I don't dance...because I can't dance.
February 14, 2014 11:30 PM   Subscribe

I was in ballet until about 7 years old. I've danced for school things on stage in elementary. Somehow this didn't transfer at all to my adult life. I get invited to go clubbing and there are military balls (which pretty much just have club dancing) that I sorta have to go to....but I don't want to be that person always sitting on the sidelines for the rest of my life.

I'm now horribly shy about dancing. I don't have the option of taking classes near me and I'm not interested in finding local clubs until I at least can "move my hips" so to speak, so I'm looking for recommendations on using the power of the internet. I have decent brain-to-feet coordination, but I don't even know where to start. I have a large area available to practice in, and I'm very good at understanding movement and space as if from behind or above etc.

Do you know of some good YouTube or site series lessons on getting into dancing?

Please don't tell me to "just get out there". I already tried that and someone told me to sit down rather ungently. I'm trying to avoid that extremely hurtful scenario again as much as I can with at least some prep.
posted by DisreputableDog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Agreed, fuck anyone who told you to sit down. I don't dance for fear of the shames, but the older I've gotten the less of a shit I give. Booze is also very useful for this. Also having seen people who are legit terrible dancers and having a lot more fun than I was not dancing. Did I judge the terrible dancers? Nope, judged myself for being lame. So now, sometimes, I get my drink on and give it a shake. I just try to make sure I am not slipping into "white woman overbite" and otherwise let rip, usually a kinda shuffelly handbag-dancing, but whatevs!

For practice: Go to places you know nobody and would never usually go. Go somewhere you deem hick. Go linedancing or do Zumba on your TV, get a few basic moves from youtube, get drunk in your sitting room. Borrow a friend who likes to dance and have a lights-off disco at home. Get a strobe light, everyone looks like they are dancing really well in strobe.

And once again, fuck whoever told you to sit, that is king of the turds and broke every social code in the book.
posted by Iteki at 12:19 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, that friend who can dance and who you trust, rope them into this. You probably want to learn to dance a bit like your friends, or suitable to the kind of music you generally listen to, not much point twerking like a pro to The Cure.
posted by Iteki at 12:26 AM on February 15, 2014

The person who told you to sit down can kiss my ass.

The next time you can witness group dancing - pay attention - in my experience most people just kind of move back and forth and don't so much actually dance. My advice is to just get on the dancefloor somewhere there's a large crowd and move about while laughing. Secondary advice would be to do this when there's a song on with the directions in it like Cupid Shuffle (hate the song but the directions are built right in.) Thirdly, you don't need to learn all the moves. Just learn a couple easy moves from your friend. The most important thing here is to stop stressing yourself out and just have fun with it. If all else fails just go full on spastic Elaine Benes for laughs.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:43 AM on February 15, 2014

Response by poster: Um, thanks, but now does anyone have the video lessons I asked about?
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:10 AM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was in ballet until about 7 years old. I've danced for school things on stage in elementary.

Dude, I was in ballet for much longer than you and danced onstage a few months ago and I still feel like a Alien from the Planet Weird on the dance floor. I do really well when there are instructions for me to follow, otherwise, not so much! Have you tried line-dancing? (Just kidding. Sort of).

I think the key is to realize that most people suck at a dancing and that you're probably not doing as badly as you think. Watch, observe, and then watch yourself. Practice in a mirror. Have fun. Have a drink or two or five if that's your thing.

Please don't tell me to "just get out there". I already tried that and someone told me to sit down rather ungently.

What a dickhead. Seriously. If someone tells you to stop dancing, tell them to stop being an asshole. Yikes.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:11 AM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Okay you want a youtube link to get you dancing?

I present to you: She Wolf, by Shakira.

Shakira is an incredible dancer. She has a great time doing it, too. But the She Wolf dancing is so over the top ridiculous that you can't help but laugh with it. Okay, now, try doing it, alone in your room. Laugh at yourself while flailing and gesturing at your crotch. Definitely "awooo" when the song goes "awooo".

If you're doing the two step shuffle back and forth thing, and you need to throw something in to mix it up, break out the She Wolf moves. You will find yourself laughing, and once in a while they might actually work out gracefully. Either way it'll be awesome.

There are actually lots of videos if you just search for "basic dancing". They vary in terms of quality and intended audience and I'm not sure what you would find most appealing. I think that you need to work on your shyness more than learning actual moves. When you start to feel shy, don't stuff it down or bottle it up. Try to accept that shyness and work through it anyway. Concentrate on being brave! Bravery is about action in the face of fear, not fearlessness itself. So pick a couple videos with moves that you think look cool, or hilarious, or graceful. Study them and try to do some of them, but think of it less as a choreographed thing to repeat in public and more of a batch of inspirations for you to draw from when you're being brave.

