The pouring rain pelted my cotton hoodie as I scrambled through the night towards a large, lighted tent. The ground was muddy and uneven; I had to step carefully to avoid slipping. Zydeco music was roaring out of the tent and the bodies inside moved with frantic energy; some jumped, some shook their hips, others twirled each other round and round. My friend and I finally made it under the tent and I peeled a drenched hood off of my head and made a beeline through the moving bodies towards the stage. We came to stop near the front, off stage left. Two girls were dancing with each other in front of us. They were grooving, and I made eye contact with one of them. She had long, dark hair, a soft face, and a huge smile. As we looked into each other’s eyes she motioned with her finger for me to step closer. It was a seductive move. She wanted to dance.
The problem was, however, that in 24 years I had never learned how to dance. I was quite terrified at the thought of even trying. My fear response kicked in; I felt my heart rate skyrocket and my chest tighten up. I smiled anxiously and averted my eyes down to the floor. I felt like a chump the rest of the night. I left the Shakori Hills Grassroots spring festival with a goal.
It was time to loosen up. A Google search in the following days provided various options for dancing lessons in the Triangle. My first foray was an introductory special offered from a ballroom studio in Raleigh. Those two lessons were a nice place to start; I learned some basic rumba steps which could come in handy for a slow dance at a formal event. I was seeking something a little more exciting, though.
Another Google search led me to the Carrboro Arts Center. I’ve lived in Carrboro for two years, but just discovered the Arts Center this May. What a gem that facility is. I decided on Beginner’s East Coast Swing taught by Richard Badu. I mustered the courage to call a cute girl I had met the weekend before to see if she would be interested in going to the class with me. I was surprised when she agreed! I have since been told that many women wish they could find a man who dances. Each class was an hour long, which was just the right amount of time to learn the steps and have fun, but not so long that I felt overwhelmed. Richard overflows with positive energy; it is easy to see that he loves both dancing and teaching.
My confidence was enhanced by the end of the first class. I learned that in partner dances there is a very distinct relationship that couples follow. The man is the leader, and the woman follows. This forced me to be more assertive, a character trait that I wish to develop further. In the professional world, and society in general, there is the argument that men and women are equal in all ways. On a professional and platonic level I fully agree, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and especially intimate relationships, men are expected to be the assertive pursuers of women. Dancing quickly helps a man become more confident. A partner dance rapidly breaks down physical barriers between men and women, too. A traditional dinner and movie date requires precise execution to escalate physically with a woman, lest things get awkward in a hurry. In dancing though, touching is expected. Holding deep eye contact is expected. Feeding off of the other’s body language and getting into the moment together is expected. All the awkwardness of physical escalation disappears.
After the class at the Arts Center culminated, I immediately got online to find what I could take next. The Arts Center offers a plethora of dancing classes. They had ballroom, hip hop, belly, and salsa classes going on in June, but unfortunately none of the times coincided with my work schedule. Luckily, another couple in the swing dancing class told us about the Triangle Swing Dance Society, an organization that puts on dances with live music.
I asked my pretty blonde swing partner to accompany me, and we checked out a dance at the Murphey School in Durham. This was the first time I was going to put my moves into practice to live music and a crowd of people. Needless to say, I was nervous. Were we going to be the only young people there? Would we be the only beginners? I certainly do not hold positive memories of going to dances in high school, so my heart pounded as we walked up to the front door.
I opened the door for my partner; big band music and warm air blasted us. It was time to take charge and assert myself. I grabbed my partner’s hand and headed straight for the dance floor. I walked with my head up, shoulders back, and a smile on my face. We found some room on the dance floor, which was adequately crowded, and we got into the basic step. Within two songs we were brimming with energy. It was an incredibly positive atmosphere. We quickly remembered all of our combinations: the basic twirl, the over-the-head handshake, the cuddle, the closed stance, around the waist, around the waist with a handshake, the X, the double twirl.
It’s exhilarating to lead a girl though a dance. My partner has a spry, springy step. She’s light on her toes. It drives me wild seeing her dress flair as I spin her around, and the way she tosses her thick blonde hair back out of her eyes to look at me for the next move is captivating. I find you have to dance with every girl a little differently, too. Some are taller, some are smaller, and each moves their body in unique ways. It’s an adventure connecting with various styles of movement. I especially like the girls who hold deep eye contact as we dance.
I’ve had supremely positive experiences with learning to dance in the Triangle, and I look forward to learning more. I’ve achieved my goal of loosening up at music shows, too. At a show, it’s not about knowing specific steps and moves, but just being able to let go and get lost in the music. The girls at the Shakori Hills fall festival better watch out.
I encourage any man who wants increased social connections and more self-confidence to dive in. A structured class like those offered at the Carrboro Arts Center is a low-pressure way to start, and a great date idea for that cute lady you’ve had your eye on. I’ve truly come to believe what a friend recently told me: “A man who is willing to dance will never be without a partner.”