Home Up A Difficult Lesson

Perseverance A Difficult Lesson Lost Love


Written by Rick Archer
October 20


Rick Archer's Note:  One night during the late-night dancing on our 2012 Labor Day  dance cruise, I was joined by Gertrude Booysen, the lady who was our Carnival Coordinator.  I noticed Gertrude was intently watching how the people from our dance group interacted.  Gertrude, a native of South Africa, seemed fascinated. First she pointed out how the men politely asked the ladies to dance and how the ladies seemed so pleased to be asked. Then she noticed the people who weren't dancing always seemed to be engaged in conversation with one another.  Gertrude asked me why our dancers were such a nice group of people.  Why were they so friendly?

I laughed at her question.  I told Gertrude I completely agreed with her.  She was right.  Dancers are definitely a cut above the norm when it comes to being considerate people.  Then I gave the question some thought.  I told Gertrude that most social dancers are people who possess a great deal of 'perseverance'. 

Gertrude asked, "So what does perseverance have to do with being friendly?"

I explained that most good social dancers are 'made', not 'born'.  That includes me.  In my case, nothing came easily.  I struggled mightily every step of the way. 

Later when I became a dance teacher, I realized that I wasn't alone.  Lots of people, especially men, have to struggle to get it.  Very few people I would call 'good dancers' ever have an immediate grasp of the mechanics.  For the vast majority, the only way they ever made progress was to try and stumble, then try again... then try try again some more.  Slowly but surely the moves would eventually sink in.

Therefore, in my opinion, the one trait that most successful social dancers seem to share above all is 'perseverance'. 

Gertrude replied, "But you still haven't explained why perseverance leads to friendship."

And this is what I told her...

Many beginning dancers are surprised to discover that most good dancers are not 'born dancers'.  Oh, sure, there are a few people with a gift, but most good dancers will readily admit they learned to dance the hard way - one step at a time. 

While most good dancers are the product of painstaking trial and error spread over eons, there actually are a few 'born dancers'.  Born dancers may be more rare than Yeti sightings in the Himalayas, but yes, they do exist.  There really is the occasional person who picks things up very quickly.  In 32 years of running a dance studio, I saw a student with this kind of gift come through about once a year. 

Let me clarify.  For one thing, not every 'born dancer' is interested in social dancing.  Just because someone has dancing ability doesn't mean they will be interested in 'social dancing'.  Many people with a gift for dancing don't enjoy dancing with someone who doesn't have "the gift". For example, whenever I guest teach at HSPVA (Houston's answer to Fame), I have noticed the whiz kid dancers are not particularly interested in partner dancing.  They are amused for a while, but I imagine those kids usually stick to 'Freestyle' when they become adults. 

That said, occasionally someone very special has crossed my path.

I once had a student and his future wife who signed up for my "Two Left Feet" class.  This class was advertised as the class to take for the world's slowest learners.  This young man and his girlfriend wanted to learn to dance, but didn't know where to start.  So they landed in "Two Left Feet".  Both of them not only caught on quickly, they were drawn to the challenge.  In their case, it took 'perseverance' to tolerate the slow pace of the class.  After that class ended, they got into a tougher class and moved right up the ladder.  About two and a half years later, this young man became a world dance champion in Country-Western dancing.

True story!  But also a once in a lifetime story.  Students who are gifted dancers AND interested in partner dancing are few and far between.  Take my word for it - in social dancing, "gifted dancers" are a rarity.


Normal Students

In addition to the rare students with a gift, there are "Fast Learners".  They show up more often, but still not as often as you might guess.  I would estimate there is one fast learner in every 50 students.  For every fast learner, the next 50 people will struggle just like everyone else.  These are your basic "normal students".

Pretend it is January, always our biggest month of the year. It was not unusual for 100 new students to show up for classes.

How many of these people would still be taking classes in December?   I would say 10.  It would vary, but 10 is close.

Of those 10, how many were fast learners?  1 or 2.

The other 8 had only one thing going for them: perseverance. They stayed with it, they practiced, and they got the hang of it.

What about the other 90 people? 

40 of them quickly decided dancing wasn't for them and didn't take a second class.  They were "one and done".

The remaining 50 took one to five more classes before moving on to something else.  A lot of those 50 would be back to take more classes a year or so later.  I called these students "occasional dancers."  They liked dancing, but weren't 'hooked on it'.  They never stayed with it long enough to develop any real expertise.  They learned enough to go dancing in the clubs and have fun.  That was fine with them and fine with me.

