When elephants dance, ants get out of the way
September 23, 2005 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Fat guy can't dance to save his life. He's also extremely self-conscious. Help him.

I have been overweight for most of my life. By about 15 kilos, I guess. I'm terrified of dancing. For one, I don't know how to. Secondly, I'm very self-conscious. I feel like everyone is looking at me and maybe laughing. A big guy dancing is not the most graceful thing you can witness. I don't drink so don't tell me to have a drink or two to "let go". :)

Unfortunately, I've found myself in a situation where I have to accompany friends to a night club and I don't want to be the only spoilsport and not join in the dancing.

I need some tips on both how a fat guy can dance semi-gracefully (just how long can you do a few "bob your head" moves anyway?) and also how to get around my self-conscious nature. Have you been in a similar situation?

(Yes, I've also checked the other thread on dancing. Not quite the same situation.)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's that thing that Fat Joe does? It's called "rock away" or something? It works well, you kind of do this "rolling" things with your forearms while leaning back to the beat (or is it the backbeat). See if you can find the music video for Lean Back. But you kind of have to have a hard ass look when you do it, if you smile you look like you're doing a corny disco move.
posted by geoff. at 1:22 PM on September 23, 2005

anonymous - I've been overweight my entire life. Not just 15 kilos either, and I hope I'm right with my calculations but that's about 33 pounds, yes? I topped out at 280 lbs and would still take my 5'4" frame out to boogie. Now I'm considerably smaller, but still overweight.

My point here is that dancing is really one of lifes simple joys and if you are out there having FUN or at least looking like you are having fun NO one will be laughing.

It's true that it usually takes at least a beer for me to get out on the dance floor, but if there is good music and great company, I love to dance.

Put some great dance music on and practice LOOKING like you're having fun in the mirror. Not the "White man's overbite" kind of fun, but real honest to god smiles. You know what good dancing looks like? Emulate that. If you don't... go where there is dancing or turn on the television and find some.

People like people who are having fun and are confident!
posted by FlamingBore at 1:46 PM on September 23, 2005

A friend of mine took a couple of years of dance lessons. He's a big guy, and was carrying a bit of extra weight at the time. It was mostly ballroom-and-the-occasional-salsa type stuff, but the confidence he gained translated well into less formal nightclub dancing.

Added bonus: chicks dig a guy that can dance. And even though he's a big guy, he never looks dumb when he does it. I'm a little jealous - not jealous enough to get lessons myself, but still.

I understand that this may be take a little more time, money and effort than you were looking to spend, but it is an option.
posted by flipper at 1:51 PM on September 23, 2005

Are these people with whom you feel comfortable? If so, ask if it would be ok if you all danced in a group rather than one-on-one.
posted by brujita at 1:51 PM on September 23, 2005

Flipper's right on the money. Take a basic ballroom dancing class. To translate to nightclub, turn the steps you learn (swing, salsa) into a less-precise foot shuffle. Guys needn't move their arms much when dancing, so don't worry about that too much.

Community colleges often have a basic ballroom dance class for a lot less money than private schools.

An acquaintance of mine looks like he should be a retired football player, until he starts moving his feet. It's sexy as all hell.
posted by desuetude at 2:24 PM on September 23, 2005

Try a little method acting.

Think of a time when you were absolutely on top of your game. Maybe you aced a calculus test, maybe you nailed a job interview, maybe the girl you liked liked you back, whatever. Remember everything about how that felt. How you stood, how you walked, how you held your head.

You're that guy. That is you, the man who feels like that.

Now dance.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

People like people who are having fun and are confident!

I'll echo that. Whatever advice you take, make sure you feel good about it. And with anything, practice builds confidence. Turn the tv off and turn on the tunes - music you like - and dance around your place until you start to enjoy yourself. Another thing - buy yourself some nice new clothes for the night out, something you really like, and dont wear it out until that night. People always feel more confident of themselves in new clothes.
posted by whatisish at 3:18 PM on September 23, 2005

What flipper and Methylviolet said. Nightclub dancing, 90% of the time, is "do whatever you feel like." This means the most important thing isn't technique but attitude. If you're the guy wavin' his arms in the air like he just don't care, you'll fit right in, whether you're a big guy or a tiny girl. If it means taking lessons to feel more comfortable on the dancefloor, or doing a little "who's the man? I'm the man," then so be it.

