By identifying your challenges, you've taken the first step to achieving your goal. The good news is that a good instructor at a reputable studio really can teach you to dance socially with confidence -- despite what your ex-wife thought about your lack of ability.
At a singles dance, the first challenge facing you is to put your ego on the line by asking an interesting person to dance with you -- and then accepting her response graciously. If she says " yes," then you're facing the next hurdle: now you have to " show your stuff" as you float around the floor guiding this new partner. Your dance together will be a success if you can keep it interesting for both of you, avoid bumping into other couples, and make light conversation while you dance.
Take heart -- you can do this! Learning the skills to successful social dancing is actually a simple process. You start by learning the basic steps to four dances, then later you'll add a few more steps and other dances to your repertoire. You'll learn what your feet are to do so well that you won't need to watch them; with practice, the movements will become instinctive. Then you'll learn how to give your partner clear signals so she knows where you're going next -- right, left, forward, back, etc. -- so that she'll be able to follow your lead with ease.
The four basic dances you should learn are Foxtrot, Rumba, Mambo/Salsa, and Swing/Jive. These dances look okay when done solo, and great when danced with a partner. Foxtrot and Rumba are suited to most events like charity fund-raisers, weddings, and corporate events where limited space is available. Mambo/Salsa and Swing/Jive are the basis for most of the club-scene dances, and both are a lot of fun. The dual names refer to the most popular terms for similar dances.
Your feelings of self-consciousness will dissipate when you've memorized the patterns and have learned how to guide anyone through the moves. The only way to do this is by getting on the floor and doing it -- practice really does make perfect.
As for having no rhythm, most people define this as someone who doesn't move with the music. You'll probably find this problem will disappear as soon as you know the correct steps. After all, how can anyone keep the beat while guiding another without first knowing what he wants to do -- and how to do it? Find a teacher who is knowledgeable and communicates well with you; you'll have fun as you learn, and you'll have the time of your life on the dance floor. Once you know the steps, you'll be much in demand as a partner. What could be better for your ego?
Many of my students started with being able to enjoy dance socially as their only goal. Some have gone on to compete in Pro/Am categories, and others have found kindred spirits who share their passion for dancing. Dancing is good exercise, and it's an excellent way to make new friends or even find a new romance. So don't let your fears stop you -- take some lessons, then get out there and start enjoying yourself!
Joel Wood is the director of Our Studio in Thornhill, ON. A professional dancer and instructor, he has been dancing competitively and teaching for 24 years.