The Good Dancers

One solid year of dance classes and practice will produce a skilled, polished dancer.  When you see a good dancer, you are usually looking at someone who has taken classes for at least a year, probably more.  People who stick with social dance for more than a year are clearly a select group.  Out of their original group, they are one in ten, maybe even one in twenty.

As I have pointed out, these people are not necessarily the ones with any special ability.  They usually turn out to be normal people who simply "stuck with it".  They had no special ability for dancing, but they were interested enough to give it a try and decided to continue.  Even though dancing did not come to them easily, they discovered that if they practiced and stayed with it, the moves began to click. After a year, they looked back and smiled when they realized just how far they had come.  Now they are hooked on dancing.  Social dance has become a skill they enjoy and are determined to master even more.  So, in a sense, at this point they will probably be 'dancers' for the rest of their life. 

When we go on our cruises, many passengers line the edge of the floor to watch our group dance.  As they ooh and aah at how lovely and graceful the dancers are, these spectators have no idea that they are watching people who are the Poster boys and girls for Perseverance.  All of these people have at least one and more often 3, 5, even 10 years of dancing under their belt. 

That goes for me too.  In my own case, I took at least one group dance lesson, sometimes two, every week for three solid years in the beginning.  Then when I became an instructor, I got even more serious.  I switched to private lessons twice a week for six more years! 

Let me add that when I retired 25 years later, I used my new-found free time to start taking private lessons again.  There really is no end to learning if you enjoy improving at dance.

Staying the Course

Does anyone learn quickly?  Yes, but not very often.  Rapid progress in dance is unusual.  If someone has a gift and goes straight to private lessons, they can improve rapidly.  But who has that kind of money?   And where does the incentive come from to accelerate the learning curve like that?

"Dancing with the Stars" is an aberration of sorts.  Here you have celebrities paired up with exceptional instructors who drill them non-stop for weeks, months at a time in preparation to appear on the show.  The celebrities go through a type of boot camp with hours of daily training so they can acquire their skills quickly.  It is no surprise that athletes often do well on the show because their sports careers have prepared them for this kind of rigorous physical regimen. 

For normal people, learning to social dance is not an overnight project.  Dancing is a skill that rarely pays off quickly.  More often than not, 'slow and steady' is the rule.  The people who stay with dancing understand that the payoff is somewhere in the future... two months, four months down the road.  In the meantime, they satisfy themselves with steady progress and keep their goals reasonable.  

'Perseverance' just happens to be a trait that separates successful people from average people in more ways than just dance.  People who stick with it even when the results are slow to materialize are those who are successful in school, successful in sports, successful in career, and many other walks in life.  People who innately strive to hang in there even when things don't come easily develop both humility and confidence.  They are humble because they know they have to work hard for everything they get in life.  They are confident because they have proven to themselves time and again that although their natural ability may be limited, they can do anything they put their mind to.  It's just a matter of time.

Most social dancers are cut out of this cloth.  They may not have the natural ability to be a performer or become instructors, but through discipline they can at least become competent dancers.  Dancing is a wonderful skill, but let's face facts - no one needs to learn to dance just like no one needs to learn to do Crossword or learn to ski.  Lacking a sense of urgency, like most hobbies, people can take it or leave it.  To become good at dancing, someone has to say, "I am going to stay with this dancing until I get it."  People who succeed at learning to dance are the kind of people who make a commitment and stick to it even when learning the moves isn't as easy as they expected. 

If you see someone dance well, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.  In addition to being good at dancing, this person is probably good at a lot of things because that is who he or she is.  'Slow and steady' is part of their natural make-up.  Their finely-tuned sense of dedication is what makes them special.  I might add that 'special people' usually turn out to be 'nice people' as well. 

Coincidence?  I don't think so.  I think as people accomplish things in life, they develop a maturity to go along with their sense of achievement.  Social dancing in particular is a "social" skill.  By its very nature, social dance attracts people who like people to begin with.  Not surprisingly, the people who are attracted to social dancing typically bring a superior set of social skills along with them. 

The best social dancers quickly learn to be considerate about their partner.  And that sense of courtesy and concern affects the way dance partners treat each other off the dance floor as well.  They become teammates and friends.  As those individual friendships are extended to other dancers, a network of friendships are formed.  As that network grows, a community is born.