Honestly, most everyone else is either worried about their own dancing, or trying to get into someone else's pants. And besides, at the end of the night, everyone's too busy trying to kill all the stupid fratboys who can't keep their elbows down and their drinks out of your face to even think about laughing at you; betcha some of them even take a shine to you.
posted by chrominance at 3:21 PM on September 23, 2005

Let Fat Joe and Dropout Bear demonstrate the rockaway for you.
With "Lean Back" playing in the background, Joe began by divulging one of the most important things about doing the lean back: It's all in the eyes…
posted by 4easypayments at 3:22 PM on September 23, 2005

If you ever watch people on a dance floor in a night club -- and I mean really watch them -- you may be surprised to find that there are a lot of really bad dancers out there. The difference is that the bad dancers fearlessly shakin it on the dance floor aren't so self-conscious about dancing. And I think that should be the key for you: Don't focus so much on going through some sort of miraculous Footloose-style dance makeover; focus on being comfortable on the dance floor and having a good time. Don't worry about your size. There are plenty of little scrawny guys who can't dance either. Just be yourself out there. If all you're comfortable doing is tapping your feet and bobbing your head, then, hey, that's great! Nobody's going to give you shit for that because you're out there dancing and there will be plenty of people too afraid to even take that step.

And always remember: You most likely THINK you look a lot more awkward than you actually do. Aside from all the already bad dancers on the floor, most clubs also have strobe lighting of some sort -- and strobe lighting is a great dance equalizer. It makes everybody look like they belong there.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2005

There's that scene in Hitch where Will Smith teaches Kevin James to dance... I think if you followed the advice in that scene, you'd look just fine on the dance floor. So put in the DVD, prop up a mirror nearby, and keep copying what you see till your reflection matches.
posted by xo at 3:34 PM on September 23, 2005

So what if you don't dance? People watch, beat the line-up to get another drink, find an attractive whomever who also isn't dancing and chat 'em up. Any club I've been in has a large fraction of people in it who (while not generally the majority) never dance.

I don't "dance" at night clubs, and by "dance" I mean the ridiculous "shimmy, bump, grind and pantomime sex acts" stuff other people seem to love doing out on the dance-floor at such places thanks to MTV and the "Urban" marketing juggernaut. It looks stupid even when someone trained to do it "right" does it -- ever seen a music video?

It's also about as appealing as chain-smoking.

Guess what: I still have fun going out--just not generally to "dance" clubs. I don't feel I'm missing out on one of "life's simple joys" to quote an earlier post.

I do feel to some extent that I'm avoiding looking like an idiot, or catching something nasty from the faux-lesbo-filthies dirty-dance-grinding on the speakers.
posted by Crosius at 3:49 PM on September 23, 2005

I do feel to some extent that I'm avoiding looking like an idiot, or catching something nasty from the faux-lesbo-filthies dirty-dance-grinding on the speakers.

Did you really just throw a dyke slur in there? wow.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:59 PM on September 23, 2005

Consider finding a DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) game machine to get some moves going. For the short term, the biggest hindrance is self-consciousness. Smaller, less exuberant moves are more likely to be comfortable for you, at least for now.

It all about the rhythm. Listen for the drum beat, and move to that.

Longer term - take ballroom dance lessons. They're often short of men, and you'll be most welcome. Any other dance lessons available are a good idea. Videos for practice really do help. Dance is great exercise; the music really helps you want to keep going.
posted by theora55 at 4:01 PM on September 23, 2005

if you are out there having FUN or at least looking like you are having fun NO one will be laughing

I don't wanna be rude, but that's just not so. If you're a fat dude or chick out there shaking your money-maker, there will probably be people saying or thinking unkind things about you. But they'll be terrible little dead-inside people whose opinions aren't worth much at all anyway.