Also yeah, it's kind of annoying, but the drinking thing totally applies for dancing. Thing is though that for me, after having done the "oh god I can only get through this wedding with lots of alcohol" thing a few times that ended up with me cutting it up (poorly and drunkenly but really happily) on the dance floor, I am now capable of skipping the booze and going straight to the stupid wild dancing portion. If you have a fairly healthy relationship with intoxicants, it's something to consider.
posted by Mizu at 1:17 AM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not familiar with general club/hiphop dance tutorials on Youtube but I did watch a metric ton of tektonik and c-walk tutorial videos for a while (followed by even more battle vids). The more obscure corners of popular dance often have the best tutorials. I've even found inspiration (and pulled specific moves) from dance trends like the Dougie.

You could also pick a specific dancer to emulate. I know Chris Brown is all sorts of problematic, but he did get famous in part because of his dance skills.

My sincere if off the wall recommendation is to just watch a ton of dance movies (Stomp the Yard, Step Up series, etc etc) and just dance around while you watch them. I find that I get better when I'm trying to imitate bits of someone else's dance style, not copy it wholesale.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:25 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ugh. Hello, I'm Meghan, and I'm dancing impaired. We should be friends. I realise that the advice about getting out there and just doing it is well intentioned, but when you already feel awkward, and then people are dicks about it--well, can you really blame someone for not wanting to get out and throw caution to the wind?

I'll be honest: I still totally don't dance. Not where anyone can see me, anyhow. What's slowly making the idea less vomit-inducing isn't video dance lessons (which I searched for and tried, and basically failed at) but--and I'm embarrassed admitting this--basically exercise dance videos. Stupid zumba-style things, and stupid bobble-headed blonde women claiming that they're doing a "fun dance routine". (Sorry, people who think this is fun. I'm sure you're great. I do not think this is fun.)

I think that part of why stupid dancercise videos work better for me is twofold. First is because they do, in fact, stress things like moving on the beat, and moving fluidly and consistently--dance classes for non-formal dance styles, especially if they're aimed at women, often rely on you sort of just...knowing how to move in a holding pattern while a presumptively male partner does Other Things. The other thing is that I'm used to not being great at exercise, and many of the exercise-styled videos feature people who are also not amazing at it. This video (which was my random video of the day today) is part dance and part yoga, and features a woman who's allegedly never done this sort of thing before. And she looks awkward, and kind of out of place and slightly embarrassed--which makes me feel less stupid for feeling awkward and embarrassed, even in my living room.

Obviously this sort of video isn't going to make you someone who's a super amazing dancer and can walk into the club and just get down, but it might help to get you to a place where you feel confident enough in your ability to move fluidly on a beat that you can search out actual dance classes, either online or in person.

Finally, I point you to this video that Karen Cheng made of her attempt to learn how to dance. Her really early dancing gets only the barest nod, but what's there looks...well, pretty damn awkward. But after a year, she's great. So it can happen! It just might take a while.
posted by MeghanC at 1:50 AM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have a lovely young sister who got given crap about dancing, so now she never does, it makes me sad. I have no idea if I can dance but what helped me LOADS as a teen was hanging out with a dancer who told me "as long as you dance to the beat, that's the main thing". That kind of sorted me out ever since. A few drinks here and there got the confidence up.. not the ideal solution I know.. but a solution of sorts. I honestly think more people are thinking about whether they look ok.
posted by tanktop at 1:56 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding watching lots of dancercize videos and dance-oriented movies; n-thing telling the jerk who told you to sit down to f*** off.

But I have to disagree with the 'get drunk' suggestions, that's not a good idea.
posted by easily confused at 2:36 AM on February 15, 2014

Mod note: Folks, the OP has asked for and clarified once again that they want recommendations for "good YouTube or site series lessons on getting into dancing," so let's stick with that. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:47 AM on February 15, 2014

I felt the exact same way and I got over it by rewatching the nightclub scenes from my favourite TV show and copying what the actors did. (Well, some of what they did. I'd usually skip the parts where vampires attacked and fights broke out.)

Then once I felt like I'd memorised enough TV moves that I could dance to at least one song without petering out, I'd go to the club and make sure to stand where I had a good sightline to a girl who seemed like a decent dancer. (Never somebody in my group, always a stranger on the other side of the dancefloor.) Then I'd unobtrusively copy her moves.

Eventually I had enough moves from copying TV shows and strangers that I could string them together with confidence and started to really enjoy myself. But the thing is, I started to get compliments on my dancing way before I reached that point. People would congratulate me on my cool moves, not realising that said moves were actually a deeply uncool recreation of last Tuesday's TV.

