance I had yearned to try back in high school.  I was thrilled to see it being taught.

I was the only man without a partner, so Susan, Jack's assistant, danced with me.  A couple minutes after class started, the door opened.  In walked the prettiest girl I had seen in a long time.  She was so pretty, I nearly had a heart attack.  And she was my age too.

My eyes instantly shot to her hand.  No ring!  My pulse raced at the sight of her.  I realized this was the most excited I had been since I had met the woman who broke my heart 21 months ago.

Instantly a pang of fear shot through me as my phobia kicked in.  I was scared out of my wits.  She was much too pretty.  Every single demon inside my troubled psyche emerged.   Did I have the guts to pursue her?  Would she break my heart too?  Would she dump me for someone else?  Did she have a boyfriend?   All sorts of negative thoughts crossed my mind and I hadn't even spoken to her yet.  I was disgusted with myself.

How was I going to approach this new girl?   Well, why not ask her to dance?   I asked Susan if she minded.  Susan was twice my age as well and could not have cared less.  Susan nodded okay.

I walked over and introduced myself.  Simple enough.  The young lady smiled back.  She shook my hand and said her name was Katie.  She seemed pleased to have me ask her to dance.

Katie wore some sort of WW II-style dress that first night.  Or maybe it was a Fifties dress.  How would I know?  Either way, with her long, beautiful legs peeking out, I was mesmerized.  I couldn't decide whether Katie made the dress look good or vice versa, but either way it was Crush at First Sight. 

Katie and I were a natural pair because we were clearly the only "Kids" in the class. Furthermore Jack didn't make us switch partners.  Consequently I had no trouble keeping Katie as my dance partner throughout the evening.

Jack's style of teaching was "Simon Says".  His friend Susan demonstrated the lady's part.  Susan was about Jack's age, but I don't think they were romantically involved. 

Jack would name the pattern and show the man's footwork while Susan did the woman's footwork.  Then he and Susan would dance at the same time and let us copy them.  In other words, while I danced with Katie, I was actually watching Jack and Susan.  I noted that this style of teaching was pretty easy to follow.

Once we had done the pattern enough times, Jack put on some music and we practiced for a couple minutes.  Then it was on to the next move.  I was constantly worried about making a fool of myself again.  After all, I had bombed out in my class with Maggie.  Fortunately, the patterns were presented in an organized, logical way.  I noticed this style was right up my alley.  I slowly began to relax. This class was so much easier than the one at the Ballroom studio.  In fact, so far I was doing pretty well.  Thank goodness. 

I gave the credit to Jack.  I didn't feel anywhere near the pressure I had from my lessons with Maggie and Henry.  For one thing, I didn't see any kind of footwork that I hadn't encountered before in my Freestyle class.  Like Jack said, this Swing dancing was pretty easy.  Fun too.  All I had to do was match Jack while Katie matched Susan and the move worked.  What could be easier than that?

I could see that Katie loved the class.  I expected to chat with her a bit after class, but that never materialized. At the end of the night, Katie said farewell to me and added with a smile, "I enjoyed meeting you, Rick.  See you next week!"   Poof, just like that, she was gone.

What to Do About Katie?

I spent the entire week daydreaming about Katie.  Loneliness will do that to you.

Only twice before in my life did I have feelings this powerful upon meeting a woman for the first time.  There was Emily in my Freshman year of college. I lost her to a rich upperclassman named Eric, son of a wealthy Texas oilman.  I met him once - he was handsome, sophisticated, and confident.  I felt miserably out-classed.  Then there was Jan, the two-timer in Graduate School. I lost her to Kevin. Kevin was her former boyfriend and the star third baseman on the school's baseball team.  Kevin had broken up with Jan, but changed his mind.  He came knocking on her door one night not long after Jan and I had begun dating.  Jan let him in.

Now Jan had two men she liked.  Jan had been planning to leave town in a month anyway.  She wanted to go back to college in Oregon, but first she had to reestablish residency before school started in January.  So, rather than choose, she kept both men... without bothering to tell either one.  Jan spent the next couple months going to great lengths to juggle us both.  Fortunately for her, Jan was a consummate liar.  Unfortunately for me, I was trusting despite hearing explanations for her sudden disappearance that didn't make much sense.  My naivety helped Jan considerably.  You can fill in the blanks from there.  When I discovered the truth, I was flattened.  I discovered Kevin had followed Jan to Oregon.  They were living together.  It was the most pain I had ever felt over a woman in my life.

It had now been almost two years since that event and I still had nightmares. My problem was not that I missed Jan.  My problem was that I was scared to death of being deceived again.  It had been so easy to fool me!!  Furthermore, since I had lost both Emily and Jan in head-to-head competition, I didn't have a lot of confidence when pretty girls were involved. 

However, Katie was taking this dance class by herself.  There was no apparent competition.  I figured I had an exclusive window on her attention for five more weeks if I played my cards right.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that she didn't have a boyfriend.  If she did have a boyfriend, then why wasn't he taking the class with her?  Hope springs eternal.

Cha Cha

When it was time for the next class, I was full of anticipation.  In Week Two, Katie and I learned Cha Cha.  What a neat dance!  

Jack said the Cha Cha had Latin hip motion, but added we shouldn't worry too much about the hip motion.  Instead we would just learn the patterns. 

Like the week before, Jack taught six more patterns.  I handled them pretty well.  I remember being curious why we didn't review Swing.  I really wished we could go over those moves again since I had no way of practicing them during the week.  Oh well.

Soon I was so preoccupied with the fast pace of tonight's class that I forgot about Swing.