If you want to be less self-conscious about something, be it dancing or public speaking, there's no way around it except to do it, keep doing it, and get used to it. So if you want to dance, hie thee to lessons, as that's a convenient way to get dancing under your belt so it doesn't feel so alien, and do it away from prying eyes.

And remember that even if someone does look at you funny or say something nasty, that's because they're an asshole, not because of anything about you, really.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:11 PM on September 23, 2005 [2 favorites]

A friend recently asked me a similar question via ICQ (how do I get better at dancing by next week?), so here's some cut and paste:

Potentially useful exercise: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart in front of mirror. Keeping your hips absolutely static, slide your shoulders left and right, forward and back, (ie skew your torso to the limits of your spinal flexibility). This kind of motion can be a useful dance movement for keeping or showing a beat.

Then do the same thing, with feet apart, moving hips side to side, keeping shoulders still. You might not feel like this is something you want to use (up to you), but it helps teach how to move one part of the body without moving the other.

Even though anything goes, it might help your thinking to know some general rules-of-thumb from more structured dancing might help: you can't turn while travelling. Rotation always happens on the spot.

For most dances I know, weight should always be entirely on one foot, or the other foot, (except when weight is in the process of being transferred from one foot to the other). This means (among other things) you are always above a foot, and may be useful in club as a way to make you commit to a movement, rather than going half way.

Put all your weight on one foot, both legs straight, so you can lift the other foot slightly off the ground and you're still balanced. Point the leg (and toe) of the free foot ahead, back, or to the side, and then bring it down on the floor, and push it into the floor by pulling your thighs together, using the friction to grip the floor. You are pushing firmly against the floor with that foot, but all your weight is still on the other foot (even though both feet feel some pressure from the floor). So the unweighted foot is used for stability and moving, but the body weight is on the other one.

When moving feet about, have them brush past each other (like when you walk - they don't need to touch, but you want to avoid what would be, if you were walking, how you would walk if wearing a full body cast), unless you're going to exagerrate it into a sweeping motion with you foot.

Body language: Simple concept but hard to explain: the shape you make with your arms and torso, if it's concave (such as if you're hunched forward, or your arms are in front of and the to the side of the body in a potentially defensive way, the effect is small/scared. If the shape is convex, chest to the world, arms beside instead of in front (or even slightly behind), it's the opposite effect. Note that avoiding the head being forward is often harder than it sounds. As you dance you shape space. Sculpt the space, own it, don't have it own you.

Create contrast: Parts of you that moving look like they're moving more if other parts are moving slowly or dead still. A movement can also look faster if sandwiched between slow motions immediately before and afterwards, and vice versa.

Don't look at your feet :)

Try to be having fun. If you look like you're not having fun, that can look weird no-matter who you are.

Hopefully I reply with more stuff, but I'm currently busy, so a quick cut&paste is all I can do right now. I hope it's helpful.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:41 PM on September 23, 2005

Forgot to add:

Go to a room with lots of space and a clear floor, shut the door, alone, so you have enough privacy to not be self-conscious, find some music that YOU really love, that really makes you WANT to move, and just spent the next 30 minutes with nothing off limits, nothing too silly to not try, just belt the hell out of the music, getting to know your body, having fun, finding out what works and what doesn't, what you like and what you're comfortable with, and basically just let your body learn about itself.

