The Arthur Murray curriculum consists of 4 elements to teach you to learn to dance quickly: Private Lessons, Group Lessons, Practices, and Parties. The first 3 have very tactical goals: teach you new dance steps or polish the steps you already know. The party, on the other hand, takes on a whole different dimension altogether. The Party is the social aspect of the curriculum. That is, you show up. They play songs and tell you which dance it is and then you (as a man/lead) approaches a partner for a round around the floor. Although I have learned to appreciate these events over time, it is this aspect of learning to dance that has caused me the most distress.
So to understand that you first need to understand a little bit about me background in such settings. As you have probably gathered by now, I never had much luck with the ladies as a young man and I really had no luck on the dance floor. In fact, every time I built up the courage to dance, there was some element of ridicule or harassment that discouraged me from doing so. Then asking girls to dance was a much more uncomfortable experience. One example that pops into my mind is one from Junior High. There was this girl that I liked and I mean really liked. There was a Spring dance that I went alone to just hoping I could get this girl’s attention. About halfway through the dance, I mustered up the courage to approach her. I asked simply, “Would you like to dance?”. Her response (just as simply) was, “Maybe later”. Looking back I of course could see this as her merely not being interested and I should have salvaged any shred of pride I had at the moment and moved on or simply gone home. But, for some reason I took this girl at her word. So an hour passed and my adolescent self decided that it was “later” enough and so I approached her again to ask her to dance. I honestly do not remember the exact response this time, but I seem to remember that it was fairly clear that she was not interested at all. Devastated with rejection, I went home and I avoided her in school for the rest of the year.
I’ve got countless stories like this around dancing that happened to me early in life that I swore off it altogether. This slowly turned into somewhat of a phobia of dancing or at least dancing with other people. I got into the habit of looking very busy at the beginning of songs just so that in the rare instance someone wanted to dance with me, I was extremely unapproachable. Then, of course there were those rare instances when I drank too much and I was in a club setting and I started dancing good (or so I thought) and really just made a total fool of myself.
OK, so fast forward to the Party which is part of the curriculum and really a necessity to learn to dance quickly. I enter the first party and I am already nervous as hell. Once I get inside, all of the emotions and old feelings that I had buried from my earlier years just bubbled right up to the top. All of my old defense mechanisms came back. I was looking for something to put in my hands so as not to be approached (I am there with my wife mind you). I do not want to dance any dance not for fear of looking like a fool (I could give a shit about that), but it’s just because my history conditioned me to HATE these social settings. Then my wonderful instructor approaches me and, for the lack of a better way to put it, forces me to dance with her. She is super kind and sweet and counts out the music and talks me through the dance as if she knew the utter hell I was going through. Without her knowing it, she started the process of pushing me through an extremely painful place in my life one step at a time. Now I would like to say that after a few dances I was good to go, but if you look at this party experience as therapy (and if you’ve ever gone through therapy before), you will know that it does get a little bit better with every dance, but it will be a very long journey until I feel right at home in these situations. Even after 6 months of dancing and attending these parties, I am still not comfortable approaching women to dance and won’t unless forced.
All I can say at this point is I will keep trying.