This was the class where Katie became my "confidante".  Whenever I had a problem with a move, she would explain it to me.  Or if something funny happened in class, we would exchange smiles.  In other words, we were becoming friends.  At the end of class, Katie said, "See you next week, Rick!"  And just like that, poof, she was gone. 


Week Three of the class was Tango.  Unlike Swing and Cha Cha which were pretty fast, this dance was slow and you were supposed to hold your partner close.  I was pretty nervous for several reasons.  Tango had been my worst dance back at the Ballroom dance studio.  Would it be my downfall again?  

Let me add that I trembled when Katie allowed me to hold her practically hip to hip.  With Katie this close to me, it took every ounce of fiber to play it cool while inside I was melting.  I wondered if Katie could sense my racing pulse. 

Katie wasn't just pretty, she was a sweetheart.  Katie was friendly and cheerful.  Whenever I made a mistake, Katie offered a suggestion on what I could do to correct it.  Ordinarily I can't stand criticism, but Katie said everything with a smile.  She was incredibly patient with me.  That's exactly the right approach for me.  Unlike Maggie who demanded to know why such a great freestyle dancer was an inept clod at partner dancing, Katie didn't mind my mistakes at all. 

"Rick, it's okay to mess up.  If you already knew everything, you wouldn't be a beginner, now would you?  Why do you always get so angry at yourself?  Relax.  Have fun."


Tonight was our fourth class.  After dancing with Katie for three weeks, I knew we were at least friends.  Now my goal was to bridge the gap and ask her out.  I spent the entire week thinking of ways to ask Katie to go out with me.  I guess my biggest problem was her lack of encouragement.  Each week I kept looking for some sort of hint, but Katie never gave an opening.  Chitchat was nearly impossible because she came late to class and left early.

As I watched her leave, I would ask myself the age-old question, "Does she love me?  Does she love me not?" 

I knew Katie liked me.  I just didn't know how much.  Since I didn't want to take the chance of losing her as a dance partner if she wasn't interested, I decided to wait for the upcoming 'Graduation Night' event to make my move.  That would come in two and a half weeks.

Week Four of the class was Rumba.  As usual, there was no review.  Whatever we had done to the Tango slipped into distant memory as I concentrated on learning this slow Latin dance.  Like Cha Cha, Jack said not to worry about the hip motion. 

Nevertheless, Katie seemed to naturally work her hips in a way that I found terribly distracting.  When the music came on, Katie would smile.  She really liked this music.  Sometimes she would close her eyes and hum along with the rhythm.  I remembered how much Maggie had enjoyed dancing as well.  The book had been right. There really was something about this Ballroom dancing that made the ladies very happy. 


Week Five of our class was Foxtrot.   Each week saw me trying to learn six more patterns to a new dance.  And by the end of the evening, I told myself I had learned each dance just fine.  I was no master, but I handled the material presented fairly well.

I liked Jack's style.  Jack continued to teach his class using his 'Simon Says' method.  None of these patterns by themselves were particularly difficult.  As Jack and Susan demonstrated the patterns together, all we had to do was copy their footsteps. It was a very effective technique.

The footwork wasn't difficult.  It was all similar to something I had seen in David's freestyle class or in some line dance I had learned.  When I danced the patterns with Katie, I did just fine.  In fact, Katie told me I was the best guy in the class

I asked, "How do you know, Katie?  I'm the only guy you dance with."

Katie laughed and said, "Well, I look around and watch.  You are way ahead of the other men in the class."

"Well, maybe that's because I have you to help me with my mistakes."

Katie blushed.  I had actually managed a compliment of my own.

I had the strangest reaction.  I almost started to cry.  I may have been 25, but due to some very strange circumstances, I had very little experience with women.  I never dated in high school thanks to my struggles with acne.  I dated one girl in college named Emily, but when she dumped me for the rich guy, I didn't date much after that.  She wasn't mean to me at all, but it really hurt to lose her.  I had a wonderful girlfriend named Arlene after college, but left her behind in Houston to begin Graduate School.  Then came Jan, the devil woman.

All three women had said they loved me.  So surely I had a flicker of charm somewhere inside of me.  But I still couldn't get over the fact that I had been so easily deceived by Jan.  I was literally haunted by the fear of being hurt again.  I was ridiculously lonely, but my fear made me hold back.  I was always tense around Katie.   I didn't flirt (as if I knew how), I didn't tease her, and I barely made small talk.  Not once did I ask what she did for a living.  Not once did I ask if she was from Texas or where she was from. 

The simplest of questions could have led to so much more.  As it was, I knew absolutely nothing about her.  I just so damn clueless at making conversation with women and I hated myself for it.

If I had a brain... and we all know I didn't... I would have complimented her on lots of things... for example that pretty dress and definitely her dancing ability.  Now as I saw the effect of just one simple compliment, it crushed me to realize how difficult it was for me to show humor or warmth.  What ever happened to the nice side of me?  I was so angry and bitter and so sure that I was going to get hurt that now I was scared to death to be friendly.  Instead I was quiet, stiff, and withdrawn.  I had armor around me an inch thick.

I was so terribly afraid of rejection.  If I asked this pretty girl out and she said 'no', I knew I would die a million deaths.  Her lack of interest would prove once and for all how unattractive I was.  I felt like I had the most fragile ego in the world.  I kicked myself again and again for not having the nerve to say something to her.

I shoved back my tears, took a deep breath and tried to get a grip on things.  It occurred to me that Katie had also complimented me.  She said I was the best guy in the class.  Now I began to wonder why I was doing so well in this class after doing so poorly in my previous Ballroom class.  However, the pace of the class was too fast to ponder this question for long.  Jack didn't take any prisoners.  Pay attention or fall behind.