I'd link you to the string of the vids I used, but the moves will all be fifteen years out of date. Better to find a current show with a lot of club scenes in it.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:56 AM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: I know you marked this as "done" but just in case - look, I hear you. I love to dance but I feel pretty self-conscious because I am basically kind of a weird-looking moderately fat person, so I worry a lot about dancing at least well enough that people won't stare. And that's real; that's not something you can hand-wave away by saying that I "just shouldn't care". Some people are awesome and they just don't care; me, I've had a life of various kinds of bullying and unwanted attention, and it's just worn me the hell down.


Now, I should say that I have gotten a couple of compliments on my dancing from the kids today - not "my goodness you should win awards" compliments, because frankly I'm not an especially distinguished kind of dancer, much more "my goodness Frowner, I would have kind of expected you to embarrass yourself but actually you don't" compliments. And that's good enough for me!

I watch Janelle Monae videos, in particular Tightrope and pay really close attention to how people move. Now obviously, it takes both work and great gifts to dance like Janelle Monae, but look at how people in those videos move their arms and in particular their hips - note the group dancing sequence at the end of Tightrope and the scenes with all the girls in striped dresses in "Q.U.E.E.N.S." Once you notice how people are moving their hips and how that relates to sort of a general arm motion, you will be able to achieve a generic and inoffensive dance step. A lot of people go wrong, I think, because they assume that the center of gravity is the shoulder and arms, when it's really the hips. Notice how people "isolate" the hips - like, they don't need to be swinging their entire bodies to move their hips. (You see this in videos of twerking - which takes a lot of skill, should not generally be done by white people, etc - if you look up some Big Freedia videos, you will notice how people can isolate their hips/ass and have a lot of control over those motions even if the rest of their bodies are comparatively still. This is not what you will be doing on the dance floor, but it is a great illustration of an extreme of muscle control.)

The goal isn't to imitate a video or Janelle Monae, which would probably look pretty silly - it's to notice how talented people move.

Another good video for the schematics of dancing is this, where Junior Walker and the All-Stars are performing "Shot-Gun". Note the contrast between how the white girl in the white tiered dress moves and how everyone else moves - her motions are much jerkier and have less control. The people on the dance floor are doing a lot of dance moves that are somewhat more schematic and exaggerated versions of a lot of things people do today, so it's very helpful to pay attention - here, to the way the whole body is coordinated.

An important thing IME: you'll see people commenting on actual professional music videos and being like "look at her, she can't [do whatever]" and it will make you uneasy because you'll feel like whoever it is seems to be doing okay. Remember that the standard of dancing in casual, not-especially-talented circles is much lower - someone who is dancing like an "incompetent" dancer in a music video won't stand out among average people.

This Teach Yourself To Dance In One Year video has its problems - not least that the you're not going to want to be a really showy dancer breaking out all that stuff like you're in Cats. But it shows some specific things in isolation, which is helpful.

But the best thing you can do to learn to dance is dancing. Find some music you really like and have a little dance party for one before bed a few nights a week. Watch some little videos of good dancers beforehand, think about what you're doing, pay attention to the hips, don't move your shoulders too much, especially not any kind of up-and-down in-toward-your-ears thing.

Also, you need a lot of core strength for anything that involves moving out of the vertical - the more I dance, the more I really appreciate the incredible skills I see in videos. Concentrate on simpler motions that are done basically while standing mostly straight up. (I actually have a back injury from when I was little, so there's some stuff I really can't do no matter how strong I am, so I'm extra aware of this.)

And also, a way to practice is to go slow. When I am trying to make sure I'm not flailing, I think of a slowed-down version of "Tightrope" (which is, to me, the supreme song for dancing) and sort of practice in my elementary, non-Janelle-Monae way. Hum a slowed-down version of a danceable song, isolate what you're doing.

When I think of really obvious dance problems I have seen (not just "this person has absolutely no funk in the spine" problems) they usually involve either moving from the shoulders so that the hips/waist/legs kind of dangle or else flailing the arms. Look at this excellent video of Ask by the Smiths - it's directed by Derek Jarman, it has all kinds of queer subtext and it's just a lovely, lovely video - and you will see this sort of "dancing to white eighties pop" dancing that involves a lot of skipping, flailing and uncontrolled arm motion.