What Gretchen was seeing aboard the ship was an entire community of friends with bonds forged by dancing together.

And who are the best social dancers?  The ones who persevered...  

Learning to Dance

I think my story is important to all other struggling dancers.

I can't imagine any story more descriptive of the need for 'perseverance' than my own. 

I had to overcome some serious handicaps in order to become a good dancer.  In my case, dancing came very slowly.  My rate of progress is best described as 'glacial'.  I would say I have met perhaps five other men in my life who were actually worse than I was when they started. 

Considering I taught something like 100,000 people to dance over my thirty year career, I suppose that would put me at the furthest end of the proverbial Bell Curve.  For every "gifted dancer", there has to be someone on the other end, right?  That would be me. 

Speaking of yetis, you might say I started with the same dancing ability as your average Abominable Snowman.  You think I exaggerate?  Oh boy, trust me, I am not exaggerating.

Since we already know that I eventually made it to the other side of the Bell Curve to become a pretty good dancer, some people might be curious to learn how I did it.

The Person Who Can't Dance

Occasionally someone will tell me it is impossible for them to learn to dance.  I smile and tell them that is nonsense.  Assuming they have two working legs and the brain capacity to read the morning paper, they can learn to dance if they want to.  Now I can accept that someone doesn't "care" enough to learn, but there is no such thing as a waking walking person who can't learn to dance. 

And why am I so certain?  Because I started out as the worst dancer of all time and somehow became good enough to teach 100,000 people to dance.  How are they going to refute that?

The story of how I learned to dance is quite extreme.  My experience proves that if someone sets their mind to it, ANYONE can learn to dance.  I say anyone who claims he or she can't learn to dance has never tried or didn't stay with it. 

So why was I so handicapped?  You know what, that's an interesting question.

On the surface, you would assume I had some advantages.  Not only was I able to walk, I was a good athlete.  Basketball, my favorite sport, required good footwork, so obviously I wasn't crippled in any way.  I could ski, so I must have had good balance as well.

I was also smart enough to go college with a degree to prove it.  So if I could walk and read the morning paper, what was my problem?

For starters, I may have been smart, but my intelligence somehow worked against me.  

Carl Jung once explained that different people have different approaches to learning.  Some people can see dance steps and immediately copy them without a thought.  They can just "mimic" the motion.

Not so for some highly analytical people.  In my case, back when I was learning, I would see the step, let my mind process it, then my mind would explain to my feet what to do.  My mind would carefully watch my feet move to make sure the feet followed the commands properly.  In a sense, I was talking to my feet the entire time.  Left foot, go there.  Right foot, go there.  How absurd is that? 

In my first dance class, I was initially unable to do step-together-step, the world's easiest dance step.  I was so nervous that I did it SLOWLY one step at a time.  When my feet came together, I stared down at my feet and realized I wasn't sure which foot had moved last.  I had to start over several times until I got the hang of it.  Not once did my brain give my feet permission to move on their own.

My problem was the same thing as hitting a golf ball.  You can't "think" about swinging a club.  The act of thinking screws it up.  You have to turn the brain off!  You can't think about shooting a free throw.  Same problem.  That sort of acute self-consciousness is a killer.  Why do so many people miss free throws in the final minutes of a basketball game?  Because they are "thinking about it".  And what is the phrase for an athlete who can't miss?  They are "unconscious".

Dancing requires fluid physical motion that should not be under the mind's active control.  But if that is the way you are wired, then you have no choice but to learn certain skills like dancing the hard way.  I did not have a choice. Thinking about my steps was a curse I had to deal with.

I can't say that I truly understand the problem.  After all, I learned to walk, didn't I?  Plus I learned to ski and I learned to play basketball without any interference from my brain.  I did it the old-fashioned way - I practiced.  And yes, my brain was involved.  I thought about different ways to shoot the basketball.  But I was able to turn my brain off when the game started and just play. 

Not so with dancing.  I was constantly plagued by an acute self-consciousness.  I had to think about every stupid body motion or step I took.  Nothing came naturally.  Progress was agonizingly slow.

Not all intelligent, analytical people have this problem.  For example, my best friend Mike Fagan is a computer genius as well a former dance champion.  I am smart enough to play bridge with Mike, but when it comes to dance moves, Mike picks patterns up at a rate three times faster than me.  I should know - I taught him to dance.  I cringed at how fast he picked up patterns that had taken me forever to learn.  Why was he able to learn so much faster than I did? 