From time to time, I thought about Katie's compliment.  I began to look around.  Now that Katie had pointed it out, yes, it did seem like I was doing pretty well compared to the other guys in the class.  I had been dancing non-stop in my Freestyle lessons for almost a year.  Maybe the practice was paying off.  I knew I was a slow learner, but a solid year of dancing was probably enough to give me an edge on my classmates. I was quiet about it, but inside I was very proud of myself.  Katie had noticed that I was the best student.

However Katie's praise wasn't enough to completely erase my worries about this dance class.  I had a vague suspicion that I was missing something.  One thing that bothered me was our lack of review.  I couldn't remember the Swing and Cha Cha moves from last month at all. I had no way to practice.  If I had a brain... which I didn't... I would have asked Katie to stay after class to help me review the earlier material.  If she said yes, then she probably really was interested in me.  If she gave a lame excuse, well, at least I hadn't offended her. 

Asking her to practice would have been the perfect opening.  But I never even thought of it.  Isn't retrospect a bitch?

There was something else that bothered me.  I didn't know how to connect the patterns.  Okay, I have six patterns on this sheet of paper.  Jack showed us each pattern individually.  We had so little time, he didn't explain how one pattern connected to another pattern.  How do I link them together?  What was I supposed to do, dance a pattern, stop, dance another pattern, stop, then dance a third pattern? 

I voiced this concern to Katie.  She laughed.  "No, silly, you connect the patterns using the leads Jack is showing you.  Each move has a signal to show me what you want me to do next."

"Yes, I know that, Katie, but I don't know how my footwork to one pattern links to all those different patterns."  

Try as I might, I was having fits doing two separate patterns in a row.  It was so complicated!  There was a lead to get into a pattern.  There was the footwork within the pattern.  There was a lead to get out of the pattern... but where was I supposed to go next? 

I said, "Katie, why don't you do two patterns by yourself?"  Try as she might, she couldn't do it.

Katie began to see my problem.  Katie laughed and said she was glad she didn't have to lead. 

Lead?  Now that word was another mystery for me.   Jack had talked about leads, but it usually went right over my head. I had the most superficial grasp of leading imaginable. I thought a lead meant stick your hand up in the air at the right time.  It bothered me I could barely remember the Foxtrot signals from tonight's class.  A troubling thought crossed my mind.  If I could barely remember the leads from tonight, there was no way I could remember Cha Cha or Swing.

This discovery of how much I didn't know brought back my feelings of inadequacy.  I began to feel that fear again of being the worst dancer in the world.  I tried hard to figure out how I could simultaneously be the best dancer in the class and be so lost at the same time.  This Ballroom Dancing had me miserable all over again.

The Upcoming Graduation Night

My pity session was interrupted when Jack brought up the subject of Graduation Night.  Each week at the end of our Tuesday class, Jack would remind us that on the Friday following our sixth and final class, he would meet us at Melody Lane Ballroom so we could all attend their regular Friday Night Ballroom Dance.  Since Jack had spoken about it every week, this was an event Katie and I had already discussed a couple times.

Tonight Katie looked at me and asked if I was going.  Are you kidding?   I was ready to go over Niagara Falls for her if she asked me to.  I told her I would definitely attend this event.  If I had a brain... which I didn't... I would have offered to pick her up. 

This simple and highly effective idea never even occurred to me.  In those days, my inexperience with women caused me so much heartache.  No wonder I was so miserable. As far as my crush on Katie was concerned, I wasn't doing very well.  My inexperience combined with my fear of rejection kept me from seeing the simple openings that other men would have picked up on long ago. 

I decided to pin my hopes on Graduation Night.  I would make my move at Melody Lane Ballroom.  If things went as planned, I would ask her out that night.



Week Six was our final class.  Tonight Jack covered the Waltz.  I could see from the get-go that Katie was particularly excited about the Waltz.  She said it was her favorite dance.  Katie said that thanks to Cinderella, every girl wants to Waltz at her wedding.  Katie exclaimed, "Waltz is so graceful and the music is really pretty.  I always close my eyes and pretend that I am Cinderella."

Katie's statement worried me.  The only Waltz of my life had lasted all of one minute with Maggie.  Henry had decided I was too pathetic to waste any more time than that on me. It was highly unlikely my Waltz would remind Katie of Prince Charming. 

Was I wrong or had Katie just hinted that she had done Ballroom dancing before?  I asked Katie how many times she had Waltzed before.  She laughed. "When I was a little girl, my Dad used to Waltz with me.  We would go round and round together!"  Katie then assured me that she didn't know much more about Waltz than I did.  Only what her Dad had showed her.  Somehow I didn't believe her.  Her dancing was always so superior.  There had to be dance in her background.

This was a tough class. I could see why Jack had saved it for last.  This odd rise and fall gave me fits.  I think I stepped on Katie's feet more in this class than the other five all put together.  As always, Katie wore her perpetual smile, but I hated feeling so clumsy around the girl I desperately wanted to impress.  Embarrassed, I climbed back into my shell and said little. 

After the lesson ended, I made sure to double-check with Katie if she was still planning to come on Friday Night.  She smiled and assured me she would be there.


Beauty and the Beast

It was now the end of August 1975.  There was a three day gap between our final class and the Graduation Party at Melody Lane that Friday.  I was on pins and needles.

I had all kinds of visions.  Sometimes I would sweep Katie into my arms.  Other times we would be swirling around the floor.  Sometimes I take Katie into a dip and kiss her.  Mind you, I didn't have the ability to do any of those things, but it didn't hurt to dream.

