Richard Feynman

My friends and I had taken dancing lessons, although none of us would ever admit it. In those depression days, a friend of my mother was trying to make a living by teaching dancing in the evening, in an upstairs dance studio. There was a back door to the place, and she arranged it so the young men could come up through the back way without being seen.

Every once in a while there would be a social dance at this lady’s studio. I didn’t have the nerve to test this analysis, but it seemed to me that the girls had a much harder time than the boys did. In those days, girls couldn’t ask to cut in and dance with boys; it wasn’t “proper.” So the girls who weren’t very pretty would sit for hours at the side, just sad as hell.

I thought, “The guys have it easy: they’re free to cut in whenever they want.” But it wasn’t easy. You’re “free,” but you haven’t got the guts, or the sense, or whatever it takes to relax and enjoy dancing. Instead, you tie yourself in knots worrying about cutting in or inviting a girl to dance with you.

For example, if you saw a girl who was not dancing, who you thought you’d like to dance with, you might think, “Good! Now at least I’ve got a chance!” But it was usually very difficult: often the girl would say, “No, thank you, I’m tired. I think I’ll sit this one out.” So you go away somewhat defeated—but not completely, because maybe she really is tired—when you turn around and some other guy comes up to there, and there she is, dancing with him! Maybe this guy is her boyfriend and she knew he was coming over, or maybe she didn’t like the way you look, or maybe something else. It was always so complicated for such a simple matter.

Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character, New York, 1988, pp. 11-12