Or rather, I can flop around on a dance floor like a nincompoop, looking painfully embarrassed the while, but I’ve got no sense of rhythm, no cool moves, and so I won’t dance. If I can help it.
People want you to dance, and I don’t really know why. You go to a party or a bar, and after a while, once most folks have consumed sufficient quantities of alcohol to produce all the effects of inebriation, everyone starts to dance and insist that you too shimmy about. That’s when it gets dicey for me.
Women in particular feel it necessary to literally drag an obviously unwilling man onto the dance floor, and there’s always this fine line between wanting to be gallant – not wishing to appear a boor or party-pooper – and fearing that you’ll make an ass of yourself. Generally I hold out as long as possible, imbibing courage until it’s no longer feasible to resist, then I shuffle out, lurch around stiffly for a bit like a mannequin trying to dislodge a scorpion from his slacks, then beat a hasty retreat.
It all started in middle school. School dances are always fraught with drama – couplings, betrayals, jealousies, agonizingly exquisite yearnings – but throw acute inhibition and an unhealthy dose of adolescent gangliness into the mix and you’ve got a situation in which a young boy will feel dread sluicing from his brain, swirling in his bowels, and settling in his leaden feet.
Slow dances were okay, since they required one to simply hug a partner and spin in slow circles. I could handle that, even though a teenage boy, hormones thumping in his groin like deep chemical bass, will inevitably find a newly-developing part of his body standing at attention.
This requires one of two solutions. You can simply go with it and grind away, hoping the girl will be flattered instead of utterly disgusted, or you can arch your back a bit, sticking out your butt so that your partner doesn’t realize that you are (or at least a part of you is) desperately in lust with her. I lacked the confidence for the former, so there I would be, sweatily clasping a young girl in my arms while my bottom stuck out like the head of an octopus – an ashamed octopus.
This problem was always most pronounced during “Stairway to Heaven” – invariably the last song of the evening, when everybody had to find a partner. Nobody wanted to be alone for “Stairway to Heaven.” Trouble is, it’s an 8-minute anthem that starts out slow and almost spiritual, but by around the 6th minute you can’t really get away with spinning slow circles anymore, so you must disengage, hide your burgeoning woodie, and jerk around to a 2-minute hard rock guitar solo. I’m fairly sure I never looked much like Robert Plant at those moments. More like Pinocchio, I suppose. But with my nose in my trousers.
A while back my wife and I took some dance classes. This is something different entirely. First of all, you’re expected to be incompetent, since everyone is just learning the same prescribed steps. Secondly, most of the men in the room are there under duress (when my wife told one of her male colleagues that we had enrolled in dance classes, he responded, “Oh no, what did he do?” His assumption, of course, what that I’d done something horribly wrong and the classes were my punishment), so there’s a certain awkward male comradery at work. Lastly, many women, for reasons largely obscure, seem to regard ballroom dancing as a form of foreplay, so you’re likely to get lucky – you just have to suffer through 2 hours of bungling Lindy Hop to get there.
These days I try to avoid situations that will require me to cavort around in arrhythmic fashion. I wish I could dance. I envy those who feel joy when they do so. I’d love to glide on the dance floor like Fred Astaire or even pull off a John Travolta strut. I couldn’t agree more with Lee Ann Womack when she advises her kids, “When you get a chance to sit it out or dance – Dance!”
Right on, Lee Ann. I want my kids to take chances, to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, to reach out for reckless joy and boogie with abandon. Personally, though, this is simply one case in which I just can’t lead by example. I’m up for every and all forms of metaphorical dancing, but when it comes to the real thing – I think I’ll sit this one out.