Try Dancing for that Inferiority Complex (Nov, 1934)
Yes, that Arthur Murray.
I love the part where he explains that the reason people practice “petting” and “necking” is because they don’t know how to dance.
Try Dancing for that Inferiority Complex
The Author’s Own Experience and that of Others in Finding a Big Truth about Personality
By Arthur Murray
YESTERDAY a well-dressed gentleman of about forty stepped timidly out of the elevator into my reception room, caught sight of the attractive young lady behind the desk, hesitated, rolled his eyes around the room helplessly and then just in time ducked back into the elevator, never to be seen again.
Was it funny? No, it was pitiful. I was not surprised because I have seen the same thing happen dozens of times, and I understand it perfectly.
“You have no idea how close I came to being a pupil of yours two years ago,” said a professional man in the course of business recently.
“Just how close did you come?” I asked.
“As close as your doorway downstairsâ€”you know, with the framed photographs of your teachers.”
“Why didn’t you come up?”
“Well, I just couldn’t make it. First when I got there I walked right on by, all the way around the block, calling myself a fool. Then I stopped and stood in the doorway for ten minutes, looking at the photographs and trying to stir up enough nerve to go up. Then I walked around the block again, determined that this time I would keep right on putting one foot in front of the other until I got all the way in.” He hesitated.
“And you didn’t?”
“Oh, I put one foot in front of the other all right, but I kept going straight down the sidewalk instead of turning in. I just didn’t have the nerve.”
That’s not a new story, either. Some of them have come back a second time, and made it. A number of them have told me about it, because later it seemed so foolish. Goodness knows how many people have walked around the block like that instead of coming in, when they knew that dancing was what they needed to help them meet just such situations as this. Some have come in later, others never.
But it is not at all surprising to me. And why do I understand it? Well, I was that kind of young man myself and I know all about it.
Now, that is why dancing is even more valuable psychologically than physically. Of course, there is no more attractive exercise, and it is good all the year around. We no longer wait for the masquerade ball for a chance to dance. The wonder of radio brings the finest dance music into every home day and night. In the olden days one did not miss much by not dancing; now one loses too much.
But the best part of dancing is its value to my friend who walked around the block instead of coming in, and to the people who duck back into the elevator because their nerve fails them at the zero hour when they are about to put themselves in the hands of a dancing teacher. You may laugh. But it
isn’t funny at all, especially since these cases are more nearly the rule than the exception. I don’t mean that most people back out at the last minute. Actually, most people go through with it when they decide that dancing is one thing they need, but it takes an effort even to go to a dancing school for the first time. Sometimes it takes all the nerve they have. Most people are more timid than they look. Outwardly they may be gruff and rugged, even formidable, but inwardly the old inferiority complex is putting up a struggle to hold them back and they have to fight it down. The cases I mentioned are extreme, but all people have the inferiority feeling in some degree, at least in youth. Healthy-minded people largely overcome it in time through various social adjustments, in which dancing is perhaps the best of helps. But those who cannot adapt themselves socially have quite a hard time of it.
MY OWN experience, I think, was typical. I was shy and I hated to make myself conspicuous in school, but I didn’t realize that others were as timid as I was, and trying just as hard to hide it. It was a moral effort to make a recitation in front of the class. But I was inclined to study human nature, and as I grew up I gradually realized the importance of becoming a social human being. But how?
If any one had suggested to me as a boy that I would finally make a business of teaching dancing I would not have believed it. I would have said that I intended to be a business man. Well, I am a business man, but not in the way I was thinking of. I once thought I wanted to be a salesman, because salesmen didn’t look shy. However, I circulated around in the business world, from one job to another, and I can remember being fired from at least ten jobs because I was too timid to be efficient. I knew that my bad showing was the result of my self-consciousness and timidity. In high school I was advised to take up architecture and I got a job working for an architect by the name of Alfred Hopkins at five dollars a week. This was twenty-one years ago, and it was while working for Hopkins that I got the idea that dancing would help me and I learned to dance. Mr. an*d Mrs. Vernon Castle had become very popular and had set a new pattern in ballroom dancing until it became the new craze. Very soon those who knew the new steps were much in demand, and I found the chance to spend my evenings teaching others, getting seventy cents an hour for this work at the Fifth Avenue studio of G. Hepburn Wilson.
