A few definitions from Dictionary.com:
• to move one's feet or body, or both, rhythmically in a pattern of steps, esp. to the accompaniment of music
• to perform or take part in (a dance): to dance a waltz.
• a successive group of rhythmical steps or bodily motions, or both, usually executed to music.
I think the fist and third of these are inadequate because they would include tapping one’s foot as dancing. This certainly isn’t the way the word is commonly used.
It seems that when people talk about dancing they either mean performing or taking part in a dance (e.g. a waltz), or the improvised body movements that occur to popular music. It’s the second of these that I wish to discuss, and it’s a discussion that’s been brewing for years. Sorry to anyone who’s offended by it – none intended.
I don’t dance much. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that I don’t like the music. I struggle not to hit something when The One And Only is played, so I’m not about to stand up and start bopping with an expression of enjoyment on my face. I’m quite fussy about my music, and it’s usually not the danceable type. The main exception is ska music, though some people would debate whether skanking counts as dancing. Because I don’t dance much, I’ve had plenty of time to watch other people dancing, and I have made a few observations.
Some people are really good dancers – they are aesthetically pleasing to watch. These people are either technically really good, or very inventive (a friend of mine mimes every individual word in some songs, it’s genius).
Some people can get by – nothing impressive but not embarrassing to watch. They tend to wiggle a lot, and lead the way in the ‘organised dances’ (such as Reach for the Stars by S Club 7)
Some people are not very good dancers at all, but they know this and embrace it and have a good laugh at themselves. Much credit to these people.
Some people are really quite unconfident. They don’t appear to know what to do with their bodies and are actually quite hard to watch. They don’t seem to want to just dive in and see what happens and therefore adopt various coping mechanisms.
One coping mechanism is to form up in a large circle, facing inwards. These circles usually have a few people in the ‘can get by’ category (‘good dancers’ tend to be lone rangers). The unconfident seem to think that by associating with the can-get-bys, their incompetence and unconfidence will be overlooked. Because of the circular formation, participants can concentrate on singing to each other, so what the body is doing becomes less important. The dance moves themselves include swaying, bouncing on the toes, and swinging the arms.
Another coping mechanism is to ‘look cool’. This technique usually involves standing slightly slouched, with feet moving slightly, but with a determinedly relaxed expression. The key part is to survey what other people are doing and scan the outer perimeter of the room, in order to convince onlookers that you are completely unconcerned with what your own body is doing.
The most amusing coping mechanism to watch in action is the chatting. The unconfident dancer will try to wiggle for a few seconds, realise he or she is fighting a losing battle, and engage in brief (a few seconds) conversation with a nearby friend. This allows them to stop dancing for a few seconds.
In terms of relative abundance, most dance floors I have seen contain very large numbers (about 60-70%) of unconfidents, usually male. About 30% tend to be can-get-by’s and laugh-at-selves, with good dancers being very rare.
The unconfidents do not look happy to be there. They try to, but aren’t usually good enough actors. However the can-get-bys and laugh-at-selves encourage them enough to keep them there. If an unconfident is receiving individual tuition from a can-get-by, they tend to gain confidence and become a laugh-at-self, but unfortunately there aren’t enough can-get-bys for every unconfident to benefit.
The thing with dancing is that, ideally, it should be both enjoyable for the dancers and aesthetically pleasing for the onlookers. Good dancers, can-get-bys and laugh-at-selves all seem to enjoy it, and good dancers are also aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately the unconfidents are not aesthetically pleasing and don’t appear to be enjoying themselves, although they try to make it seem so. It’s all quite upsetting to see.
Another observation: if a group activity is happening, the participants will generally invite people in the vicinity to join in. If these people don’t want to join in, they will politely decline and the participants will continue with the activity. However, if the activity is dancing, this is not enough – the participants will continually badger the onlookers to join them on the dance floor, sometimes resorting to physical action. This is another reason I don’t dance much – I’m very stubborn and the more people try to get me to dance, the less I am likely to do it. I don’t fully understand why people (and it’s often the can-get-bys) feel the need to do this but I’d be very interested to know. To be honest, it makes me quite angry when it happens.