Hey, everyone. Maybe we’ve been friends since childhood. Maybe we’re recent acquaintances. Maybe we’ve never met, just made fleeting eye contact once across a crowded room. Doesn’t matter. I have something to get off my chest. A long-overdue admission of remorse toward everyone I’ve ever encountered: If you’ve seen me dance, I’m sorry.
When I dance, it is not good to look at. I am well aware. My body doesn’t move in unison. My shoulders wiggle arhythmically while my hips twitch at a totally different pace. My head nods at a regular interval, but for some reason, my face is always a mask of deep concern. I look like I’m reacting physically to a really really catchy song about childhood trauma. Also, for some reason, my hands are always fists. I try to unclench them, but when I look down again, mere moments later, they’re balled up again, knuckles bulging from strain. I think it is my body’s way of warning others of the potential hazards of approaching me. Poisonous frogs have their bright coloration. I have my reflexively clenched fists. “DO NOT DANCE NEAR ME! YOU WILL PROBABLY GET STEPPED ON OR PUNCHED BY ACCIDENT!” they tell others.
When my friend Arthur dances, it’s smooth and sensual and coordinated. Women approach him because they can’t resist his cool, confident rhythm. It draws them in. When women see me dance, they approach me, but it’s usually to say things like: “Are you okay?” and “You know you don’t have to do this, right?”
I imagine that people who see me dancing immediately understand how excruciatingly self-aware I am about it. Then they start to reflect on their own technique. “Do I look like that?” they wonder. “Could I just be jerking around spastically and no one is telling me? How can I ever really know myself? Am I leading a shallow, unexamined life?” Then they start thinking about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and how they should have studied harder and gone to medical school like their parents wanted. This probably brings them to a point of reflection and despair where they can no longer enjoy Ke$ha or grinding with strangers.
I know. I’m a bummer. I apologize. I deeply, sincerely, apologize.
It’s not like I’m new to dancing. I didn’t grow up in the town from Footloose. I wasn’t raised in a bunker while listening only to NPR and Noam Chomsky lectures on vinyl. I have, contrary to what my body may lead you to believe, seen people dance before. My sister started taking ballet classes in kindergarten. In high school, I was in musicals, where I was given specific instruction on how to dance. That instruction almost always ended with: “How about Josh stands in the back?”
A lot of it is probably in my head. Really good dancers, like professional grade dancers, have a set of moves where their bodies work together harmoniously to create a physical representation of an emotional state. Joy, grief, lust, longing. Most people, though, just sort of cut loose and do whatever. And I envy that. They are just dancing for themselves, their bodies acting as raw, visceral responses to the music playing. When I dance, it’s almost always for someone else. Either I’ve been convinced by friends, coerced by a girl I’m dating, or cursed by a gypsy I was rude to in the street.
So most of the time when I dance, I do it like it’s a temp job. I check my e-mail on my phone. I stay in one place and try not to be noticed. I take frequent bathroom breaks. All with the awareness that if I just keep my head down and power through, soon it will be over. Again, I’m sorry if my fatalism on the dance floor (which would make a great title for a Morrissey song) diminished your enjoyment of what most people consider a fun, relaxing activity.
And yes, I realize that most of the time, no one is even looking at me. People don’t go out to a club or a concert in hopes of fixating on the one guy who moves like Bambi walking on ice. Plus, I’m not the one guy like that. Lots of guys are bad dancers. But how come they get to dance like they don’t know they can’t dance??????
Okay, I’m freaking out. Sorry, guys. For real.
I can sometimes manage a few moments of loose, enthusiastic dancing, but I have to be a caught in a perfect storm of circumstances. Last New Year’s Eve, girlfriend and I went to see The Roots (favorite live band, check) play a concert. We each had some champagne (check), and I was standing behind her (no one I know watching me, check) enjoying the show. Little by little, I began to move along with the music until eventually, I was full-on dancing. My girlfriend turned around and asked: “Isn’t this great?”
I took a moment to think about it.
“Yeah,” I replied, puzzled. “I think I’m dancing.” And then, magically we danced together, and it was great.
But if anyone else saw me that night, they’d probably think I was fighting an invisible ghost or working on some bizarre fitness regimen.