There comes a point in dancing when your body blends to the music, you're having fun and that "big, stupid, happy smile" comes over your face.
"It happens to me -- a lot," said Herb Fredricksen, leader of an area folk dance company, as he illustrated for novices an exuberant back step and kick straight out of "Zorba the Greek."
In no time at all, the beginners -- arms linked in a long "grapevine" line behind Fredricksen -- kicked and whirled in unison while the Mediterranean rhythm beat faster and faster. As if to prove their teacher's point, faces beamed.
Not bad for a group who only minutes earlier had been describing their hesitations and fears about getting out on a dance floor:
"I enjoy slow dancing," said a husky young man, "but I walk off the floor with fast dancing." It's a problem "of not letting go. There are lots of things I can do to look foolish" -- but not when it comes to a two-step.
A young musician said she felt "I ought to get up when the dancing starts at a party," but a self-image of "clumsiness" interferes.
From another woman: "I'm really scared. I don't like people looking at me. But I've always wanted to be able to dance."
When his inhibitions keep him seated through a bouncy tune, said one man, "I feel envious of those people out there enjoying themselves."
That, said another man, is why he showed up for Fredricksen's class. At a party, there are always a few dancers having fun. The others are talking. I'd like to be in on the fun."
Fredricksen, whose speciality is Austrian and Bavarian folk dances, has been offering an Open University series aimed at overcoming what he sees as a male reluctance to dance. But as revealed in last Sunday's turnout for the class -- "Dancing and Men, the Joys and the Blocks" -- the problem isn't limited to one sex.
Fredricksen's class, which drew mostly singles, is a combination of peptalk, group psychology and practice "to break the blocks and let in the joys." Slated for two hours, it went beyond three as the taped music played on.
To Fredricksen, 45, who figures his folk group has put on more than 1,000 performances in town squares, country clubs, churches and even the Johnson White House, "dancing is personal, intimate, joyous fun." But for many men, there are turnoffs.
Some shun dancing as feminine.But "dancing, from the earliest times, has been a man's activity," says Fredricksen. They leaped about with spears "to celebrate warfare or prove their virility." At first, women watched. "Eventually they got into the arms of men."
In addition, men often are conditioned from childhood to keep their emotions "bottled up." Dancing is emotional. As a result, women tend to take more readily to dancing, says Fredricksen, because they are "freer with their emotions."
In a room of 100 men and 100 women, "There are usually 100 women ready to dance and only about 20 men."
Fredricksen points to Anthony Quinn as "Zorba" launching into a rousing "grapevine" as an example of how thoroughly masculine, yet emotional, a dance can be. He was attracted to the Bavarian folk dances because, with their vigorous thigh-slapping and jumps, they are "quite manly."
As a young man in Cleveland, a city with a large ethnic population, he joined a male gymnastic organization. A one-night-a-week regimen often included an hour each of handball, running, parallel bars, volleyball -- and German dancing, all followed by "beer and playing poker."
One big male fear is "rejection" -- getting a "no" when you've finally gotten the courage to ask a woman to dance.Don't take it to heart, says Fredricksen. She may have many reasons for not wanting to dance.
As a teacher, he is often asked by women, but sometimes "I'm tired, or I want to talk. I may not want to dance right now." From a woman, a "no" may mean the same thing, not that "she doesn't like the way I look."
To some men who doubt their ability on the dance floor, "Dancing can be a sexual performance problem in public." They feel it puts their masculinity in question. "Your feet start to bump. Her face drops. You can't talk." In three minutes, the length of a dance, the romance -- "from first approach to final rejection" -- is all over.
The goal here is to think in terms of having fun and not in your performance. When you ask a woman to dance, "You're making a contract for fun -- not to be judged. If you both know it (dancing) is a comfortable thing, then it's great. Like a conversation."
Every generation has its own dance steps, adds Fredricksen. "If you're out of touch, you feel left behind." That means you dance to the slow tunes with the two-step you learned as a teen-ager, and you sit out the "pretzel" when the band strikes up a disco beat.
In reality, he says, "There isn't really much new" in dance steps. "You've got a left step and a right step," that with slight variation can have you doing the "cha-cha, the polka or the hustle."
In a disco, he suggests, you may feel intimidated by the sophistication of people who seem to know what they're doing. But if you watch closely, many in the crowd may know only one routine "and they may not know anything else." Dancing the same step over and over is "like reading a book 100 times."
Though he has been dancing for 23 years, Fredricksen admits he was intimidated at first by the disco scene. His dancing had mostly been "structured," and disco is "freestyle -- I didn't feel it fit me." But with practice, "I just opened up."
As he led his class through such basics as how to lead and follow, Fredricksen offered these observations:
"Dancing is an individual activity (even as a couple). You have to learn for yourself, no matter how good your partner is."
"In dancing with a variety of partners, you can learn a variety of skills."
If you go to party and only dance with your mate, it's like showing up at a party and talking only to each other. "To have fun, you ought to be able to dance with people of all different ages and sizes."
"Dance is a social thing. It can be recreation for a few minutes -- conversation on foot -- or a very heavy romantic thing."
In that vein, Fredricksen's idea for a T-shirt motto: "Put your feet in your foreplay -- dance."