How do you dance like nobody's watching?
November 27, 2013 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Been checking out Pharrell's 24 Hours of Happy and some of the people don't seem to care what they look like and totally go with it and have fun. Others are decidedly apprehensive. I would probably not even volunteer to do this sort of thing myself. For those of you who can dance like nobody's watching, or do or say something funny that might grab the attention of the room, or sing karaoke at a bar, etc, I am curious to know what goes on in your head before, during, or after you "perform." Other ways to phrase this question: What makes you a ham? Do you think about what you are doing or going to do, or just go with it? Why don't you get embarrassed when you do something fun and crazy? Or do you? What is the payoff for you? Were you born this way or did you learn it somehow?
posted by thorny to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a year dancing to BET's 106 and Park (US television, long block of rap music videos) alone in my room everyday, imitating what people were doing on screen. Now dancing on local public access show Chic-a-go-go is my favorite thing to do.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:25 AM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I love to get up and dance at a bar/club when I'm out, and the only way I can describe it is: I can't sit still when there is NO music playing, so when there's something that's got a beat to it playing, I'm automatically moving along to it. I've never really worried about how I look to other people, or what they'd think. It's just something that kicks in without my having to think about it.
Granted, I've been very outgoing and whatnot since birth, so...yeah. =)
posted by PeppahCat at 9:31 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a karaoke-er.

Before and early in the song, I'm nervous, although how nervous depends on if I'm confident in my ability to sing the song and how much I've had to drink. I usually only sing songs that I'm pretty sure I can sing - and by that I mean I know the song, the verses in addition to the chorus, the weird bridge or key change 2/3 of the way through, etc. I don't have a particularly good voice, although I don't think I'm horribly out of tune either.

The payoff is that singing (and dancing) is an inherently joyful activity! I've always been a singer when alone in the car or my house. Karaoke is scarier than singing alone but is also more fun, especially when the crowd is into it. High fives as you walk back to the bar are fun, although it really is the fun of losing yourself the song and belting it out that is the biggest reward for me.

I was not always like this. I first attempted karaoke several years ago (but well into my 30s) and it took a lot of cajoling and easing in by starting out just singing backup for other people.

I would really like to dance more, but I am not confident enough in my dancing abilities (read: I know I pretty much suck). I would like to practice at home more, maybe even try some "how to dance" you tube videos but for some reason even home totally alone I feel embarrassed by it. So I totally understand feeling shy and embarrassed about one thing, even though I have barely any shame doing another.
posted by misskaz at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

For me the trick is getting enjoyment out of the actual act, and focusing more on the fact that "this is fun", than how well I am performing.

Because I'm not a particularly talented singer or dancer, if I can't get over my worry about my self-presentation, then I won't join in. But often being amongst friends (Rock Band!), or a little liquid courage is enough to quiet the logical side of my brain that is always whispering ("they're all going to laugh at you").

Do you ever dance/sing when nobody really is watching? If you don't, then those things are probably not innately fun for you, so you shouldn't do them in public either. If you do... how does doing that make you feel? Can you focus on that feeling when you've got an audience?
posted by sparklemotion at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before: "Oh wow, that looks like fun!"
During: "Oh wow, this IS fun!"
After: "Oh wow, that was fun!"

Once you realize how very little time other people actually spend thinking about you, you care a lot more about seizing the moment and having fun than you do about what other people think and you just go with the moment.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:33 AM on November 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think for most people this is innate. I once went to a Second City show in Chicago with my best friend, and was secretly grateful we were seated in the back because I was terrified of being called up on stage. Meanwhile, at one point she said, "I just wanna jump up there with them!" This is inconceivable to me. Some people are born performers, and some of us are not.

If you're someone who isn't, and you're asking how you can get rid of that self-consciousness: the only thing that has ever worked for me is alcohol.
posted by something something at 9:34 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no rhythm. At all. It may as well be a disability. A coworker once did an impression of me trying to snap along to Buddy Holly and it looked like their hand was having convulsions. You've seen the "Little Kicks" episode of Seinfeld? That's me. I am Elaine. I do the little kicks. But I still dance! I used to go to dance clubs with my friends on a pretty regular basis, and the reason I stopped has nothing to do with my inability to move in any way associated with the music that is playing.