I cannot explain the reasons for the difference in our learning abilities, but it might be a very interesting psychological study.  When it comes to dance, I believe I have some sort of "learning disability".  Call it "dance dyslexia" if you wish.  I simply cannot pick up new dance moves as fast as most people.  I know the only solution is to stop criticizing myself and to drill the move until it sinks in.  I may be a slow learner, but persistent practice will eventually lick the problem.  Once I have the move in muscle memory, I am fine.

Nor am I alone with this problem.  During the course of my teaching career, I have seen lots of very smart people who have the same problem as mine although maybe not to the same degree.  I came to the conclusion that certain highly analytical people - people just like me - require up to 3 times more explanation than non-analytical people.  The fact remains that some highly analytical people cannot seem to shut their mind off. Sometimes nothing can help an analytical person overcome the cruelty of their own mind that is unable to set the body free.

There are three solutions to the problem.  You must have a sense of humor.  You have to accept you have a problem and make fun of it.  I mean, for heaven's sakes, learning to dance isn't exactly life and death.  So roll your eyes at the problem and laugh.  For example, I always tell overly-bright people that this condition is God's way of keeping dance studios in business.  Not only are these people too damn bright to learn to dance on their own, they are so smart they make enough money to feed a starving dance teacher.

If they laugh, I know they have a chance.  It helps them loosen up.  If they frown, they are doomed.  They will get frustrated and quit.

The second solution is to practice.  A person cannot stand there and watch.  They have to get their feet moving.  They have to repeat a move over and over again.  At some point, the mind will let go and set the feet free.  The Country-Western dance known as the Polka is the perfect example.  Step-close-step.  That doesn't sound hard, does it?   In any class, half the people get the basic footwork on the first try.  The other half is going to have to work for it.  Half of those people will get it after three or four repetitions. 

Now we are down to one-quarter of the class.  Sure enough, these turn out to be the "analytical" people.  If they repeat the pattern enough times, at some point it will click... but that might require 10 reps, 15 reps, or more.  Who knows? 

The first question is do they have the will power to force themselves to practice knowing the results may not be pretty at first.  The second question is whether they will have the perseverance and patience to put in that kind of time and effort.  The third question is whether their self-esteem is high enough to tolerate the rest of the class staring at them like they are stupid or something. 

Finally, they need to find an instructor like me.  Why do dance classes have an overabundance of analytical people?  Because less-analytical people don't need classes.  They can go to a club and pick it up by watching.  Or they can dance with someone who will help them get the feel of it.  Not analytical people.  They have to have the steps explained to them.  That's the way they are.

Oddly enough, my curse is now a strength of sorts.  Most dance instructors are the ones who have "the Gift".  But that doesn't necessarily mean they can relate to the people who think too much.  I am one of the few dance instructors who not only understands the problem, but can explain things in a way that highly-analytical people can relate to.

Some instructors might say, "Just watch me and do what I do."  That will work just fine for two-thirds of the class.  But that doesn't work for an analytical person.  They need each step laid out in front of them in a logical progression.  Some students love my style of teaching while other students prefer other instructors.  I don't have a problem with that.  As I said, different people learn different ways.  I appeal to students who are very analytical.  I know how they think and I speak their language.  I am one of them.  Thanks to me, people who think too much may actually have a chance after all.  Call it "special ed for dancers".


The Failed Therapist

Some people succeed; some fail.  In 1973, I began graduate work in the Dept of Clinical Psychology at Colorado State University.  Thanks in large part to my anger problem and thin skin, I was soon at odds with the powerful head of the department.  He was the wrong person to butt heads with.  At the end of the year, I was sent packing.

My grades were top-notch.  It was my 'personality' they found lacking.  I was told I had too aggressive a personality to become a healer of the soul.  I had failed. 

At the time, I was completely devastated.  This was my chosen profession.  There was no "Plan B".  I hit the abyss.  For the entire month of June 1974, I could barely move.

A kind family loaned me their living room couch and an endless supply of peanut butter. I laid on my back for a month feeling sorry myself.  I was in so much despair.

One day for reasons I don't understand, my life force kicked back in.  Like the "Terminator", a light flickered on inside of me.  I got up off my couch and in rapid succession found a job as a social worker, then found an apartment.  I was on my own again but with no direction.

I may have had a job, but I was what you would call a "walking wounded".  I was psychologically intact enough to do my job and pay bills, but inside I was floundering.  Taking stock, my worst problem was my loneliness.  Unfortunately, thanks in large part to my failure in graduate school, my self-esteem had hit rock bottom.

