October 28, 2009 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn to dance well, or at least inconspicuously. I'm white, slightly goofy, male and mid-20's. Help.

So there are some weddings coming up where I'll probably need to grace the dance floor for at least a few songs. Outside of that - I'd like to not live in fear of a dance party breaking out at every party I'm attending.

I'm goofy, white, awkward - the type people don't expect to see on the dancefloor. The only times I've actually danced with my friends, I've been so completely trashed that I get way too into it, and weird everyone out. This has made things worse for me..

Are there any tips, or youtube videos you can point me to, which will give me something to mimic? I feel like I'm capable of being a passable dancer, and probably wouldnt' feel such a heap of shame everytime dancing was mentioned, if I just practiced a bit on my own and built up some confidence.

Again, help.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
A tiny data point, but learning a *little tiny bit* of swing dancing will get you a long way. If you get a partner, it works for just about any fast-ish song, and it can really be as simple as a combination of 5 or so different motions.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:11 PM on October 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Agreeing with swing dancing. My boyfriend and I dance to all kinds of music using 3 or 4 basic swing moves.
posted by Miko at 12:13 PM on October 28, 2009

Lessons! Dance is really not something you can learn by reading about it. Hie thee forth unto some lessons.
posted by amtho at 12:15 PM on October 28, 2009

If it'll be dancing with a partner:
-Being willing to admit you don't know how to dance, but being totally un-shy or awkward about that can be a great way to pick up chicks, if you're into that. A casual "Hey, I'm a terrible dancer, but I love this song-- wanna teach me some steps?" would be a very effective way to flirt.

If it's on your own:
-Everyone looks silly anyway. Dance like an old man (hip and shoulder wiggle, pointing fingers optional) and no one will give it a second thought.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:21 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lately when I became interested in dancing I learned dancing is like learning a language in that there is inherent structure to most peoples dancing no one dances moves no they didn't practice, weren't taught or didn't practice. If you like dancing ,which underneath it all I think you do, practice its structures and you'll be fine. Start watching how others move and steal bits and pieces. Right now hip hop is actually pretty good for stuff you can learn in an afternoon like the jerk. Or you could go the other way and have a friend join you in a paired dancing class.
posted by Rubbstone at 12:23 PM on October 28, 2009

Dancing is fun, and everybody has their own style. So, why not:
1. Practice by yourself in front of a mirror.
2. Set the mood: get the lights kinda low, have a drink to loosen up.
3. Listen to some music you really like that makes you feel like moving.
4. A few rules: Don't stand in one spot for too long. Don't shuffle from side to side. Don't clap excessively. Never snap your fingers. Don't do the white guys' overbite. Try to move to the beat. I would advise against raising your elbows higher than your shoulders.
5. Other than that, dance with confidence. If you're too worried about how you will looking dancing, or what your friends will think, it won't look natural and you won't have any fun.

I didn't watch this all the way through, but this guy looks pretty cool at the beginning of the video.
posted by bunny hugger at 12:35 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I go out dancing almost every week...and I'll tell you, it's the guys that DON'T dance who are looked at funny. (called Dead Man's Row)

Any guy with enough balls to get out there in the first place is already ahead of the game.

That said, in the video above, notice how the kid "sticks" his move to/at the beat of the music? Finding the beat is key IMO, to learning how to dance.

Find something with a beat you really like...and listen. Find the beat.


Let your body do what it wants to for a minute.

You're now dancing.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:49 PM on October 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Listen to Hitch.
posted by milarepa at 12:51 PM on October 28, 2009

I too had this problem. Then I started a dance blog, and got over it. Just have fun, don't knock people over, and you'll be fine. You might notice I do the same wham-esque move the entire time, and hey, it works.
posted by CharlesV42 at 12:51 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm one of those chicks that guys have tried to pick up on by saying "You're a great dancer, can you teach me how to dance?" I wouldn't recommend it because if I'm out dancing, I want to BE dancing, not teaching you how to do it. Just stick with "You're a great dancer" :)

Anyway, let's start with the basics. Do you have a sense of rhythm? Can you find the beat? This is a major issue. Find a song that you like and see if you can find the basic rhythm of it - tap your toe, snap your fingers, whatever. If you can't tell if you're on the beat or not, that means you don't have a sense of rhythm and I would just work on trying to find it. Have a friend who is a musician help you.

If you can find the beat, then the next thing is - what songs do you really like? It's best to try and dance to songs that you actually like, so that you're having fun. Dancing is supposed to be fun!

OK, so you have a sense of the beat, a song that you like, now your homework is to play around at home by yourself. Try different things. Isolate just moving your head, or stepping to the right, stepping back to the left on the beat. Bounce up & down. Do totally retarded things in the privacy of your own home.

Next time you're around people dancing, watch what they do. See if you can mimic it in a small way. File it away to practice.