What happened was that in late high school/early college my friends started listening to a lot of electronic music and going to club nights. And, obviously, I tagged along not intending to dance at all. And then at some point I got bored sitting there, so I started dancing. The only result was that I had a good time. Nothing else happened, from what I could tell. I danced with my friends, and they had fun dancing with me. I even went to clubs on dates and by myself and, again, nothing happened except fun.

At this point, I can't even recall what I was afraid of. Some stranger criticizing me? I mean, it'd be embarrassing but only right up until the point where I realize that "criticizing a stranger's poor dancing" is tenfold a dick move than "dancing poorly." The worst case scenario is that someone else is an asshole.
posted by griphus at 9:36 AM on November 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

when i was a teenager i went to a club for the first time. all my friends danced in a circle, and i didn't know what to do - on the one hand, i had never really danced before. on the other, i wanted to belong and have the fun they were having. i looked to my best friend (only a year older, but much wiser) and she was going at it. so i jumped in.

i had no idea what i was doing. i looked at others and tried to mimic their moves. then i made my own mashup of what i saw them all doing. i grew up playing music, so feeling the rhythm came naturally. i experimented with moving quickly to the beat, then changing it up and moving only to the downbeat on 1. i learned to move my body in new ways, twisting, spinning, clapping. the best thing i discovered in this process was being goofy, laughing, and having fun. i messed up plenty, but in a dark club no one can really see... and if they can, what does it matter? sometimes i get self conscious (it's hard not to) but really you just have to remind yourself that most of the people there i would never see again. and what IS messing up really - there is no right or wrong to dancing. sure there are routines that look beautiful but real dancing to me is just about discovering the joy of moving your body to music.

now i dance all the time. i seek it out, with friends or alone at home in my pajamas in my bedroom. the payoff is a huge huge smile on my face.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 9:37 AM on November 27, 2013

I am a librarian that does a lot of programming. I have, once a week at least for the past twenty years, stood in front of groups ranging from two to a thousand people and sung songs a Capella (I have no musical training and no natural talent), given engaging and entertaining in-depth presentations on topics I learned about five minutes before speaking, danced for hours in a dance-a-thon ("what does the fox say?"), done guerrilla/performance art and lots of other very public acts. Recently I was speaking in front of my entire workplace of 200 people and misunderstood some basic instructions in front of everyone. I made a funny quip about being an innovative thinker who adapts to challenges and modifies instructions for a better result. This went over a lot better than a mumbled red-faced apology would have.

After the awkward teen years (omg, everyone is LOOKING at me) I just stopped caring what other people think. I noticed~I~ felt uncomfortable if someone was overly conscious of being watched and realised that by being comfortable in my own skin and entertaining others when necessary (I am not a ham and don't make myself the centre of attention at every gathering) I made everyone more comfortable.
posted by saucysault at 9:37 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

One of the things that has helped me be more comfortable with myself is trying to answer the question: so what?

DISCLAIMER: this applies for me for things that are not dancing, because I don't enjoy dancing and also it gives me migraines, but I'm extrapolating for [other kind of ridiculous things I do]

Anyway, so here you are presented with the opportunity to either do something crazy and silly and fun or to be embarrassed. The question is why should you be embarrassed? Why?

Because other people might think I'm silly. So what? I AM kind of silly. Nothing wrong with that.

Because it's not something I'd normally do. So what? It's up to you to decide what you "normally" do. No one else gets to decide that for you.

Because I might feel clumsy or awkward at first. So what? Pretty soon you won't. Do you think other people look clumsy and awkward or do you think they look like they're having fun?

Because...whatever. It really doesn't matter. I've come to realize that I'm able to reason myself out of lots of things like this where the risk/reward payoff is so skewed. I reasoned myself out of being shy basically the same way. The trick is to always remember that people will never know that YOU FEEL shy or awkward about something unless you tell them. So just pretend!

Here's a tip to ease you into it: spend time hanging out with kids. You can act like an idiot all you want around little kids and they don't judge.
posted by phunniemee at 9:38 AM on November 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was born this way. Lifelong extrovert, lifelong ham.

I dance like nobody's watching because I don't give a fuck, and I want to encourage other people not give a fuck, too. I know that I look like a clumsy fool, but I do not feel like that is a good reason to shy away from flailing like a madwoman in a rough approximation of rhythm -- I like music, I like dancing, I have a long and storied history of making a fool of myself with unbridled glee and a possibly troubling overall lack of self-consciousness.