Well, no one who can get seventy cents an hour will be satisfied to work for five dollars a week, and so I asked Alfred Hopkins for six. Six dollars! Gosh, I was being overpaid at five per in the opinion of the architect. So he let me go, and that was the fork in the road that led to my business destiny. Not only that, but I was through with the experience of being kicked around from one job to another. I no longer had that sense of being inadequate. People no longer called out to me, “Hey, you!” They said “Mister Murray” and “Professor Murray!” I had the feeling that I was valued and the inferiority complex gradually faded out. Whereas formerly I had been so bashful and awkward that no one paid any attention to me, now the nicest kind of people wanted me for dancing parties. But the best part of it was that I soon overcame the embarrassing habit of blushing and learned to feel at ease with all kinds of people, even with important people. No more of those painful experiences as a wallflower on social occasions.
Not so long ago I met my old friend, Alfred Hopkins, the architect, and I reminded him of the time he fired me because I asked for six dollars a week. At once he started to apologize, explaining that at the time work and wages were so and so, but I hastened to set him right as to my meaning.
“YOU need not apologize,” I said, “because you really did me a great favor. What you did was to bring me to the turning point in my life. Otherwise today I might still be working for you instead of having my own business.”
As I see it now, however, the question of what business I might take up as an occupation was of far less importance than the matter of my own personality development, and I feel that this is true of most of us. Had it not been for dancing, I would quite likely be today one of the people who walk around the block or sneak back into the elevator instead of facing an interview without hesitation. I may have built up a successful business, as it is, but that is not the important thing that dancing has done for me. And I have seen it work out with others.
I recall the case of one girl who “came out of her shell” as a result of dancing. Let’s call her Ruth. She was a plain sort of girl, with chestnut hair and nothing dazzling about her. With good health, animation and enthusiasm such girls easily become beautiful and acquire personality. I was teaching the dancing class in a select girls’ school, and in order to demonstrate a certain point I took as a partner the
girl who was nearest. It happened to be Ruth. She was apt and quick, and I sensed that she would make a good dancer. Later, when I had other steps to demonstrate with a partner, unthinkingly I selected Ruth. Well, believe it or not, that was the making of the girl, as I later learned from one of the teachers there. Ruth had been shy and not much of a mixer, and so the boys and girls had not paid much attention to her. But when I chose her as a partner to demonstrate the dancing steps she immediately acquired importance, not only in the eyes of the others but, best of all, in her own eyes. They all wanted to dance with her and be friends. As a result, her personality bloomed.
Physical handicaps often have a great influence in imposing a sense of inferiority, and dancing is very helpful in such cases. A girl victim of infantile paralysis had a terrific longing to dance, within whatever limits she had. Happily, one result of a long series of lessons was an extraordinary improvement in the control of her body and the development of wasted muscles. But, apart from that, her personality flowered through the joy she felt in meeting others on an equal plane and in being one of them.
THERE are various helps in correcting the inferiority complex. Some people can kill it only by getting drunk, but that is the wrong way. You can fight it effectively by any means that will build self-confidence and assurance, and that seems to place you on a good footing with others. You would wisely put physical culture first of all, because strength in men gives assurance and self-respect, and any one can acquire strength if he will work for it. Beauty and fitness will do the same for women, giving pride and poise, and every woman can increase her loveliness through right eating and exercise. Again, any self-improvement in one’s talents helps to fight down inferiority. Good clothes will do a lot. Dress almost transforms a woman, not so much in her appearance as in her own psychology.
But even these improvements do not answer all needs in the matter of social life. I recall one of the greatest football players in the country. He was quite at home in front of fifty thousand people at a game. But in the evening I saw him at the dance given in honor of the team, and he was just an ordinary, awkward wall-flower, uncomfortably out of his element. I have no doubt that even in the case of this famous football player the old inferiority complex was riding high that evening. So what one needs, it seems to me, is not only personal excellence of one kind or another, but also the power to feel adequate and assured in a social environment.
