But I want to talk about bad dancing. Not defining what is bad dancing (too subjective, or in the case of trained dancing, too specialized). Rather, I want to consider how we respond to the fear of bad dancing in social situations that can creep on the edges of our minds before, during, or after we dance.
Dancing, the media, and us
If you’re of a certain age, a single one word brings to mind the epitome of “bad dancing”: Elaine.
If you’re not quite at that age, but close, here’s second word that sums up dancing so bad it’s good: (the) Carlton.
Both tv sitcom clearly characters find joy and freedom in their dancing. Yet, these scenes also capture some not uncommon worries about dancing: folks laughing behind our backs without our knowledge (like Elaine), or being seen and judged when we dance (though I realize that race, class, and culture ground the joke of Carlton dancing to a Tom Jones song as well).
The media not only reflects but can also amplify our worries. Elaine’s scene reminds us that wedding and parties are places where dancing is a social expectation. We might start to compare our dancing with the many mainstream media celebs and performers who dance with more style and grace (thanks to professional training). Also, there are TikTok dancers around to remind us how much money we are not making from our own dancing.
I bet my non-existent jazz flats that—even those with actual dance training—most folks at some point have wondered whether they were a bad dancer, or if others might have thought so. Just last week, after a fun house dance night with about 12 people I avoided watching the phone videos that were shared around because I didn’t want to watch myself, or see others watching me.
Am I a bad dancer? Part I
How do we respond to fears of being regarded (or regarding ourselves) as a “bad dancer,” or at least not a very good one, when dancing in social settings?
There are lots of ways, most of which fall somewhere between the Elaine (totally surprised/defensive) and Carlton (hyperaware/embarrassed). Read on to see what strategies you have used, and let me know what I have missed.
- You can avoid dancing situations, or refuse dancing when you cannot avoid those situations, and accept the social consequences of being a non-dancer, as this blogger explains in 20 Things You’ll Understand if You’re a Bad Dancer.
- You can seek out ways to reduce your inhibitions to care less about how you (or other) feel about your dancing. “Liquid courage” is a common method. There’s even a study that suggests that if you find the “platform of effective intoxication,” alcohol can actually make you a better dancer.
- You can choose ironic dancing, an exaggerated form of dancing that is intentionally self-deprecative, as this DJ describes. (Think the Robot, the Sprinkler, or any other passé dance craze). Some may interpret your ironic dancing as making fun of not yourself but them on the dance floor.
- You can find places for social dancing that will keep yourself anonymous or your body movements invisible to the crowd. Examples include virtual reality dancing, masquerades, and dark dancing at home or in clubs.
- You can accept that you are not a trained dancer, but dance anyway—just for fun, relaxation, or exercise. Perhaps you are someone with the congenital condition known as beat deafness, in which you cannot distinguish rhythm or move in time to it.
- You might get constructive and practice dancing, as suggested by the advice in this Steezy blog post: take time watch online dance lessons, practice in front of a mirror or in safe places with friends, and take in-real-life dance classes.
- You may embrace your dancing as a form of resistance or protest—to white/middle-class/ableist dance norms, the hyper-regulation of bodies, and other forms of systemic injustice. I will never forget for the first time watching Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) in his music video “This is America” (warning: violence)—his dancing had me re-thinking my assumptions about what dancing is, who dancing is for, and why dancing is such an important form of representation and resistance in BIPOC communities. (See this Atlantic article for more.)
Am I a bad dancer? Part II
Upon re-watching Elaine after her let-loose dance scene, I didn’t find myself sharing in her friends and employees’ teasing. Rather, I wished Elaine would have taken her own advice from her wedding toast: “Here’s to those who wish us well. And those who don’t can go to hell.”
In her post Bad Dancers?, dance and fitness instructor Karen Kiefer writes, “A dance floor will always have people with different styles and knowledge levels about dancing: which doesn’t mean they are good or bad dancers, just people enjoying themselves for an evening.”
This is a reminder to you (and me): when you have an Elaine and Carlton-level love of dancing, don’t ask the question—because then the answer doesn’t matter.