In a situation where dancing is happening, most of the people dancing are too worried about whether or not they look stupid to worry whether or not you look stupid. If people want to make fun of me, that is their prerogative and it does not bother me in the slightest. Listening to very loud tunes, live or recorded, is one of the abiding joys and treasures in my life and I'm OK if everyone knows it. Sometimes I embarrass my wonderful friends by embarrassing myself (Kelly Clarkson karaoke on the F train at 2 AM, ahem) but hopefully they can forgive me for it because I will always throw down for them in their similarly foolish endeavors.

I am so inspired by anyone who throws themselves into dancing, singing, or anything else that is so light-hearted and harmless, with everything they have -- it actually breaks my heart a little to see people do stuff that is so beautifully and uniquely human. Hopefully other folks feel the same way. I've had total strangers approach me in clubs and tell me that they admire my boundless enthusiasm. I've also had people tell me that I'm ugly and annoying and that I have no sense of style (guilty as charged). Takes all kinds!

Embarrassment is totally overrated. You only get one spin on the planet, and happiness is tough to come by, so enjoy the hell out of it while you can!
posted by divined by radio at 9:42 AM on November 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm an extrovert, which helps a lot. I don't spend much time thinking about being embarrassed, which is good, because I've certainly done some silly stuff.

As for dancing in public, I didn't know exactly what I liked about girls when I was little, but I certainly did like them. And a lot of them always seemed to be dancing, regardless of where they were. So I started doing it too, and while I became a good dancer, I realized I didn't care if I was. It stopped being about being around the girls and just enjoying myself.
posted by remhof at 9:46 AM on November 27, 2013

I'm an introvert by nature but when I'm dancing, it's like I've transcended every speck of bullshit programmed into my brain. My mind leaves my body and I'm just in the music. It's corny to say, but dancing is an ecstatic spiritual experience. (Especially if there's dirty sexy lubed-up modern disco in the house.)
posted by mykescipark at 9:47 AM on November 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also: Why don't you get embarrassed when you do something fun and crazy?

I sometimes do other things that aren't dancing that are like what you describe as well. I am not one of those people who can act entirely without caring what others think of me; I get embarrassed sometimes when things I try don't go as planned in public.

My favorite comedians tell jokes that don't land. My favorite actors appear in shitty movies. My favorite directors direct flops. Have you ever seen a band play that thinks they have good stage banter but do not? It is embarrassing as hell.

When I see someone else do something I think is embarrassing or cringe-worthy I give them the benefit of the doubt. And I give myself that same benefit of the doubt when it happens to me.
posted by griphus at 9:48 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Great answers thus far. Thank you! Lots of similar themes, particularly about reminding myself "Who cares?" and to focus on the fun, and also not to turn something innocuous into something of world importance. :) Keep 'em coming.
posted by thorny at 9:57 AM on November 27, 2013

Nothing really goes through my head while I dance. That's sort of the point for me. When I dance (or hoop) I just let myself go to the beat of the music. It's one of the only times in life I truly feel free.

As for looking like an idiot, maybe I do but I'm having too much fun to care.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:07 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think just about everyone gets a rush of adrenaline before they perform. That nervous-energized-excited-alert feeling is a neutral thing that your body does. On its own it isn't inherently good or bad. The difference is how your brain interprets that feeling, and what associations you have with it.

Some people feel the adrenaline and, consciously or unconsciously, they're like "Yeah, that's the feeling I always get before something terrible happens. Better stop whatever I'm doing so it goes away." And then they end up experiencing the feeling as awkward and inhibited and scared.

Some people feel it and, consciously or unconsciously, they're like "Ooh, that's the feeling I always get before something awesome happens! That's a great sign! I'm gonna nail this!" And then they end up experiencing the feeling as excited and amped-up and it drives them forward instead of inhibiting them.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:09 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

oh one more thing - my favorite type of dance is kitchen dancing. that's when your dancing shoes are a pair of socks and the tile on your kitchen floor is really smooth - makes for great turns and slides.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:13 AM on November 27, 2013

I have a long history of hamming it up on the dance floor at weddings (like some friends set it up with me ahead of time that if the dance floor was dead they'd ask the DJ to play a certain song and that was my cue to get shit going again) and what goes through my head is usually something like "YEAH! WORKING IT! YOU KNOW WHAT THIS DANCE FLOOR NEEDS IS SOME MORE HIP THRUSTS! MAYBE THROW IN SOME THRILLER HANDS! YEAH! HEY FRIEND OVER THERE, COME SHAKE THAT BUTT! WOO!" Sometimes these things are not said just in my head.