By coincidence, Graduation Night was practically the same date that I had started my Freestyle dance class at this same Melody Lane one year ago.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if my year-long dance project finally paid off and Katie finished the night in my arms?

Such a delicious fantasy.  Do Fairy Tales really come true?  

As we have seen, I was woefully inept at some of the most basic skills of courtship.  Most of my problems stemmed from high school when the worst case of teenage acne imaginable left me with a face deeply scarred and pockmarked.  Consequently I spent my entire high school career hiding in the shadows and feeling like a leper. 

The internal scars never went away, but in college at least my complexion cleared up.  Since I went to a men's school, meeting girls was a real challenge.  After I got my feelings dashed by Emily in my Freshman year, I more or less took the next 3 years off from women.  Then came Arlene, a breath of fresh air. But after Jan, the devil woman, I took 2 more years off.

This explains how at age 25 I had the broad shoulders of a college linebacker, but the dating experience of a 15 year old.  I was a man in appearance, but a teenager inside.  Aware of my shortcomings, I was drawn to my dance project by a book on "How to Meet Women". 

The book said that "Excellence" in dancing would get a man noticed.  The book stressed "Excellence".  Dating is based on Darwinian "Survival of the Fittest" principles. Since the beginning of time, women have been attracted to men who are successful. When you stare at a forest, the tallest trees are the ones that get noticed first.  In a social setting, the men who display skill and expertise get the lion's share of the smiles from the ladies. 

Katie had just told me I was the best dancer in the class.  Compared to those men, yes, she was right.  However, I wasn't nearly as good as I needed to be.  Sad and lost babe in the woods that I was, in my ignorance, I was wandering straight into a terrible trap. 


Melody Lane Ballroom

Back in the Seventies, Melody Lane was a major landmark on the Ballroom Dance scene.  Every Friday night, Al Marks and his band held a Ballroom Dance at Melody Lane on Richmond which was open to the Houston public. 

Jack had chosen Melody Lane for Graduation Night because it was the best place in town to dance Ballroom for the fun of it.  Otherwise if you wanted to find a place to dance your Foxtrot, you had to be a member of a Ballroom Dance Studio like the one where I had my problems with Henry. 

I was very familiar with Melody Lane since it was the same place as Dance City where I had begun my freestyle lessons a year earlier. I had taken Freestyle lessons there for 9 months.  The name change had taken place fairly recently and I think it was under new management.  Hopefully my Ballroom dancing would go better tonight than my Freestyle lessons had.

This was my big night.  I knew I was counting on this evening a lot more than I had a right to, but I couldn't help myself.  It was obvious that Katie liked me.  The question was how much.  Maybe things would click tonight.  

Katie was already there.  She smiled at me as I entered and gestured for me to sit next to her.  I gulped as I saw her.  She was wearing that Forties dress again!  Katie was too darn pretty.

I was very nervous. I had to remind myself to stay under control.  As I sat down at my group's table, I noticed that only ten brave souls from our Beginning Ballroom class of 25 had shown up.  And of course Jack was there, but not his dance partner from class.  I wondered if Jack had come alone for a reason.  How was he going to show off without his partner?  

Our group banded together at a single table for courage.  This place was very intimidating.  I could see the people who were already out on the floor were definitely experienced dancers.  Watching how good they were, I had my first inkling that this evening might be way over my head.  Well, too late now.  Here I am.

A song came on.  Katie looked at me hopefully. I gulped. Then I asked Katie, "What the heck do you dance to this song?"   She said she wasn't sure.  I would have asked Jack, but he was already out on the floor.  So I asked the guy next to me.  He said he didn't know either.  He added that if I found out, would I be nice enough to tell him?   Oh great.  It was the blind leading the blind.

Katie guessed it was a Foxtrot.  I watched the men dance and decided she was right.  We got out there and I immediately froze up.  I realized I didn't remember a thing!  We had just covered this dance 10 days ago.  Why couldn't I remember?  I was furious with myself.

I told Katie I had brought all six of my sheets with the dance patterns listed.  Katie and I walked back to the table so I could review the Foxtrot syllabus.  Box Step! 

I ran back out on the floor with Katie and danced the Box Step for the rest of the song.  Unfortunately, I stumbled more than once and knocked her off balance.  Other than that, I suppose we survived the dance. 

As we returned to the table, it bothered me that I wasn't able to remember any of the other Foxtrot patterns.  All in all, this was a pretty shaky start.  I couldn't figure out why I had done so well in class and now I was having so much trouble here at Melody Lane. 

The next song came on.  I didn't have a clue what kind of dance this music called for either.  Jack said it was a Waltz.  I looked down at my syllabus.  Box Step!  I looked up to ask Katie to dance only to realize she was already out on the floor with Jack. 

I watched Jack like a hawk.  Jack not only led Katie through all six patterns, he was leading her into a lot of stuff I had never seen before.  Katie looked sensational.  I wondered where she had learned all those new moves.  Now I got suspicious.  I had suspected Katie knew more about dancing than she let on.  Her grace out on the floor was the proof I had been looking for.  Now I was certain that Katie had fibbed. 

When Katie returned, I said, "Why did you tell me you were a beginning dancer?  You did all kinds of moves out there we didn't do in the class!"

Katie replied, "You are wrong, Rick.  I wasn't fibbing. Yes, I've danced most of my life, but I have never had a Ballroom class before.  I didn't have a clue what I was doing out there.  All I did was let Jack lead me."    