The importance of this is illustrated in the behavior of many of our young people who go in for “petting” or “necking” largely for the reason that they do not dance and have nothing better to do. Surely they would rather dance if they knew how. But the pain and distress of being a wall-flower is such that they stay away from the dance, and from the many social activities of which dancing is naturally a part. So it is not dancing but the lack of dancing in many cases that is morally disadvantageous. Ask some of these youngsters who do not dance just what they do on such occasions? And as for the older people who do not dance? They, too, feel inadequate, and they commonly resort to drink as a means of escape and to blunt their sense of social inferiority. Poverty of resources will easily lead to unwholesome diversions.
Again and again I have seen personality develop and ripen through the socializing value of dancing. There are many gifted and highly educated women who are ill at ease at social affairs. I am thinking especially of two sisters of this type who finally achieved a transformation in personality. They came of a very fine family and were well educated along academic lines, though socially they had made little progress. They had both been through college, yet neither had ever had a beau. Their mother came to me about it, explaining that they were not especially interested in careers, or unusually well cut out for business or professional work. Yet as it was there was hardly any possibility of satisfactory marriage. Would dancing help them?
NATURALLY, I thought that dancing would help them a lot. Since they had very little money I suggested that instead of taking private lessons they would do very well to join a big Saturday evening class. This gave them a little practical instruction each week and a great deal of ball-room practise over a period of many months, until they became superb dancers and, incidentally, found themselves at home socially with any one they might meet. At the end of the year they were two entirely different young women.
If I were asked to explain just what happened, I would say that in the beginning they had been unable to “sell themselves.” As to that, they had very little to sell in the way of social graces. Ill at ease in company, awkward, backward, self-conscious and timid, they did not attract people, least of all eligible young men. But months of dancing gave them assurance and charm. Their inborn personalities broke out through the shell and blossomed. They now had something to sell, and they were no longer embarrassed or reticent or awkward in meeting others or making them appreciative of their splendid mental and personal qualities. In time both girls had abundant suitors and in a couple of years both were well married.
I have so often stressed the value of dancing for improving posture, but a big part of this value is psychological. One might say that the inferiority complex is just a matter of psychological posture. You may think that this is far-fetched, but you can explore the matter for yourself. Do something to make you proud of yourself and you will find that you naturally carry your head high, and that is all there is to good posture, for the shoulders and chest will naturally come along up. Merely better clothes will often do that much for one. It works the other way also. If you are timid and go slinking around, just try pulling your head up and back and see the effect on your mental and emotional outlook. The better bodily carriage brings with it a better psychological posture. Even the physical effect of dancing contributes to the routing of old demon inferiority. We have a bit of this truth in the popular song, “There is something about a soldier that is fine, fine, fine.” But what is it? Not the clothing, except as the uniform carries the mental association of this something that is fine, fine, fine. It is not merely the soldier boy’s strength, for the butcher boy, lightly hanging up that quarter of beef, is stronger, and the piano movers around the corner will demonstrate a whole lot more horse power. Then what is this glamour of the soldier? It is a personality quality, and the song itself gives us the cue in another line, “There is something in his bearing.” Ah, there it is, in the implications of his “bearing.” Just there, in the soldierly personality, the dauntless courage signified in that erect head, the spirit of take-what-comes, the gay readiness to do or die like a good sport, and the apparent absence of any sense of inferiority. His bearing implies so many things.
Which leads us into the interesting speculationâ€”can these personality factors be developed? The curious thing is that we never noticed any glamour in Tommy Smith a little while ago when he was selling sheet music at the Emporium. Why, when he was bookkeeper for the Riley Coal Company, he was just another of the home town boys. Well, he is the same boy now. Wait, no, he is not, but the change lies in the personality values that have been brought out to a large extent by the change in his posture when he was taughtâ€”and forcedâ€”to hold up his head.
Here is, I think, a big truth about personality. The elements are always there, but they need to be brought out by the right associations and by better posture. If this is true of soldiering, for a limited number, it is also true of dancing, which may benefit all men and all women. If you like music you will enjoy dancing even more. If you don’t dance you cannot know what you are missing, but I know what it did for me and what it has done in the way of socializing countless others.
At that, it is only one of the values of dancing that through its influence the inferiority sense fades, and personality blooms!