I'm not a good dancer by objective measures but I certainly have a lot of fun dancing. I don't sing in public because I am really, really bad at it - like Mary Steenburgen singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in Elf bad - so it wouldn't be fun for other people to have to hear it. I'm a lifelong extrovert and my childhood best friend was an introvert who seemed to get a lot of joy out of watching me do crazy stuff she couldn't bring herself to do. I guess it never really occurred to me to be embarrassed by having fun.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:16 AM on November 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's what I tell myself when I'm dancing in public -- So what if I don't know how to dance -- No one else knows how to dance either. they're just making it up the same way I am.
posted by garlic at 10:19 AM on November 27, 2013

I'm a natural introvert, but sometimes I feel "on" -- energetic and unselfconscious. It can be caffeine or alcohol or a good song or being in the company of someone who laughs at all my jokes, but it happens without warning and lasts for a while and then it's over. I have fun while it's going on, but afterwards I usually feel embarrassed and worry if I stepped over the line and offended anyone or looked silly. That's just life for me.

I hate to break it to the "Dance like no one's watching because really, no one cares!" crowd but I'm observant and I notice what other people are doing and saying. I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun... fun IS fun... but I know that I pay attention, so I have to assume that there are some other people who pay attention, so I've never bought the line that people are so self-absorbed that they're not even paying enough attention to possibly judge you.
posted by telegraph at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you a perfectionist? I used to be (well, kinda still am), but that fed into my not wanting to perform - I'm hyper technically aware and know all the little things that make something not technically perfect. Then I realized no one else usually notices or cares. Then it was easier for me not to care!
posted by 3FLryan at 10:32 AM on November 27, 2013

Dancing for me is all about a oneness of my mood, my movement, and the music. I'm not really a ham -- I'm told I'm a pretty smooth dancer -- but it's something I learned to do as a sober rave attendee. I'd just start going and find a flow where I could anticipate where the music was going and what the DJ was doing, and keep moving with that.

The thing is, though, that I'm good at what I practice. I dance around the house to top 40 and electronic, just making it up as I go. I enjoy it. And it looks like I enjoy it when I dance. I'd feel just as awkward and exposed as a non-dancer if I had to do ballroom. So while you certainly can get started at any point, don't expect to be lighting up the dance floor on day 1.

With dancing, it's certainly something you can learn. I was rhythmless through most of high school. Then I realized one day that "hey, I know how to headbang to rock... If I bend my knees when I'd thrash my head, I'd be dancing!" Honestly, rhythm can cover for a _lot_ with dancing. Almost any movement done in time looks good.
posted by bfranklin at 10:34 AM on November 27, 2013

I had CRRRAAAAZZZZYYY social anxiety in high school and college, and am still super introverted and awkward. But, I had a friend who DJed at a bar in my small town, and I felt comfortable there dancing, and I mean DANCING, with friends there. I remember the first time I danced where I felt I could go crazy to the music, and it felt AMAZING. It was like I had a new superpower--the power to dance in public. Now I still have fun dancing at weddings and with friends in their living rooms, but I don't do the club scene.

I feel like, most of the time, I can just own my awkwardness. Hello, I'm awkward, and it's kind of awesome sometimes! I love the saying, "No one ever died of awkwardness." And I haven't died or killed anyone with my awkward dance moves yet.

Oh, and Zumba is pretty cheesy sometimes, but it feels so fun to just have structured dance moves in a group to fun music. If there are classes in your area and you'd be interested, it's a fun place to get used to moving in front of others.

For practical tips, I'd say just get out there and dance and desensitize yourself, but also, if you're afraid of looking silly, purposefully do a really dumb, silly dance move for a second and see that nothing bad happened. The record didn't stop. People didn't point and stare. The music goes on. The beat continues. And hopefully, so will your dancing!
posted by shortyJBot at 10:55 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am hugely introverted and largely misanthropic and in general shun things where noisy participatory fun is involved; I might actually be Grumpy Cat. HOWEVER I have a lifelong dance background so it is as natural to me as breathing. In general I halfassedly advise people to become comfortable with their own bodies via: dancing frequently while you are alone; doing the most awkward-looking youtube dance tutorials you can find and laughing at your own efforts; and maybe something like yoga, just to get a feel of how muscle groups work in coordination.