I do not come from a dancing/physical grace background, but I have definitely 100% learned to dance in a way that is perfectly adequate for most situations. I fade into the background - no one is going to admire me for my dazzling coordination and footwork, but I know - because multiple people have told me so - that I achieve a level of adequacy.
posted by Frowner at 5:24 AM on February 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, no worries, you're not alone! I've "danced" since I can remember, and all my life, if there's one thing people agree on about me, it is that I cannot dance. Ballet teacher, as kindly as she could manage after 4 months (I was 19): "what is it that you can't see about how everyone else is moving differently from you?" High school ballroom dancing teacher: "Fraula!! Watch the video!! YOU ARE NOT DANCING RIGHT!" He was correct. The video clearly, plainly, painfully showed a fraula dancing totally differently from every single one of the other 39 students in the video. Multiple weddings, one man per aborted wedding dance: "omg, you can't dance?! dude, it's not like it's hard!! wtf?!" I'll spare the chorus of practically everyone else in my life agreeing.

The only times I was complimented on my dancing, were when a friend and I studied Janet Jackson's MTV videos (yep, this was the 80s) and performed them for class. I still watch her stuff when I want to be reminded "how to dance". That link takes you to her VEVO channel with a bunch of old videos. She has so much fun in her routines, and they're not very complicated. They do demand a bit of athleticism and attention to detail, but my friend and I were 12 when we first started to copy them, so it's definitely doable.

If you have musical ability, the other way around this is to be in the band and offer to do solos when everyone else wants to dance ;-) /former award-winning solist
yeeeaaah musical ability has very little relation to dancing ability, sigh
posted by fraula at 5:49 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not a howto but try looking at Ellen Degeneres on youtue. Basically small steps on the beat with the arms barely above above the waist. Most people do as little as possible movement wise on the social dance floor. Now if you want to do robot moves or popping(?sp) it'll take a lot of work over time, follow the plan that that dance in a year woman did, basically practice everyday for 15-30 minutes.
posted by sammyo at 5:58 AM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The BeFit youtube channel has three instructional dance playlists: (i) a "dancing with the stars" playlist, which is inaccessible in my country but is perhaps available in yours; (ii) a dedicated Hip Hop playlist (pay attention to the 10 minute + videos); (iii) and a generic dance playlist containing 134 videos of various styles.

Otherwise, you may be successful in researching "zumba (fitness)" or "belly dancing" videos on youtube.
posted by kiki_s at 6:04 AM on February 15, 2014

Also, you need a mirror that is big enough to see your whole self. If you don't have one, get one from Target or Ikea - it need not be fancy. You can even prop it up against the wall if you arrange it right, but putting it on the back of a door is best. I think a problem a lot of people have - even people who can dance - is that they don't know how they look or how a given movement looks. Videos help you see how a movement looks, but only looking at yourself helps you see how to copy it.

I was just thinking of this because there is a dance party tonight which I plan to attend...try doing a particular set of movements isolated during a whole song. Some songs tend to make you want to move your hips or move your feet a lot - use those songs to isolate those motions.

Also, think of your spine as fluid. My spine - back injury, kind of uptight personality - is never really fluid no matter what I'm doing, but just getting it to be looser helps a lot.

Also, concentrate on feeling the movements. I don't know how it is for people who are really good, but for me, I should never, ever feel that my arms or legs or hands are just swinging in response to the motion of my torso, like they're a pendulum. I need to feel that they are moving in a controlled way. (The flaily dancing in the Smiths video I linked is kind of "moving like a pendulum".)
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on February 15, 2014

Dancd by yourself at home. Then you can move up to dancing out there on the floor.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:26 AM on February 15, 2014

Belly Dance Jam by Bellyqueen has a good section on learning how to improvise while dancing, based on the concept of the dancer needing to have a "vocabulary" of moves to draw on. The moves are belly-dance based but the basic theme of the video is club dancing, so you might find it useful. Check out this review.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:17 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look for "hip hop cardio" classes on Youtube. What's nice is that they make you do the moves over and over so you actually get some practice and muscle memory out of it.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:48 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm baffled that someone would tell you to sit down. Unless you were moving in a way that could hurt someone else that's definitely rude.

When I've been at clubs, "dancing" mostly seems to involve bouncing in time to the beat while stepping or hopping from side to side. With occasional grinding and wacky moves by partners / close friends. Since it's often crowded most people try to be careful - no wild arm movements or kicks.

It sounds like your goal here is to fit in, so I'd start by watching what everyone else is doing, and then do the most conservative version of that. Go to the club with your friends. Have a seat and observe. Look for people making moves that you feel confident you could carry off, and just study them for a while. You might want to get up and try it then, or you might want to go home and try to find youtube videos that most closely resemble those moves, and practice in private.

I googled phrases like "how to dance" and "how to dance in a club" and came up with these links. Good luck!

How to dance
How to dance in a party
How to dance in a club
How to Dance without Embarrassing Yourself
posted by bunderful at 9:53 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tried to find a great video demystifying dancing that was a FPP a while ago. It has been taken down, but I realized that the dance and dancing tags on metafilter have tons of great videos. Maybe that's a good place to start.
posted by salvia at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2014

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