Amongst my many hobbies — which include everything from trying not to cry publicly in Starbucks when I watch videos of little girls meeting Princesses at Disney World, to forgetting to text people back — I love swing dancing. I grew up being what can only be described as novelty-uncoordinated, so much so that I was prone to bumping into things which only existed in my mind and tripping constantly over my own feet while walking up to the chalkboard. I resigned myself to getting a little control with how my flailing limbs were prone to moving, and my love of partner dance was born. Since being introduced for the first nerve-wracking time over six years ago, I have enjoyed its presence in my otherwise overcooked-noodle-like existence. As I happen to live down the street from a prominent swing dancing club, I have become the designated “COME ON LET’S GUYS LET’S GO” person in my social group.
Spoiler alert: No one likes this person, and I know this.
The vast majority of the responses I receive are along the lines of “I don’t know how to dance,” or “I don’t like dancing,” or even “Dancing is gay.” (I can’t even address the last one, except to apologize that some of my extended friends-of-friends are mouth-breathing neanderthals and I hope they step on a few emotional Legos in their lifetime.) But in general, I respect the choice not to dance. I respect that not everyone enjoys doing the same things that I do, that we are not all required to fall in love with partner dance, and that it can definitely be intimidating for many (it was for me at first). I am lucky in that I have people who do go with me, but even if I didn’t, I am happy going alone. They are not hurting me with their dismissal.
But it does make me sad that the idea of “dancing” as a whole — something so broad, so fundamental, so unifying in our human experience and storytelling — is so easily dismissed. Sure, many of us have been desensitized into thinking that “dancing” for our generation is entirely comprised of indiscriminate genital rubbing in the dark corner of a club while the unfortunate sounds of Flo Rida assault our general tolerance for life. But I think that, with even a cursory reflection on the subject, we know that “club dancing” is not the only kind of dancing there is. (And let me just state here that I am no one to turn my nose up at said indiscriminate genital rubbing — it has its place in my life and I will always have love for it, even if it’s not for everyone.)
Even for the myriad dances that I don’t do, and likely never will, I hold an immense appreciation for what they are. I love watching people dance, even just rocking back and forth to a song we’ll never hear in their headphones on the subway. I love watching them be happy, and allowing that happiness to extend through their body to every extremity. I love watching people talking with one another through dance, watching them share something they know, watching them work muscles that they had let lie dormant for decades on end. The majority of leads I dance with when I go dancing are older than 60, and they all have more energy and appreciation for life than I can recall having in my whole life. Many of them didn’t start dancing until after they retired and now, at 80-something, they are lifting their partners right off the floor in a move they made up on the spot and executed perfectly.
How could we look at a ballerina whose whole body seems to pull and fold like taffy when they are warming up and not see something worth appreciating? And the dance that has been passed down in a culture through wars, hunger, death, and weddings — do you “hate” that? When you say that you hate dance, you are labeling every movement we make with a foreign, unwanted name and casting it aside. You are saying that the tap dancer and the modern dancer and the little girls bopping around to their favorite pop song are no part of you and what you like. And yet these are all people just like you, finding a place for their bodies in the world and feeling good inside of them, and there could be nothing better than seeing them happy and full of movement.
Because, ultimately, movement is life. It means that we are present and filling up the space around us. When someone extends their hand to move with you, they are showing that they respect every bit of who you are, and want to be a part of that person for a song or two. When they say, palm open, “Would you do me the honor?” they mean it. Because it is an honor to touch someone and move with them. It is one of the highest honors we can give one another. And even if you don’t want to join in yourself (at least not right now), there is nothing about dance as a whole that is not to be liked. There is nothing about it to hate.
You stretched open and saw your mother on the day you were born and she pulled you in her arms. Ever since, you’ve been moving, even if you don’t want to set it to music.