I am hugely unhammy though, I just dance because I enjoy it so MMMV.
posted by elizardbits at 11:05 AM on November 27, 2013

I am an introvert, some friends have described me as the shyest person they've ever met. In college my friends would go dancing sometimes and I'd just sit there at a table and pretend my diet coke was extremely interesting. After college, friends started doing the karaoke thing and again, I'd sit there. I'd get into their performances, but would never do it myself.

The thing is, I was a majorette in high school, twirled competitively starting in middle school, took dance classes and played in the school band. So growing up, I often performed--but never improvised. Even now, I sing and play guitar in a band. My friends tell me how amazed by that they are, because as soon as I get down off stage, I'm so shy. It's, again, the improvisational thing.

But in the past two years, I have gone out dancing, and I even did karaoke. How did I get through it? Well, the dancing, I just started doing it in my apartment in college as exercise. It was fun, but I didn't want anyone watching me. Then, years later, I decided I wanted to go clubbing for my birthday (my 28th). That was my first time dancing like that, out in public, and I just did it. Because I wanted to. And because I wanted to, I didn't care what others thought of me.

Now I go out dancing more often. Sometimes I do start feeling awkward, but there are several ways I combat this: 1.) only go to places where no one can really dance; 2.) ham it up on purpose. I'm the queen of the jazz hands now. If you laugh at yourself before others do, it makes it a lot easier to just have fun; 3.) alcohol. It works.

I used to worry all the time about what people thought of me. Now, I don't know if I've gotten more selfish or what, but my motto has become "fuck it." Fuck it, I want to dance. Fuck it, I want to tell a stupid joke. Fuck it I want to car dance to "You Can Call Me Al" in the driveway in front of my house while the neighbors watch. As others said, we only get one time around, it's so much better to just let go of all the bullshit and just have fun.
posted by dearwassily at 11:14 AM on November 27, 2013

How do you dance like nobody's watching?

Do you actually dance when nobody's watching?

I'm constantly dancing around my apartment, singing along to songs, etc. while cooking and going about my evening. It's something I enjoy doing. When I'm around others, I just have to tap into that same mindset/feeling and I'm having a great time. It's not hard to do, because dancing and singing and having a great time is something I do all the time at home.

Meaning, in order to dance like nobody's watching, you have to be familiar with what it feels like to dance when nobody actually is watching.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:19 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hey, I'm a natural introvert who has basically zero problem getting up and performing in front of people. I do it because a) I enjoy doing performancey things (especially singing) or b) it is part of my job or otherwise my responsibility to do performancey things (like teaching) or c) SOMEONE needs to get up in front of the group to get [x] started or else we're going to be here all night so I will get the ball rolling.

I am the kind of introvert who hates making phone calls, will not ask for help moving, is perfectly happy to stay at home, has a small group of closeish friends... I promise you, I am the real deal. I love to sing karaoke, but getting a group of friends together to go out to sing karaoke is basically impossible for me.

What's more, I was not always able to do this kind of thing. I was INCREDIBLY self-conscious growing up. But I *had* to get less self-conscious if I wanted to do some things I really enjoy, so by the end of college I was directing a singing group and singing solos with a large chorus. By my mid-twenties I was giving high-energy science museum presentations. A few years ago I was on a high-pressure TV game show and I had the time of my life (and won). So I believe that it ABSOLUTELY can be learned, if you're sufficiently motivated. It does involve letting go of perfectionism, though.

I still get nervous. But I've basically come to the conclusion that I'm the only one who gets to decide if I'm having fun. Mostly other people don't care what you're doing. Of the subset of people who do care what I'm doing, I mostly don't care if they care what I'm doing (like, seriously, the judgement of strangers who don't know me? what impact does that have on my life?). And the people whose opinions I care about are mostly generous people who I've chosen to care about! So what's to lose?
posted by mskyle at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Were you born this way or did you learn it somehow?

Introvert, here, so definitely learned, although starting at a fairly early age, 8 or so.

