Archer's Note: My previous story
Difficult Lesson" detailed how my
social dance project took a serious turn for the
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
When it was time for the next class, I was
full of anticipation. In Week Two,
Katie and I learned Cha Cha. What a
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
watched Jack like a hawk.
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
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
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."
frowned. There's that
word "lead" again. I
honestly had no idea what
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.
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
what Jack had accomplished with
Katie seemed like magic to me.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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!
Katie know how to do all those
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
I felt the heat
rise. It just dawned on me how
jealous I was of Katie and Jack!
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
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
I asked her what dance it was.
She frowned. "Aren't you
supposed to know?"
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
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
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
This woman's criticism really stung.
She was in a bad mood about something and I
was an easy target.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Whittier (1807-1892), American poet
you know the story of how a Ballroom Dance class
broke my heart.
been a true story. You have my word I did not
exaggerate a single detail.
He Who Hesitates is
back in the rearview mirror, I can still remember
how upset I was over this incident. I went
into a terrible tailspin afterwards.
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
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
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.
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
Nietzsche would say, "That which doesn't kill you
makes you stronger."
survived the night, but there were no silver linings.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I was no better than
a dog chasing his tail.
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.
Dancing, we have a saying: Use it or Lose it.
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
The biggest mistake of my
entire dance career was my reluctance to Practice
back in the beginning.
other hand, the smartest thing I ever did was learn
to dance. Just be aware that there are no
shortcuts. You must practice.