I was scared to death to approach any woman I didn't know.  It wasn't just a mild case of nerves.  I literally trembled at the thought of approaching a woman and trying to strike up a conversation.  My fear was so intense, it was actually a "social phobia".

By chance, I ran across a paperback that said one of the easiest ways to meet women was to learn to dance. 

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.

As I read this, I felt a little flicker of hope.  Maybe if I could learn to dance, I could overcome my fear of approaching women.  One week later, I started my first dance class.


The Phobia

Back in August 1974 when I took my first dance lesson, I was an angry, bitter young man.  Those were my "Rick against the world" days.  My failure in Graduate School had been a crushing blow, but while I was in school I received yet a second crippling blow.

I was badly burned by a two-timing girlfriend named Jan.  Her deceit was so effective that I was completely blind-sided when I discovered the truth.  I already knew I was in deep trouble in my program and now I learned that the woman who said she loved me was seeing her old boyfriend on the side.

I was crushed at the time and remained in quite a bit of pain for half a year.  Even when the pain finally subsided, I felt terrified of being fooled like that again.  I was obsessed with not letting a woman trick me like that again.  My anger towards women was intense.  My whole world was "paint it black". 

At the time I also knew I was in trouble in my Psychology program.  My professor's criticism eroded most of my confidence.  My problems with my two-timing girlfriend eroded the rest.  From that point on, I was reeling.  Every day of my life for the remainder of the school year was a struggle to keep going. 

What woman would ever be attracted to me?  I was a failure in every way I could think of.  I might get a smile from a pretty girl, but I would recoil and shrink back into the shadows.  I had become afraid of women in the same way some people are afraid of snakes.  I had my guard up all the time.

My year at Colorado State was the origin of my "phobia".  There was even a clinical name for what I had. 'Social phobia' is the debilitating fear of being negatively evaluated in social situations.  When I first saw that label, I shuddered.  That was me.  Unfortunately, just because I knew the name of my condition didn't mean I could get rid of it.

My phobia was real and it had power over me.  When I started my dance project, that phobia carried over into my dancing.  Once I realized how mediocre I was at dancing, I was so ashamed of myself.  Failure at Grad School, failure with women, failure at dancing.  What's next?

I was so clumsy in my dance class that I feared having a woman laugh at me while I danced.  As silly as it must seem to a reader, you have to accept at face value that I had no self-confidence left.  My self-esteem towards women was so low that I believed I could not tolerate any sort of embarrassment.  I felt so unattractive to begin with that having a woman stare at me with pity or a sneer was a risk I didn't want to take.  I knew I was a slow learner and I knew I was awkward.  Just the thought of asking a woman to dance and have her laugh at me made me cringe.  What a sissy!  But true nevertheless.

I was so beaten down at that point my pride would not accept this kind of rejection.  As a result, I refused to practice my dancing anywhere but in a dance class.  That lack of practice slowed my progress down considerably. 

Of course this is ridiculous.  Who cares if a woman snickers?  But that is the nature of phobias.  Little children once bitten are terrified by even the most gentle of dogs.  No matter how harmless the wiggly little garden snake, some people still scream bloody murder.  Anyone with a near-drowning experience is leery of pools shallow enough to wade in. 

It may be irrational, but these fears have power nonetheless.  If you don't believe me, trying calming a person down who has a fear of flying after the plane has just hit a bumpy stretch.  Everyone is a prisoner to their fears. 

They say that progress is often measured by two steps forward and one step back.  In the case of my fear of women, my life definitely took one step back...
or maybe I should say closer to a mile backwards.

The Road Back

So how do you conquer a Phobia all by yourself?  It isn't easy, especially considering I had a learning disorder on top of my insecurity. 

I turned to dance as a way to try to get my confidence back.  I made an odd pact with myself.  To me, learning to dance meant finding the nerve to approach women again.  I told myself I wasn't going to date again until I first learned to dance.  Learning to dance was my way of making myself feel attractive again.  So you might say I had more motivation than the average guy. 

The flaw in this strategy was the terrible discovery that I could not dance a lick!!  I never realized how hard it would be for me to learn to dance when I conceived my plan. Now what? 

So why didn't I quit right on the spot?  After all, that's what most people do when they find dancing doesn't come easy.