Mostly, I think, as a side effect (of sorts) of learning various musical instruments - some kind of public performance is often a part of formal lessons. So while initially terrified, I started to learn some of the things others above have mentioned:

- people are paying less attention to you than you think they are (and are being less judgmental)

- your perception of your performance is maybe not the most accurate (i.e.: me, "Such-and-such part was a horrible train wreck!" Teacher, "No, actually, that was mostly fine - a little rushed, maybe, but quite smooth. Good job.")

- it's possible to lose your self-awareness & self-consciousness during the course of performing

- there's a certain pleasure intrinsic to accomplishing a difficult feat.

Also, my mother has a fairly sarcastic sense of humor, and right about the same time I started to notice that saying things that would make my mother laugh would often also make my classmates & friends laugh. I was never the "class clown", but most of my teachers could count on fairly regular zingers coming from my area of the classroom.

What is the payoff for you?

There are definitely internal payoffs that can happen ("losing yourself" in a sort of "altered consciousness" sense, pulling off something you find difficult, meeting or exceeding your own internal standards for a "good" performance), and having an audience around to see, hear, or respond to you is almost irrelevant. But there's also very definitely an aspect of external validation. Sally Fields' "You really like me!" Oscar acceptance speech gets mocked a lot, but I would be a Lying Liar Who Lies if I didn't admit I get a little touch of that every time I get laughter or applause or a compliment. Getting that external validation can be a real confidence booster for a shy, chubby bookworm. And that, I think, can build up over time, adding to the internal payoffs, to the point where you develop actual confidence, at least to some degree.

So even though I haven't really musically performed in public for years, that confidence has stuck with me, so I can wisecrack or dance or do something foolish without being particularly self-conscious.

I am curious to know what goes on in your head before, during, or after you "perform."

That kinda depends.

If you mean "perform" like saying or doing something funny or getting out on the dance floor at a wedding, then mostly I actually don't really think about it. I suppose I combine my own internal gauge for "funny" or "fun" with a certain amount of experience that whatever I'm doing will more likely be praised rather than mocked, or that people surrounding me will enjoy whatever it is I'm doing, and at this point that calculation is so fast as to be pretty much instinctual.

If you mean "perform" in more the sense of "you are doing something while people specifically watch you", that's a little different. While I don't really "perform" like this in public anymore, I did quite a lot of it in my teens and 20's, and my job entails being involved with public performances, often in a highly visible way.

So in a sort of "familiarity breeds contempt" kind of way, I'm very very rarely nervous before a performance, and haven't been for years. At most I am/was nervous about specific things - a particularly difficult guitar part, I'm in a venue where the electricity is dodgy and I hope it stays on, like that.

"During" I'm mostly "in the moment" - I'm doing a thing rather than thinking about how to do that thing or worrying about how that thing is being perceived by the audience, if you see what I mean. Maybe a little bit of awareness of potentially problematic things coming up in the next few seconds or minutes.

"After" is some sense of relief that it's over with, for good or ill. Plus some analysis of which parts of the performance were good and which parts were bad, both by internal dialog and by conversations with fellow performers and the audience members.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:06 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd like to talk about one of my friends:

Alex, is really tall, really really malcoordinated, and looks pretty crazy a lot of the time. When he dances he does this thing where all his limbs flail and his body sways and he stamps his feet and jumps into the air at random intervals. The first time I saw it I could only stop and stare. But it's absolutely great, you can tell he's having a great time, and he's not worrying about how he looks at all, so why should you. He's one of the best people I know to go out with because it's impossible to have any inhibitions when you're caught up in his dance.

Once, when he'd been going out with someone for a few weeks, they asked: 'Alex, would you mind not dancing like you do tonight because I find it embarrassing'

He replied something along the lines of: 'I'm sorry but there's no way that's going to happen. It's just too much fun.'
posted by Ned G at 12:39 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely an introvert but I love doing performance-type things. I'm kind of a ham and I like the adrenaline and I guess the whole process of ~performing~ kind of takes you out of yourself in a way that nothing else really does. I did plays in high school and then last year (at 29) I started doing bar karaoke, like, weekly. I'm a pretty mediocre singer, but I love music and it's super-fun to have the whole bar singing along with you.

I was pretty shy about dancing in front of people until some time in university but at some point (which I'm sure involved being moderately drunk) I got over it because it's pretty much just fun. I'm sure there are clubs in the world where everyone's watching and judging everyone else, but I think for the most part if you're dancing at parties or weddings or DJ nights or whatever, most people are more like, do you look like you're having fun and less like are you executing those moves perfectly. It just takes practice getting comfortable doing that stuff - I used to need to be drunk to dance in front of people, but now I totally don't.