I frowned.  There's that word "lead" again. I honestly had no idea what Katie meant by 'leading'. I was confused.  I hadn't seen Jack giving her any hand signals.  I asked Katie if she could explain it to me. 

Katie replied, "When Jack holds me, there's something about the way his shoulders work that doesn't give me much choice.  When his shoulders move, I move with him. When his shoulders go forward, my feet start going back. Half the time, I don't have any idea what I am doing, but it doesn't matter. It's really easy to dance with him. I don't have to think about a thing. My feet seem to move automatically."

Quite frankly, what Jack had accomplished with Katie seemed like magic to me. 

I was crestfallen.  I felt that sinking feeling coming on.  This stuff about Jack's shoulders making Katie's feet move meant nothing to me.  I didn't have a clue what she meant. 

I knew that Jack had spoken briefly in class about leading, but he had never explained in any kind of depth how it worked. We certainly had never worked on it whatever it was.  All we did was copy moves.  I was so naive that I thought if the man did his footwork and the woman did her footwork, the move would work automatically.  

Apparently I was misinformed.  If I was to believe Katie, I had just learned the man was largely responsible for the success of each move in partner dancing. Now they tell me.  I felt like the guy who is up a creek without a paddle.   

Now that I thought about it, one of the men in class had asked Jack a question about a lead.  Jack replied there wasn't enough time with just an hour lesson to spend much time on 'leads'.  He said stuff like 'let go here' or 'reach your hand through here', but he only said it once.  Looking back, obviously I had not grasped the importance of what Jack was saying. 

Katie continued to insist that she didn't know all those moves.  In fact, Katie seemed a little miffed that I didn't believe her.  Embarrassed at my ignorance, I dropped the subject. 

As we sat and watched the dancing, I had to admit I didn't see any reason why Katie would fib.  But Jack had confused me with his 'Simon Says' teaching style.  In class, Jack would do his footwork, his partner would do her footwork, then I would do my footwork and Katie would do her footwork.  It always worked!  Why didn't it work now? 

I tried to explain this to Katie.  I figured partner dancing was like a mirror.  If I did a step, the woman would look at me and just copy my footwork like she did in class.  Katie replied, "But out here, I can't remember what the steps are or know when you are going to do them.  With Jack, I don't have to know anything!  All I have to do is move my feet in time to the music."

I no longer doubted Katie was telling the truth, but I was still bewildered.  How did Jack make Katie look so good?  What did he know that I didn't know?

Another song came on that sounded different.  What was I supposed to dance to this song?

I became angry that I couldn't tell one song from the other.  Some woman said Cha-Cha. That had been one of my favorite dances.  I looked at my syllabus and remembered the Basic went forward and back.  Rock Step Cha Cha Cha.  I asked Katie to practice with me a couple times by the table.  Yep, I had it.  We went out and danced the Basic for the entire song.  This was the first real taste of success I had had all night.  I hoped Katie would compliment me.

As we returned to the table, Katie asked what had happened to the other five patterns on the list.  I bit my lip at her disappointment.  I had been bothered all night long by the fact that I could remember the names of the patterns, but once I was out on the floor I had trouble remembering what the footwork was.

Maybe it was nerves, but I was drawing a blank.  Cha Cha had been taught over a month ago!  I mean, I could kind of remember how some of the patterns went, but I couldn't figure out how to get into any of the patterns from anything other than a dead stop.  And the only way to end a pattern was to simply stop dancing.  Based on my limited knowledge, making transitions from one move to another was strictly out of the question. 

Katie looked at me funny as I confessed I didn't remember how to do those moves any more.  I stared at the syllabus.  Yes, there were the names of the patterns, but they didn't mean anything to me.  I asked Katie if she remembered.  Katie shook her head and reminded me, "I can't remember either.  I just let the guy lead." 

I furled my brow in confusion.  LEAD!   I hated that word!  What was going on with this lead stuff?   I was starting to feel very discouraged.  I secretly wished Jack would demonstrate the patterns before each song so I could mimic them again.  This Ballroom business was a lot more complicated than I had been led to believe.  In fact, I could now see that my class had just barely skimmed the surface.  Why didn't Jack explain this to us ahead of time? 

I ruefully thought back to how proud I was when Katie said I was the best guy in the class.  What a colossal joke!  I was in the process of getting my ego thoroughly hammered.  

Meanwhile Katie danced two songs in a row with Jack while I sat at the table staring in further disbelief.  Not only was she doing even more patterns than before, she didn't appear even remotely nervous.  Instead Katie was laughing her head off and having a great time. 

As I watched, I bitterly began to realize that the women clearly got all the breaks in this game.  Here I was stuck at the table feeling like a moron while Katie was dancing like Ginger Rogers out there. I could not believe how good she looked!

How did Katie know how to do all those moves?  

That's when I saw Katie laughing with delight. That set me off. I was instantly reminded of the time I had seen the same expression on Maggie's face as she waltzed around the floor with Henry.  Suddenly I felt the heat rise.  It just dawned on me how jealous I was of Katie and Jack!

My angry moment was interrupted when the woman next to me tapped me on the shoulder.  She said she was getting tired off sitting.  Truth be told, she had a point.  It seemed like Katie was getting three out of every four dances with Jack.  The other guys were sitting and watching just like I was.  The only two people in our group having any fun were Katie and Jack. 

Now the woman more or less ordered me to dance with her.  She had been drinking and came off very forcefully.  Something warned me that dancing with this woman wasn't a good idea.  She was old enough to be my mother and there was something about her strong approach that bothered me.  I was very reluctant to accept her offer.  However I couldn't think of a graceful way to say 'no', so out onto the dance floor we went. 