This really helps.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:06 PM on September 23, 2005

Piggyback question: like anon, I can't dance. I would like to learn how via a ballroom dancing class, but I'm worried it wouldn't work for me. You see, as embarrassing as this is, I don't know my left from my right. If you say, "Move your foot to the left," I have to think about it for about three seconds before I can do it. During those three seconds, I'm trying to remember which way is left. (Sometimes I get it wrong.) If the "left, right, left, left, right" directions come really fast, I'll get totally lost. Oh, and "your left" vs. "your partner's left" -- forget about it. Is dance class a waste of time for someone like me? (If instead of left and right they would use markers in the room, I'd be fine: "move your foot towards the door, now towards the piano. Door, door, door. Piano, piano, piano...")
posted by grumblebee at 5:17 PM on September 23, 2005

Flaming-Bore : No, I threw a slur in about the fake , lesbian-stereotype behaviour straight girls "act-out" on a dance-floor because they think it makes guys "hot."
posted by Crosius at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2005

Don't sweat it. I have a dance instructor who can't tell left from right. Due to the nature of dance classes, left-right confusion is so common in dance classes that it's normal. For this reason, "door, door, piano" is often used - (partly because it's no good telling a class to turn left if half of them have probably over or underturned on a previous step and are facing in different directions.

If you're on the spot and you feel like an idiot, just explain that you don't know left from right (perhaps call it a mild dyslexia?).
Also, aformentioned instructor makes a habit of putting a marker on her left hand/arm (jewerly, whatever), and just glances at her hands whenever she needs to translate something into the language of left/right.
If she can do it, so can you :-)

You might also be interested to know that directions in ballroom are based on the floor, not left/right. The directions are called "centre, wall, line of dance, against line of dance". Where centre means towards the centre of the floor ie away from the wall, wall means the opposite. Line of dances means facing whatever direction is anti-clockwise, because that's the direction people dance in. So travelling "against line of dance" can be a bit like going the wrong way down a one-way street :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2005

I'm not particularly overweight, but I do not dance. In fact, I loathe dancing as so much public foreplay.

My attitude, perhaps unfortunately, has always been to hell anyone who tries to force me into a situation where I feel that I have to dance. At the age of 40, I no longer find myself in those situations, and I never had to feel like a performing monkey for other people, so my spikiness about it served me well, I think.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:17 PM on September 23, 2005

I'm a largish wooly mammal and I've always danced.

I started with ska, dub, reggae, jump-up, two-step and the like, but mainly ska. Like Skatalites roots-style ska; skanking.

I won't count punk, slam, pogo, whatever. That's just bouncing around.

Then it was industrial and proto-techno, a little early house, later trance and progressive, deep/funky house, techno.

There's a few names for this kind of dancing. Trance-dance, freestyle, flow. There aren't rules. There aren't steps. You just move as the music moves you. I can dance like an unhinged maniac in this way. I'm a electrified dancing fooling machine

It's not just erratic or random or style-free. There are - I guess - "rules", in the sense that Jazz has rules. You'll see a lot of movement, motion and textures being inspired by specific kinds of sounds, textures and rhythms.

But I can't dance *with* someone in a formalized style to save my life. It just doesn't compute. Suddenly I have four left feet and nothing works.

But give me a good party and a good DJ and I'll dance myself to exhaustion over hours. If I don't come home soaked, dripping from hat to socks in my own sweat, it wasn't that good of a party.

Obviously if you don't electronic dance music of any sort this isn't going to help much.

But if you do, consider that finding really good music, a good crowd and a good venue - indoor or outdoor, legit or renegade - isn't usually as easy as just walking down to the corner bar or upscale nightclub of your choice.

If there's hoochie mamas or papas drunkenly doing the clumsy assgrind and otherwise displaying all the rhythm and flair of a pile of in-season hedgehogs, I would say you haven't found the right place.

My best advice? Find the right place, the right crowd, the right music and Just dance. To utter the cliche: Dance like no one is watching. Free your ass and your mind will follow.

Again, I'm a fairly chunky guy. I fluctuate between 190 on the low end to 230ish on the high end. I'll still dance.

And that feeling of dorkishness never really goes away, unless I'm so deep in the zone I'm just not thinking anymore, and by that point I'm not only not thinking about how big of a dork I am, I'm not thinking about anything except dancing. And I'm not even thinking about that at all, I'm just dancing. And it's more feeling than thought.