Next step is to try dancing BEFORE you get totally blitzed. That's when you get all weird & flail around & freak people out! Here's the trick: no one really cares what you do as long as you a) don't hurt them and b) you look like you're having fun. As long as your movements don't endanger people or get all up in their space, it's good. Smile. Laugh. Drink. You say you're goofy - well it's fun to be goofy on the dance floor (as long as you're with a group of friends, so people know you're being goofy and not creepy). It's pretty easy to be inconspicuous on the dance floor because most other people are hyper self-conscious about how they appear. You are not the only one!

Happy dancing my friend. It's a great way to have fun.
posted by witchstone at 1:05 PM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hate to say this but I think indiscriminate swing dancing to any kind of music is kind of annoying. I have friends who do this "oh my god, you can totally swing to Arabic music" and I find it pretty disrespectful to the great variety of traditions out there. I know I sound like an incredible stick in the mud but I'll take my lumps.
posted by sully75 at 1:13 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most people are either hand/arm dancers or knee/feet dancers. Not exclusively, i.e. doing funky steppy stuff while keeping your hands totally still, or grooving your arms and hands in the air while standing solidly flatfooted. Just that if you're doing foot stuff all over the place, and doing hand stuff all over the place, at the same time, and neither of these are things you feel like you're "good at", then you are likely to be well on your way to being "that guy" again, like a marionette puppet being operated by a pile of hyperactive puppies, flailing around and punching or kicking your good friends and neighbors.

You say you've in the past danced and had a great time doing it, but that when you feel like you're "into it" that you're a bit over the top and weirding people out. I'd suggest limiting your focus to either upper body or lower body.

Listen to the beat. Learn how to stand pretty still with your feet in the same spot on the floor and bend your knees slightly on the beat, and/or shift your weight back and forth left/right. This is foot zero. Now bend your elbows, maybe raise them about 6" from your waist, keep your hands closed but not in tight fists. Just bob them slightly, swing a bit side to side, not like you're trying to move them, just that they sort of swing this way when there's a beat. This is hand zero. Do these two together until you don't have to think about it at all, and you can carry on a conversation without losing the beat. This is as inconspicuous yet non-wallflower as dancing gets. From here, have fun with it, but if you focus on changing just your arms, or just your body/hips, or just your feet, then you won't be over the top.
posted by aimedwander at 1:21 PM on October 28, 2009

Practice all the time when you're home alone. It's great exercise. Do ridiculous things that you would never do in public. Eventually you will sort of re-learn how to use your body, becoming aware of its parts and what they do and how they look when they're doing it. Once that happens you'll actually begin to be able to relax and lose track of what you're doing and enjoy the music.
posted by hermitosis at 1:22 PM on October 28, 2009

Take a couple of ballroom or swing dancing lessons. You don't need to come as a couple to the lessons, everyone switches partners all the time, and it's fun. That will get you through the weddings.

As far as the spontaneous dance parties... I feel like guys who have rhythm can get away with dancing easily - either actually trying to dance or doing silly ass-shaking dancing. If you have rhythm you can just move to the beat and as long as you don't try look like you're serious and like you think you know what you're doing, then it should be OK. Try to do less with your arms, I feel like guys do that because they're not used to moving their hips or shaking their ass, and the arm flailing creates most of the awkwardness. Move your hips and legs more, but don't step back and forth. Practice in the mirror (find a song with a good beat) and see if your hips move horribly awkwardly or not, and work on making it look more smooth.

Also, if you know how to swing dance you can use that for spontaneous dance parties as well - just take turns spinning every girl that's present!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2009

This is all you need to know.
posted by Pistol at 3:20 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be the contrarian.

Stay far away from classes. Do not read up on how to do it.

The key is to not sweat it. Just get out there and shuffle around to the beat. Keep your hands below ribcage level. Don't bump into anyone. Smile really wide, even if you're nervous.

There's too much emphasis on structure and technique in social settings and I don't really understand why. It's supposed to be fun. It's like asking someone how to laugh correctly. Just get out there and enjoy yourself.
posted by milinar at 4:16 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah I think Milinar has it right...most people are just goofing around and having fun. Taking a class might not help with that.
posted by sully75 at 4:34 PM on October 28, 2009

Find the beat...that is essential. Practice moving your feet to the beat. Pick your feet up off the floor in time to the beat and lift your knees slightly (it'll make your hips swing naturally). Now you're dancing. My suggestions- if you're a drinker have one or two to loosen yourself up before you get onto the floor. Also, to avoid looking like a goofy white guy, as mentioned above, don't wave your arms around in the air. If you watch good dancers, you'll notice that most of their motion is in their hips, not their arms. But really, relax, enjoy the music, and have fun- that's what it's all about. Nobody cares what you look like dancing except for you.
posted by emd3737 at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2009

Hate to say this but I think indiscriminate swing dancing to any kind of music is kind of annoying. I have friends who do this "oh my god, you can totally swing to Arabic music" and I find it pretty disrespectful to the great variety of traditions out there. I know I sound like an incredible stick in the mud but I'll take my lumps.