I asked her what dance it was.  She frowned.  "Aren't you supposed to know?"

I suppose she was right, but I honestly didn't have a clue.  The woman stared at me waiting to see if I would figure it out.  Finally she rolled her eyes and barked "Tango!".  The woman and I got into dance position and she immediately pressed her body to me much closer than I was comfortable with.  She told me she had taken lessons before and this was the 'correct' way to dance the Tango.

This was just great.  I had an older woman who was drunk and obnoxious.  She insisted on pressing her body into me while demanding I perform a dance I barely knew.  I soldiered on as valiantly as I could.

Forward Forward Tang-o Close.  I remembered this much from the notes.  We did it again.  We did it a third time.  We did it a fourth time.  I was proud of myself, but that didn't last long.

The woman barked at me, "What about the Promenade?"  I cringed.  I remembered the pattern being listed on the syllabus, but I couldn't remember how to do the Promenade and told her so.  She jerked our bodies into the Promenade position only to find I wasn't sure what the footwork was.  The abruptness of her motion irritated me.  Okay, so I don't know what I am doing, but she didn't have to treat me like I was stupid. 

My lack of understanding started an avalanche of criticism.  "Well, then try the Fan!"  "Do the Flare!"  "Hit the Lunge".  She kept snapping at me and I just stared blankly back at her.  She rolled her eyes and began to lead the Fan herself.  Together we looked like fools out there.  At that point the woman began to insult me.  "You took the same class as me.  Don't you remember anything?"  

This woman's criticism really stung.  She was in a bad mood about something and I was an easy target. 

I was feeling too insecure to stand up for myself, so I just let her tee off on me.  I was feeling so much pressure that whatever I did remember earlier on was now long gone. 
I felt like telling her to take a flying leap, but bit my lip.  Instead I stopped dancing.  I told the woman I was sorry I didn't remember anything else, but I did the best I could.  She just rolled her eyes in disgust.  This night was quickly going downhill.

As the song ended,  Katie and Jack were returning from another successful spin around the floor.  The woman and I reached our table just as they did.  When she saw Jack, the woman turned her back on me in disgust, grabbed Jack and hauled him out on the dance floor.  I could hear her muttering about coming all this way and not getting a single dance.  Katie did a double-take at the angry woman.  She said, "Rick, what was that all about?" 

I was so upset I could barely get the words out. My mood was plummeting rapidly. I told Katie how mad that lady had been because I couldn't remember the Tango moves from class.  Katie frowned.  Back in dance class, Katie had always been so light and breezy.  Now she was staring at me with a look of disappointment that cut me to shreds.  I could not remember feeling so inadequate.  I was lost out here. 

Damn it, I couldn't tell a Tango from a Waltz.  I couldn't remember more than one step to any dance.  I had no idea what the rhythm was.  I couldn't hear the music.  These notes were worthless.  Plus that nasty old woman had just bit my head off.  I couldn't lead either.  In fact, I was so frustrated, I was having trouble even expressing myself. Meanwhile, the woman who meant so much to me was completely disappointed.  I slumped in my chair in defeat.  

Seeing my despair, Katie tried to cheer me up.  She reminded me I was just a Beginner and that I was doing the best I could.  I just needed more practice and I would do fine.  I smiled wanly.  I had wanted so much to impress Katie and please her, but it was obvious I had completely struck out.  This night had been a disaster.

The next song came on. It was Swing, the dance I had liked the best.  Katie looked at me hopefully.  I looked at my notes and screwed up my courage.  We got out there and danced the Basic.  Katie said, "Swing me out like Jack does."  I looked at her blankly. 

"Katie, I don't remember how to do that pattern."  So Katie lifted my arm and swung herself out.  Then she swung herself back in. 

While I did the Basic in place, Katie bounced in and out of my arms doing her Swing Out and Swing In.  She initiated every move.  I was embarrassed.  I danced about as well as your basic statue.  What killed me is that if I just tried a little, some of this would come back to me.  I knew this for a fact, but I couldn't make myself even try.  I was completely frozen.  

It was no use.  I was way past the point of rescue. Sometimes when I get too frustrated, I just lock up and go into a shell.  When we returned to the table, my head was down and I refused to look at Katie.  Katie wasn't even remotely mean to me like the other woman had been, but I knew she was disappointed.  I felt like I let her down.

In dance class we had been equals, but tonight Katie was the star and I was the clown.  This was not working out like I hoped it would.

The Book had said women are attracted to confidence and competence.  As companions go, all I had to offer Katie was abject whining and the chance to get her feet stepped on.  Could I have possibly screwed up this evening any worse?  I felt like a total loser.

The next song came on and Jack asked Katie to dance.  My heart sank as I watched her face immediately light up with excitement.  She couldn't wait to dance with him again!   She literally ran out on the floor to meet Jack.  Sure enough, pretty soon Jack and Katie were dancing a Waltz.  Katie looked fabulous as she turned and swirled. 

As I watched Katie fly around the floor, I noticed she had her eyes closed.  Katie was getting her wish.  She was pretending she was Cinderella.  I still couldn't believe how well she danced together with Jack.  It was hard to accept. 

Gosh, that dress was so pretty. The edges of her dress flew up in the dance motion to reveal her beautiful long legs.  That dress had been the first thing I had noticed about Katie.  She looked so wonderful.  That was the last memory I had of Katie. 

Once Katie and Jack reached to the far side of the floor, I got up and left the building when I was sure she couldn't see me.  There was no point in sticking around. 

As I walked out to my car, I thought back to my paperback book. 