Often I dance eyes closed, when it's safe and not too crowded, or I open them only every so often just to check my bearings. And I'll find someone watching and/or staring at me, friend or stranger. And suddenly I'm all dorkish and self-aware again. But then sometimes they'll come up later and say "Man, you're an awesome dancer!" and I'll feel dorkish for feeling dorkish.

Or I'll just remember I also watch people dance, intently, and admiring their flow and style, and I remember I wasn't ever thinking "What a big nerdy loser!" once during all my observations.

So just dance.
posted by loquacious at 7:38 PM on September 23, 2005

Flaming-Bore : No, I threw a slur in about the fake , lesbian-stereotype behaviour straight girls "act-out" on a dance-floor because they think it makes guys "hot."

...achieving the desired effect on a significant portion of the desired audience. Um, there's a reason that there are fakey girl-on-girl scenes in porn. [sigh]

Hey, anonymous, I think it's worth noting that the point about not dancing any more than you want to is well taken. If you WANT to dance, follow the dancing advice above, but don't feel like you have to rip up the dance floor to have fun. Groove a little, flirt a little, do whatever you want, just don't feel self-conscious about moving around.
posted by desuetude at 10:27 PM on September 23, 2005

fat guys look awesome doing stree-style / hip-hop type dancing. Obviously this won't work for you at a cowboy bar or if you go to a swing dancing party, but for general purpose dancin-to-the-music it looks totally cool and doesn't require you to be thin. Look for a class at a local college or community center or something of the like. Classes are a good place to break the ice if you feel really shy about dancing. You'll feel more confident at a party/club/whatever once you have some study under your belt.
posted by scarabic at 12:19 AM on September 24, 2005

I presume this question was in light of the forthcoming (now upon us) weekend and as such any advice we give you is going to be of the "cram" variety.

This question has haunted me as it hits fairly close to home -- I wouldn't call myself "fat" but have always been a big guy and have generally been adverse to dancing.

I'll go out on a limb and say that there's not much that can be just said to resolve your dancing issues. Reading the above responses, there have been some decent responses but let me (ahem) weigh in with my thoughts which are somewhat longer-term than just this weekend.

As its been said, if you're out there and self-conscious its going to be tough. If you've got a poor self body-image the nightclub scene can be nightmareish: a bunch of good looking people all hotted up, shaking their shit and trying to get laid.

And guess what, you ain't gonna be out there doing quite as well. These things pass.

First thing's first -- forget about getting happy dancing and get happy with -you-. This is going to make everything in life easier, dancing will kind of follow. Maybe getting happy with yourself is going to take some changing on your part. Those are the hard sorts of decisions you need to look yourself square in the eye and just make.

For me, losing weight helped, also the realization that I was going to be prone to being a big guy and feeling crappy about it wasn't sex-ay. Sexy (which in my mind is a big part of dancing) comes with being okay enough with yourself to ignore your own shit and let life come naturally.

Part of this, and back to dancing, will be figuring out how the hell you are put together. Just because (insert big guy) does (insert big guy dance) doesn't mean that you're going to be able to pull it off convincingly or have it look natural.

Think about your balance. I don't mean on the dance floor, I mean whenever. I mean getting out of bed, opening the door, reading the newspaper, whatever. Everyone has inner grace, you've just got to find it.

Once you've got daily motion down to a fluid act, find some music that makes you want to move and just do it. Maybe in your underpants in front of a mirror or something -- nothing else would be so horrific.

We're not talking stringy-guy dancing, just move, you know?

When you're out there, try not to focus on the rest of the world. You're not dancing with them. I think the "dance in a group" idea is bogus to an extent, save the fact that it lets you move a little, feel less squeamish about wiggling in front of the same person too long.

Focus on whoever you are dancing with. Doesn't matter if its someone you're not going to get nasty with, you're part of a collective.

Things are easier if it -is- someone you are interested in getting nasty with because it'll make getting lost in the moment easier and that's what this whole zen exercise is about. Eye contact, a good perfume and thinking how hot your dancing partner is all make for a good moment.