Despite my gloom and doom, I had two pieces of knowledge to sustain me.  Thanks to a strong sense of self-discipline, I had consistently made good grades the old-fashioned way - I studied hard.  I had also taught myself to play basketball.  I had learned that the more I practiced, the better my shooting became.  I applied my success at both situations to dance.  

In my case, I looked inside and realized I truly wanted to learn to dance.  Back when I was in high school, I had yearned to get out there and dance like the other kids.  However, thanks to a terrible case of childhood acne, I stayed rooted to the sidelines throughout high school. 

Now that I was faced with the realization that I couldn't dance, I thought back to basketball.  I had taught myself to play basketball in the years when my acne made me feel like a leper.  I swore to myself that if I could teach myself to play basketball, I could teach myself to dance. 

Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, is attributed with saying "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate".  I had succeeded before in tough learning situations.  I was positive I could do it again.  It might take a while, but I was only 24 years old.  I wasn't willing to let this set-back make me give up on dancing.

So I put my mind to it.  As you might guess, I possessed more perseverance than your average person.  I figured if I could teach myself to play basketball, I could teach myself to dance.

However, I realized I needed help.  Someone had to show me some moves.

To begin my project, I took a Freestyle dance class.  But that first class was a disaster.  Once I saw how poorly I danced, I was afraid to go out dancing and look foolish.  I assumed any woman would either reject me if I asked her to dance or burst out laughing once she saw me flailing away.  Wasn't it just my luck to pin my hopes on the one thing I had no natural ability for?  Three steps backwards.

My unique solution was to put up a mirror in my apartment.  Alone in the privacy of my apartment, I practiced endlessly after each Freestyle dance class.  Good move.  It was like basketball all over again where I practiced for hours all by myself.  But that still wasn't getting it done.  I was petrified of dancing in public anywhere besides dance class.

There is an old Buddhist saying that the teacher will appear when the student is ready.  That proverb adds that you might not recognize the person at first - it might be a withered old man, a beggar, a person in a wheelchair, or a person who robs you.  Whoever it is, you will learn a lesson from that person.  In my case, my 'teacher' turned out to be a gay friend I had met at work named Charles. 

From time to time Charles and I talked about my fear of women and how I didn't have the courage to practice.  As Charles learned about my problem, he became sympathetic.  Without explaining what he was up to, Charles decided to lend a hand.  One night he invited me to go out dancing with his group of friends.  Although I am not gay or bisexual, I am pretty much at ease with anyone who is.  Desperate to practice, I took him up on his offer. 

Despite my initial nervousness, to my surprise I discovered I didn't care what a guy thought of my dancing.  Yes, practicing in a gay bar was a pretty strange arrangement, but it worked like a charm. I was suddenly free to practice to my heart's content.  That was a big step forward.

I practiced every Saturday night for four months.  I made wonderful progress.

One Saturday night in March 1975, I showed up at the gay bar only to find that no one in my usual band of gay friends was there.  I would later learn they had all gone to a party without telling me.  At the time I assumed they were just late getting there.  Unsure what to do, I decided to sit and wait for them to appear.  As I sat there watching the dancing, a man came up to me and asked me to dance.

I felt ill at ease, but I also wanted to dance.  It was freestyle, not touch dancing.  Who cares?  As far as I was concerned, it was practically the same thing as dancing in the mirror.  So I said okay. 

About halfway through the dance, I was shocked when this stranger suddenly grabbed me and would not let go.  To my further surprise, he had almost superhuman power.  I was a helpless ragdoll in his powerful bear hug.  I struggled and told him to let me go, but it did no good.  I was very frightened, but not panic-stricken.  Since there were a couple hundred other men around, I assumed I could scream for help at any time.  Fortunately it didn't come to that.  He released me at the end of the song.

Badly shaken, I left immediately.  On the way home, I vowed I would never go back.  Now I was mad because I had just lost my practice sanctuary.  That was a big setback.  Or was it?  Although I didn't realize it at the time, the guy had done me a favor.  He made me start thinking in a new direction.

The next day, I had a novel idea.  Why not ask a girl to go dancing?  Imagine that.  So I called a young lady named Maggie I had met over at Rice University.  This was a major step forward.  This was my first date in seventeen months.  Friday night we went out dancing.

From the moment we hit the dance floor, Maggie was impressed.  At one point in the evening, Maggie exclaimed that I was a really good Freestyle dancer.  I practically melted with gratitude at the praise.  This was a big step forward.  Eight solid months of constant practice had transformed me from the absolute worst dancer into one of the best on the floor that night. 