The book had said that women are always attracted to the flashiest guy in the room.  Since the beginning of time, women prefer men who are successful and confident.  Therefore, in any social setting, the men who display skill and expertise will get the first shot at the prettiest girls.

In my fantasy, that was supposed to be me out there tonight.  Katie and I were supposed to dance the night away and she was supposed to fall in love with me.  Instead Jack got the girl.  So much for Beauty and the Beast.  I was still the Beast.

Actually, I could see what the Book said was right on the money. The best dancer had clearly won the right to dance with the prettiest girl in the room.  The problem was that the winner wasn't me.  I wasn't even in running.  If I had just been 'competent', I might have had a chance.  But as it stood, I couldn't even get out on the floor. 

I was so out-classed it was pathetic.  I had been successful in class, but in this situation I was completely lost.  Even more pathetic, considering I was someone who prided himself in his vigilance, I had been completely blind-sided by tonight's outcome.  In my wildest dreams, I had never seen this coming.

I wanted to ask Katie out on a date tonight more than anything else in the world, but the unfortunate events of the evening had completely drained any courage.  It is really tough to act confident around women when you clearly don't know what you are doing.  Bumbling and stumbling aren't exactly the skills most women look for in men.  To ask for her phone number now that my status was so terribly diminished was akin to begging. 

My pride was deeply wounded by tonight's events.  I wasn't very brave around girls I liked to begin with, but tonight's horror story had gone far beyond anything my self-esteem could tolerate. 

As I walked to my car, shame permeated every nook and cranny of my psyche.  This was as bitter as any defeat I had ever suffered in my entire life.  

Too bad Katie had never seen me on the basketball court.  There she would have seen an athletic guy full of confidence.  But here on the Ballroom Dance floor I was clearly out of my element. 

This had definitely been the wrong place to make my move.  The right time had been back in dance class, but I never got up the courage to say anything.

Regrettably, there were no second chances.  There was no follow-up to Jack's Ballroom class.  Nor did I have Katie's phone number.  In other words, when I walked out the door, I kissed away any chance of ever seeing Katie again.  

The pain from my latest defeat was absolutely searing.  I went home and cried my eyes out over my lost love.

In Love, for all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these:  "It might have been."

--John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American poet


Post Mortem

So now you know the story of how a Ballroom Dance class broke my heart. 

This has been a true story.  You have my word I did not exaggerate a single detail.

He Who Hesitates is Lost

Looking back in the rearview mirror, I can still remember how upset I was over this incident.  I went into a terrible tailspin afterwards. 

I seriously drifted for quite a while.  I didn't write my dance project off as a lost cause, but I was certainly discouraged. I did not take another partner dancing class for two more years.  The only dancing I did after this was to take a Disco line dance class at the Sundry School hoping to meet Katie again.  When that didn't pan out, I switched to another line dance class at the Jewish Community Center. 

They say there is always another fish in the sea.  Maybe so, but it was the Sahara Desert for me after the Katie experience.  Katie had more than just beauty.  There was a warmth about her that made her special.  She was the kind of woman I would have wanted to marry.  It would be three long years until I met another woman who came even close.  It would be six more years after before I finally met a woman I wanted to marry.  In other words, it took me nine years after Katie to find someone who might have been her equal.

So my advice to everyone is to find the courage to make things happen when the right person comes along. 

But then again I suppose my life would have been much different if I had found the courage.  I wouldn't have had all these terrible experiences to write about, now would I?  Yeah, right.  Many more years of suffering.  What a great consolation prize.

The Pied Piper

Since I am fond of using Fairy Tales to describe my misadventures, I will call Jack the Pied Piper.  It was Jack who led me and the rest of my dance class to our doom.  Jack invited us to Melody Lane, but once we arrived, he abandoned us completely. 

Although I kicked myself many times for my missed opportunities with Katie during the six-week dance class, oddly enough, I didn't blame myself for the Melody Lane Nightmare.  I blamed Jack.  He set us all up for failure.  And that's too bad.  Had Jack been a decent host, I don't think the evening would have been nearly as miserable. 

Jack could have cared less about his students.  For the most part, he spent entire night hustling Katie plus two other women from the class.  Whether he had any luck with Katie I will never know.  What I do know is that Jack could have cared less that the men and the less attractive women in our group were floundering like fish out of water.

Lead and Follow

As Nietzsche would say, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." 

Yes, I survived the night, but there were no silver linings.  Only pain. 

The area that led to my downfall was my inability to "Lead".  Leading is a skill typically acquired through months of continual practice plus some good coaching along the way.  It is nearly impossible to learn to lead in a short period of time. 

Back in high school there was Band Practice, Cheerleading Practice, Drama Practice, Drill Team Practice, Basketball Practice, you name it.  Leading is a mechanical skill just the same as learning to shoot a basketball.  If you want to shoot free throws well, then shoot 50 free throws a day for six months.  Same thing for dancing.  You have to make time for Dance Practice. Take one dance class a week and practice for at least one hour in between.  That's how a man will learn to lead.  Even if the Practice goes poorly, at least you will learn what you need work on.  You can ask the teacher for help when you see him or her again.

I spent six weeks wondering why suddenly a bad dancer like myself had magically become so good.  Little did I know the secret of my success was due to the fact that Jack didn't bother teaching us to lead.  That's the hard part!!  Most men can learn footwork.  But combining footwork and leads at the same time is very difficult. 

Jack literally fooled me into thinking I was learning something.   The guy was guilty of dance malpractice!  I am dead serious.  To teach a partner dance class and ignore teaching leads borders on incompetence.   No man could ever hope to acquire the skills needed to succeed on a Ballroom Dance floor under Jack's format.  Consequently, our lack of work on leads doomed me to my Melody Lane Nightmare. 