Its gonna be awful and awkward, but get through the bastard and think big picture, big guy. Good luck.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:18 AM on September 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

PS -- you might find dancing at a house party a much easier way to go, at least at first. Its a bit harder to engineer that than heading out to the club, but its likely going to be an easier road.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:21 AM on September 24, 2005

This is ridiculous, and the majority of you are setting this guy up to look like an idiot. Hey, 'anonymous': the objectively right course of action for you to take in this situation is to either not go (you do not ever HAVE to accompany your friends to a nightclub), or go and not dance. The social cost of either of those choices will be much less than the social cost of your giving your pro-dancing friends a memory of yourself flailing around, trying to look like you fit in when you don't. All the 'it's okay to be fat' and 'just be confident' advice here might make you feel better about being fat and unable to dance while you're reading it, but none of these people will be there to help you when the time actually comes. Some people can dance without much practice or thought, but you are obviously not one of them. Some people can psyche themselves up for an awkward social situation and come out the other side with their integrity fully intact; it doesn't sound like you are one of those either.

More importantly, consider this: you are probably vastly overestimating the extent to which your friends give a shit whether you dance or not. However, whether you look silly or not is something that they are going to absorb, no matter how much they like you.
posted by bingo at 9:29 AM on September 24, 2005

Start with the basics: rythym. Take an African dance class. Repeat: African dance. For one thing, in most West African dance, being fat is where it's at - learning to wiggle what ya got is part of the aesthetic, and if you have African teachers they won't laugh at you as you shake the jiggly wiggly off your ass. Instead they will remark at what a good sense of aesthetics you have, and point out your perfect moves to all the skinny "bags of bones" (as they say in Haiti) in the class.
posted by zaelic at 9:47 AM on September 24, 2005

As once was shouted across a dance floor: "All you motherfucking white people out there, move on the upbeat, not on the down beat!"

Look, I'm a chubby guy. I dance OK. First question: Can you fuck well? If you can fuck well, you can dance. If not... Well, hup-hup-here-we-go.

First, you should work on finding a song with a bassline and a good beat. You move your feet when you hear music, right? You just can't help tappin' along to some songs, right? Because they're catchy motherfuckers. Doesn't matter how cheesy they are, these are your songs to start dancing to.
In case you don't have any handy, I've enclosed some:
The Go Team- The Power is On, Make Up- White Belts, The Bush Tetras- Can't Be Funky (if you need some rap or dance, lemme know).

Ok. Ignore the shit about having a mirror. What you need is to find the beat, and move your hips. That's where funk comes from. It's like, your funk chakra or something. Put the stereo on loud and fucking rock it. Bump your hips. Find a groove.
I don't know if you have a girlfriend, but if you do, dance with her. Women learn this shit early, guys don't. Move your hips with her hips. Get your hand in the middle of the small of her back. You can feel where she'll go from there.
Really, it's just about going with what you feel. Don't try "steps."
Oh, and if you really want something that'll help, take up capioera. It's a brazillian martial art/dance. Great stuff for learning rhythm.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Flaming-Bore : No, I threw a slur in about the fake , lesbian-stereotype behaviour straight girls "act-out" on a dance-floor because they think it makes guys "hot."

Roger that.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:29 PM on September 24, 2005

How to dance properly.
posted by Wet Spot at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2005

More importantly, consider this: you are probably vastly overestimating the extent to which your friends give a shit whether you dance or not. However, whether you look silly or not is something that they are going to absorb, no matter how much they like you.

Just to confuse things, I would say the opposite. They are more likely to remember you refusing point blank to go onto the dance floor with them than anything else - if you're game enough to join in and at least dance once or twice, they'll let you be the rest of the time and when you're dancing they'll probably be mostly worrying about their own performances and oblivious to the rest, especially if they're drinking.

Good luck...!
posted by penguin pie at 8:34 PM on September 24, 2005

I don't want to be the only spoilsport and not join in the dancing.
Good, because everybody hates that guy. Especially cute girls.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

I beg to differ.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:25 AM on September 25, 2005

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