Really? At a wedding? Heck, if someone gets up at a wedding and two-steps, polkas, swing-dances, or just moves back and forth to the beat, that's considered being "festive" in my neck of the woods.

Disrespectful, to dance "incorrectly" at a dance? Here's your lump: you're dissing people for having fun.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:54 PM on October 28, 2009

Listen for the beat, but specifically the snare. There's a snare beat in virtually every modern song that people are going to dance to. It's not always a snare drum, but there's always a snare beat that's going to run though the whole song. You want to time your moves to that beat. Once you master a basic 1,2 step (do this at home) you can start to improvise. Stray away from the snare for a few beats, but always come back to it. Have fun.
posted by Locobot at 11:45 PM on October 28, 2009

Most people are either hand/arm dancers or knee/feet dancers

I really don't like to think this way. When thinking about dancing I usually only really focus on three parts of my body moving - my head/neck, shoulders, and hips. Most simple dancing is just riffing on this. Hips being the mandatory one.

The twist, which is my fallback move when I'm out of ideas, is simply rotating your hips(/feet) left while your shoulders go right, and then vice versa.

It's hard to explain, I guess, because for me it's so fun and natural. And I'm a goofy white male in his twenties too. If you try everything we say and even after feeling moderately confident you're still not having any fun, I would suggest looking for other ways to enjoy yourself.

A little gin helps.
posted by Muffpub at 6:33 AM on October 29, 2009

There is an incredible number of dance lessons on Youtube; just searching for "learn dance" will bring up a lot of results. It just depends on what sort of style you'd like most.
posted by surenoproblem at 7:06 AM on October 29, 2009

1. Nthing swing. Too easy to learn and works in too many situations. Totally worth it.
2. Nthing Hitch, for the hip hop. This is your home. Don't need no pizza. They got plenty of food there.
3. A story:

One of my best friends in NYC was always on my case to come out dancing at the clubs with our mutual friends. I was always avoiding going because I hated that atmosphere - for all the same reasons as you - I'm that awkward white guy who's pretty much destined to make an ass out of himself on the dance floor. This went on for at least 2-3 years, at least once a month everyone would be headed out dancing, Dave would tell me I should come with them, and I'd at the very most show up to have a drink and stand by the bar...and be *that* guy. I hated being there, so I would leave early. Most times I just wouldn't go - it was a waste of effort.

But Dave was determined, and creative. When the Steelers looked to be on their way to a playoff berth a few years back, Dave and I decided to drive down to Pittsburgh to visit my sister and go see a game, one last one before the Bus retired. And, as Dave made me agree to before we bought the tickets - to go out to a club and dance.

He made good points: there would be no one there that new me from Adam besides him and my sister, even if I did make a complete fool out of myself, who cares, I would never see any of those people again. The idea was just to get out there and try and have a good time. "We'll see," was my not-too-emphatic response each time Dave would bring it up in the preceding weeks.

Time for the trip finally comes, we drive down there, and head out to the hippest club Pittsburgh had to offer. We got there earlier in the evening on purpose - because Dave had made me a bet: if I started the dancing, if I was the first one to get out on the floor and get the party going, he guaranteed me that girls would join me within the first 30 seconds. Or he would pay for my ticket to the game (almost 300 bucks).

I didn't need the money so much as I wanted to prove Dave wrong and be done with the headache once and for all. The agreement was that Dave would say when it was time to go. Too early, of course, and I'd look like a fool. Too late, and other people would already have started the dancing. Also, I wasn't allowed to have any alcohol before the dancing started. The last condition was that I was not to "think about it. Just dance." This was repeated many times.

So I have a couple cokes while the place fills up that evening and the music is loud but the dance floors aren't really going yet. Dave, I'm pretty sure, at some point put in a request for Kanye's "Gold digger," knowing it to be one of my favorites. And then it was time.

I took a deep breath and stepped into the middle of the floor and just started dancing (and, in my head, counting the seconds). I'm a pretty musical guy so its not hard for me to move pretty moderately to a beat.

I counted all the way to "9" before a table of 3 girls emptied from the edge of the floor, surrounding me. And they were hot. And we were all dancing. And all of a sudden I was REALLY ENJOYING dancing, and not being all the other guys watching me out there dancing. Pretty soon there were a lot more people on the floor, and next thing I knew I had been dancing for an hour or more. The girls, it later turned out, hadn't been paid by Dave - honest to goodness strangers, we ended up meeting a couple of them out the next night after the game.

Prior to that, I had really never had any idea that dancing could be so fun - and by dancing I mean the club, hip-hop type. I've done swing since college and its always a blast. Since then, I've really enjoyed dancing.

Maybe you should drive to Pittsburgh.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:04 AM on October 29, 2009 [9 favorites]

Allkinds, that's EXACTLY why I keep bugging my guy friends to just let go and dance....wonderful story.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 4:47 PM on October 29, 2009

Re: finding the beat...clap on the 2 and 4, not the 1, 2, 3 and 4. Wherever you're dancing, it's probably not a ho down.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2009

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