While it is true that it is not easy to teach people how to lead - especially given our limited amount of time - Jack should have at least warned us about what we didn't know.  "Leading" is the backbone of Ballroom Dancing, not playing "Simon Says" for six weeks.  What was he trying to accomplish?  What good is footwork without leads?  Furthermore, his lack of work on how to connect patterns was equally short-sighted.  That was not a true dance class. 

In my opinion, Jack's negligence was akin to teaching small children how to light matches, then handing them a box of matches to use without supervision.

Sorry to say, but my inability to lead would set me up for yet another devastating experience in May 1978. I did not learn how to lead until I began taking private lessons late in 1978.  As a result of the pain I suffered from my own shortcomings, once I became an instructor, I made certain to focus on leads for my entire teaching career. 

A woman once asked me why I think it is so much for men to learn to dance.  The answer is simple: men have to learn to lead. 

The conscious mind can think of one new thing at a time.  When I teach a pattern, a man usually thinks about his footwork first and chooses to ignore the information about the lead.  Then when he thinks about the lead, his feet stop working.  Going back and forth, eventually one or the other becomes automatic and the man can concentrate on coordinating the hands and the feet.  It takes a while to get the leads and the footwork in sync with each other.  If the man isn't patient, he's doomed.

Second, just because the man understands that he has to lead doesn't mean he knows how to do it.  I can explain a lead till I am blue in the face, but until the man gets the feel of the lead, it is trial and error.  Learning to lead is very tricky.  

Meanwhile, all the woman has to do is think about is her feet.  Better yet, if the lead is very good, she may not even need to know her footwork.  Is it fair?  No.  But that's the way it is.

Because it takes so much effort to develop leads, most guys quit.  On the other hand, the man who stays with it to the point of excellence soon has a line of ladies asking him to dance.  The man who has the perseverance to learn to lead is set for life.


My lack of "Practice" also contributed to my downfall.  There was no dance practice after class.  When the hour was up, we were out of there.  In other words, not once had I ever danced on my own without the crutch of watching Jack.  This in turn helped keep me blind to the importance of leading.  Nor did I ever realize that I had no idea how to connect two patterns together.  In my ignorance, I spent six entire weeks thinking I was learning to dance when in reality this was nothing more than an exercise class.  I could have learned just as much Ballroom dancing taking a Yoga class.  In the end, all I had to show for my effort were six sheets of paper and the Box Step.

In dance, there are two kinds of learning: conscious and unconscious.  When you learn a move, it is stored in conscious memory.  Every time you learn a different move, your mind simply discards the previous pattern.  If you practice almost immediately after class, you can usually retrieve the material. If you practice long enough, the pattern goes into a type of unconscious memory we call 'muscle memory'.  Muscle memory is what allows you to ride a bike for the first time in twenty years.  It sticks around a long time.

As it stood, I had no chance to develop any muscle memory.  Practice would have made a big difference.  Instead each week's patterns probably disappeared from my feet about the moment I got to my car.  However I didn't know it was gone since there was no review. 

Katie exclaimed at how well I was doing.  Consequently, without the harsh reality of Practice to dispel that illusion, I remained blissfully ignorant that I knew practically nothing.  Unaware, that is, until the fateful Melody Lane Nightmare.

Let's say you move into a tough neighborhood and you don't know how to fight.  When the bullies challenge you to a fight, you have the sense to turn and run.  One day you are tired of running.  So you take a karate class and everyone tells you how good you are.  So the next time the bullies show up, you are actually stupid enough to stand there and fight them.  With your bloody nose as a painful reminder, you learn the hard way that you aren't nearly as skilled as you thought you were.

That's exactly what happened to me at Melody Lane. Jack set me up, Katie's praise went to my head and I never had a chance.

So why didn't I practice for Jack's Ballroom class?  Because there were no built-in opportunities.  If I wanted to practice for Jack's class, I would have been forced to ask a woman to meet me to practice.  But that was out of the question.

Thanks to my "phobia", I was deeply reluctant to look foolish in front of a woman.  Since I was so clumsy, I refused to ask a woman to go out dancing with me and see how clumsy I was.  And since I never practiced, I remained clumsy.  What a dilemma!  My dancing didn't improve because I didn't practice.  I didn't practice because my dancing didn't improve.

I was no better than a dog chasing his tail.

It took me three years to learn to dance well enough to begin to teach.  With a good instructor and a decent Practice ethic, I am sure I could have reached the same skill level in just one year.  I would say my "phobia" cost me two years of progress.

The sad thing is that most of my dance students are guilty of the same mistake.  Over the years, I noticed the one thing that separated the students who "got it" from the ones who didn't get it was Practice. The majority of students came to class, then went home.  They didn't practice for a week, then returned to class and didn't remember a thing. 

Dancing is a mechanical skill plain and simple.  Dancing must be practiced exactly the same way that people practice shooting guns or hitting golf balls.  Otherwise the classes are wasted.  The moves don't stick.  Dance students go out dancing on New Year's Eve and discover to their dismay they don't remember a damn thing from dance class.

In Dancing, we have a saying: Use it or Lose it. 

Unlike skiing or riding a bicycle, you literally can forget how to dance if you don't practice.  Take my word for it.  If anyone should know, that would be me.  The biggest mistake of my entire dance career was my reluctance to Practice back in the beginning. 

On the other hand, the smartest thing I ever did was learn to dance.  Just be aware that there are no shortcuts.  You must practice.

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