When I was 12 or so, I thought I'd sign up for ballroom dancing lessons. My mother thought this a good idea and signed up my brother, too, with the promise that she would increase his allowance. Apparently paying brothers to escort sisters to dancing lessons was one of my mother's beliefs. Sadly, the course was undersubscribed and therefore cancelled. It would be more than a decade before I learned the mysteries of the waltz, the foxtrot, the tango and the polka.
The assumption was that one needs to go to dance lessons with a willing partner, but nowadays many dance classes assure the potential subscriber that partners are not needed. Certainly swing-dancing classes in Edinburgh rotate partners, and if sometimes there are not men enough to go around, some plucky women take the lead role. Still, I see some fortunate women bringing leads with them, which means they are guaranteed someone to dance with them at the subsequent socials, and if they stumble and their leads make faces, the girls can kick them in the shins or give them heck at home instead of cringing and smiling in that horrible, weak, subordinate way women so frequently employ. Please forgive me, kind sir. If I could I would self-combust so as to remove my sub-human self from your celestial orbit.
Given that to get through a swing-dancing social as a solo beginner one might need a skin of rawhide, I am rethinking my advice to Single women to take up partner dancing as a way to meet people. The dance world is very big and varied, though, so I will just posit that different clubs have different philosophies when it comes to welcoming beginners. If you're a skilled dancer already, then by all means do not be afraid to join a club in a new town and go to their socials. In cold Edinburgh, I note that there is an unspoken acknowledgement of the aristocracy of talent. If, however, you are a beginner, you may wish to observe and judge how well the organizers welcome complete novices before deciding to risk the socials.
Naturally there will be classes for beginners. And naturally beginners will drop out again and again and again. Thus, those beginner classes never seem to get old and never stop attracting new money. After almost a year of them, I have noticed that new faces tend to disappear after just one or two classes, and how there is an exodus of learners once the social begins. There is a corresponding influx of the old hands, who for the most part dance with each other.
Meanwhile, I have gone to socials almost weekly for six months, and the only conversations I have had there that went deeper than the smallest small talk have been about Polish literature. (That said, I had an excellent lunch-time talk about religious faith with a visiting Canadian during a Saturday of workshops.)
The question the Single woman will want to ask herself before she sails out for a night of partner-dancing is, "How much more feeling of being-passed-over-by-men can I take?" You pay your money and you take your chances. Me, £5.50 for a lesson and then an hour of, perhaps, not dancing with a soul, is not a painful investment. The lesson will certainly be worth £5.50, and if no-one at all dances with me afterwards, I just go home to my husband and it doesn't matter. £5.50 and an hour of my life--not a bad risk. If my ego takes a topple, B.A. provides a soft landing.
However, I have quite a lot of rejection in my life already. As a freelance writer, I send out material, and sometimes it is accepted, and sometimes it is rejected. Lately I have forced myself to send out fictional stories--my first great love--to magazines, and the magazines gaily reject them. Recently I got two rejections on the same day. That would have been a bad day to find myself at a swing-dancing social, no fellow beginners in sight.
If you are already in a very comfortable place in your life, with a strong emotional support network, and work or study you enjoy and excel at, a bit of cold-shouldering won't hurt you. You may even find it bracing, in a "I'll show them I'm no lightweight" kind of way. However, if you are feeling kicked by life, then I would recommend choosing some other activity than one that entails you having to ask men to dance or standing around hoping men will ask you to dance--unless you are already a very fine dancer indeed. If you are a fine dancer, then I would definitely recommend dancing as a way to meet people, although heaven knows what the fine dancers I see all talk about. Maybe the feelings of affirmation and the fun of dancing will be enough for you.
I will ponder further the subject of clubs and activities most likely to welcome and affirm Single women. For the time being, I would suggest picking something that plays to your strengths. If you are crazy about wildflowers, a hiking club might be appreciative of your knowledge of the little feathery things at the side of the path.
Update: To be fair, I have enjoyed myself enough for the past six months to smile through anything. I even wrote such positive reviews of a swing performance at the Edinburgh Festival that I totally forgot how miserable and out-of-place I felt there until B.A. reminded me. (Sad and embarrassing story. In short, everyone was invited to attend and support the locals in the show. I went happily and joined the people I recognized from swing-dancing on the bleachers. They either looked at me like I had two heads or ignored me completely. Mortifying.) I may go in the future, if only to chat with other fish-out-of-water. But really, as you can see, I am too cross right now even to fake enjoyment and high spirits. I am looking forward to seeing how the Toronto scene welcomes newcomers; I already know that Montreal has developed some fantastic ways to develop their community.