My project had paid off.  I was on my way to recovery.

Dancing was an Amazing Form of Self-Therapy

I have shared this set of events to show how perseverance paid off for me.  In this case, Dancing gave me my confidence back and helped me feel attractive again.  Best of all, Dancing cured a phobia and helped me lick the worst depression of my entire life. 

If this story had stopped right here, "Dancing" would still hold a permanent place on my list as one of the smartest moves I ever made in my life.

But my story didn't stop here, did it?    I had no idea that Dancing would turn into a career.  It would be two more years before I began to teach, but Maggie's compliment was all the proof I needed to know I was on the right track.  I was going to follow this path wherever it took me.  As Confucius pointed out, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step".   My first steps had been awkward, but now that I could see that they were paying off, I was hooked.  I had just gotten a compliment from a pretty girl.  My sense of satisfaction was huge and now I craved more approval.

My dance project would become a lifelong source of joy and satisfaction.  Considering my initial handicaps, how improbable is that? 

Dancing allowed me to make a living, buy a home, take care of my mother and send my daughter to college.  Dancing started my writing career.  Dancing turned me into the healthiest, most slender guy at every high school reunion.   Dancing led to my cruise trips around the world.  Dancing helped me meet Marla, the love of my life.

Dancing even helped turn me into a decent person... which is perhaps the greatest miracle of all considering how angry I was when I started.  I like to think that in my determination to become a good dancer, I became a better person along the way.  I can't say that perseverance alone made me a better person, but healing my shattered self-esteem certainly did.  

The Power of Dance

In my article about "Perseverance", I have shared my personal experiences for two special reasons. 

First, I wanted to make it clear that Social Dancing has tremendous power.  Dancing is a skill that can challenge the mind and help keep the body healthy for an entire lifetime.  My own story of healing has been duplicated by other people I know.  As an example, I know a man who cured a serious stress-related physical problem through dance.

Social Dancing has many other values as well.  As I have shown, a mastery of Social Dancing can give confidence to a lonely man or a lonely woman in a therapeutic way. 

Social Dancing is a skill that allows people to connect to other people in a far less intimidating way than meeting someone in a bar.  It can be used as a way to meet people and on a deeper level it can also create a vast network of friendships.

It is important to note that an effective dance class can actually become a support group of sorts.  As people dance together, they forge bonds.  The longer the class stays together, the more the students begin to care about each other.  There are actually seeds within every dance class that have the power to form a community.

Furthermore, I contend that social dancing can even cure depression.

Now it is true that I am a "failed therapist".  So what do I know?  Yes, I was thrown out of Graduate School because my professors decided I did not have the right personality to become a therapist.  However, I still learned a thing or two.  The training I received in my year of graduate work gave me enough understanding to recognize that I unwittingly used my dance lessons as a way to regain my mental health.  I hope my "Perseverance" article has made this clear.  After reading my story, I challenge anyone to disagree with me. 

What's Next?

As I finished the "Perseverance" story, I wrote that a woman named Maggie had given me what amounted to the Holy Grail - a compliment on my dancing.  Ta da!  Let's hear it for the boy.

The problem with Fairy Tales, of course, is they all end Happily Ever After.  But here in the Real World, we all know that the next chapter might not be quite as charming. 

Through perseverance, we have seen how I was able to achieve enough competence to risk asking a woman to dance and how taking that risk paid off for me.  In the case of Maggie, she gave me exactly the elixir I pursued - a much-needed compliment from a pretty girl. 

However, the woman who can build you up can also tear you down.

So what is "A Difficult Lesson" about? 

In my spare time, I have written about various personal experiences that will someday become chapters in a book about my dance career.

"A Difficult Lesson" is an especially curious story from April 1975.  This is not a particularly flattering story.  Not only does it illustrate just how mediocre my baseline dancing ability was, it also portrays my inadequacy around women.  Now you will read how both handicaps served to sabotage my progress at every juncture of the way.

As I keep pointing out, "Progress" is sometimes measured as two steps forward and one step backwards.  This next story is definitely a major step backwards.  But no matter how discouraged I became, I swore I would get back up and try again.  My sense of perseverance would not let me quit.

Rick Archer
October 2011

A Difficult Lesson

Written by Rick Archer
October 20
Perseverance A Difficult Lesson Lost Love
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