But yeah, for me it was definitely a learned thing where I'd always look longingly and enviously at people clearly having fun but felt incapable of having fun, until I kind of broke through the barrier and realized that I could do this too and nothing horrible would happen.
posted by SoftRain at 12:47 PM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

What you are looking for is the spotlight effect. Just remember all those people you're worried about looking at you are just as worried about you looking at them and judging them. Everyone's too caught up in their own head to even notice you.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:03 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quoting SoftRain for emphasis: "I could do this too and nothing horrible would happen."

Dance, karaoke, and other public tomfoolery have little to no downside, and any negative blowback you might get pretty much always reveals itself as a mean streak in the observer more than a failing in the do-er. Fortune and public opinion tends to favor the bold.

A nice side benefit is that the more comfortable you get with expressing yourself physically, the more you'll find yourself observant of, comfortable with, and kind to others trying to claw their way out of their shells. And doesn't that sound like a nice world to live in?
posted by eamondaly at 1:19 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a fairly introverted and anxious type, and I love hitting the dance floor. Partly this came from the realisation that nobody does actually care. In particular, I realised that if I looked stupid then people would just assume I was drunk or on drugs, and since that applied to most people in the room, it didn't really mean much. I realised that as long as you seem happy and don't annoy anyone then shaking your ass as hard as you can is a more or less unconditionally positive thing to do.

What I get out of it is..'s a curiously meditative and helpful experience. Also, listening to music sometimes gives me this weird kinaesthetic things-are-moving-in-space feeling, and dancing is a good way to connect with this or let it out or something.
posted by doop at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't mention drugs and/ or alcohol but they are a big part of not giving a fuck for a lot of people. So, get drunk! Take drugs!

I love to dance, and I am a classic introvert. It's feeling the rhythm and just having to get up, like it or not, and sometimes that happens when I'm out, sometimes at home and sometimes just in the street. But to really feel it and not care what others think, sometimes you have to be drunk or high the first few times and then it's easy to disregard the hangups and just moooove.
posted by goo at 5:06 PM on November 27, 2013

There's an excellent ethnographic study of Karaoke bars, from the 90s, a little book called Karaoke Nights.
posted by yoHighness at 6:55 PM on November 27, 2013

I find it way less intimidating to do potentially embarrassing things in front of strangers than in front of friends and acquaintances. Who cares, you'll probably never see them again! So perhaps you can desensitize yourself a bit by practicing without your friends around.
posted by ktkt at 12:19 AM on November 28, 2013

I'm definitely a neurotic, awkward person, but I too have kind of made that transition to "who cares," so now I'm not thinking; the song makes its own demands and my body just responds in its own awkward way.

But one of my secrets used to be to imitate other dancers who looked like they were having fun and whose lack of inhibition I admired, like you'd playfully imitate a zoo elephant's walk or something. "Hey, check out that guy, he's dancing like this" *wave arms back and forth while twirling in a circle*. It's easier to do that than to figure out how to move your body all on your own. And (this is going to make me sound like a jerk, but) the other big benefit of was that it kind of protects you from the self-critical part of your brain. It's not that you're dancing; you're imitating that other guy's dancing. So your self-consciousness becomes... not exactly mockery, certainly not in a mean-spirited way... but it gives you an "out" in your head. If anyone watching were silently judging you, it'd actually not be YOU he'd be judging; it'd be more like you were both making fun of that other guy. But of course, nobody is judging you, and you actually admire that dancer. And what actually happens is that the people you're with don't realize you're copying someone even if you try to say so, and they start dancing. You realize, "oh wait, *I* started the dancing? they thought I was dancing for REAL?" That inspires a moment of panic, "oh crap, now I have to keep dancing. I didn't even really want to!" I get through that by spotting someone else whose moves I want to try. ("Okayyyyy. Maybe I can just 'wave my hands in the air like I just don't care' like all those women are doing.") But eventually you gain momentum and find yourself thinking, "oh, if they can do something THAT ridiculous, then what if I did THIS?!?" and trying crazy moves all your own. And once I really got going, I'd stop caring and would have even cared if I knew someone across the room were copying my moves.
posted by salvia at 10:10 PM on November 29, 2013

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