Do I wanna dance, or do I wanna dance?
March 10, 2006 3:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I learn to dance - or rather, get away with feeling utterly unself-conscious on the dance floor?

Most of the time at a pub/disco/club, I almost have to be dragged onto the dance floor. And I can only feel comfortable in myself dancing if I act like a relative loon, mocking/mimicing what I would perceive to be dance moves.

What I would really want is just to feel like I'm OK there. That I belong there. That people are not looking at me and thinking "You can tell he's not enjoying himself. What on earth is he doing here?"

Dance classes are no good because they tend to teach a ritualised form of dance eg salsa, or whatever, which is no good when it's a Hi-NRG number.
posted by badlydubbedboy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you're a professional dancer, most people won't be watching you when you're on the dancefloor. They'll be worrying about not making idiots of themselves too.

But a good rule is don't flail your arms about too much, that just draws attention and at worst you might hit someone.
posted by essexjan at 3:44 AM on March 10, 2006

Don't underestimate how much more comfortable you may feel moving your body after having formal dance instruction, even if it is a totally different genre.
posted by grouse at 3:51 AM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: I think that maybe you just need to develop a very unconscious, standard dance movement that you can do without thinking, but won't make you stand out on the dance floor. That way, you can feel like you're not out of place.

I described it in some advice I gave a guy here as a response to this interesting question.

That stepping, btw, works perfectly for 4/4 music. A little bit of arm movement is totally cool. Basically, just stop thinking so much, get your thoughtless movements down, and don't think about the fact that without fancy lights and loud music that everyone is standing way close together and just shuffling around in a big room.

Please, just relax, you're doing ok!
posted by redteam at 3:58 AM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: badlydubbedboy said: Dance classes are no good because they tend to teach a ritualised form of dance eg salsa, or whatever, which is no good when it's a Hi-NRG number.

Not really, in fact it is just the opposite. Group dance instruction will get you more relaxed with moving your body without feeling self-conscious. Many types of dances you learn are not really formal, so stick with them. Yes, salsa is good in this respect. It has just enough of a structure to improve your balance, coordination, center, and rhythym. Dances like ballroom, tango, etc you may want to stay away from for casual dancing. East coast swing is alright but IMHO salsa would help you better on the dance floor just for free style moves.

I have taken salsa, argentine tango, and west coast swing. Before I started west coast swing I would not dance, ever. Now I feel comfortable just getting out and grooving free-style to anything and can look pretty good doing it.
posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on March 10, 2006

I find that drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages helps me.
posted by katiecat at 6:19 AM on March 10, 2006

sometimes it is finding the right music too.

or perhaps you should watch footloose?
posted by k8t at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2006

Yeah, a six pack usually helps.

I hate hate hate dancing. Probabky because it's so stupid.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:36 AM on March 10, 2006

Most people just take drugs.

Seriously, though, JJ86 is right. Take dance classes — especially in a freeform style of dance like swing or salsa, rather than a more structured one like square dancing or ballet. You'll learn how rhythms fit together, and how movements fit with rhythms, and you'll build co-ordination and balance.

(I'm curious, too, how you feel about other bad dancers. Do you look down on them when you see them? Do your friends look down on them? It might help to realize that some people admire bad dancers for getting up and having fun anyway. Even better, some of us just don't care how good the other dancers on the floor are. Try to internalize that idea and see if it helps.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:39 AM on March 10, 2006

Crank up the music when you're home alone and just move to it. Don't try to "dance," just do what your body wants to do. Get comfortable moving to music and learn what it feels like to just let yourself go. In other words, as a wise man once said, free your mind and your ass will follow.
posted by jrossi4r at 6:58 AM on March 10, 2006

Get drunk at home. Put on Handclappin' by The Meters. Remember that rock music tends to emphasize the 1 and 3, but (stereotype) black people tend to accent the 2 and 4 when dancing. Just learn to count it off without really thinking about it.
Throw a party at home. Get people drunk. Make 'em dance. Don't forget to bend your knees and remember how much of dancing comes from your pelvis. If you can fuck, you can dance. If you can't fuck, well, you got bigger problems. Dance lessons can help.
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 AM on March 10, 2006

I disagree with the suggestion of taking dance classes.

I am a self conscious dancer and dance classes have made me feel even more aware of my inability to dance well. A dance class makes me more self conscious because there are fewer people dancing than in a club, the lights are on, and there is a focus on dancing a particular way. When I can't get the steps right, I get frustrated--especially when everyone else seems to be doing fine. If badlydubbedboy is anything like me, classes might make it worse.

I suggest focusing on the beat and ignoring the people around you (unless you are dancing with someone, then focus on, and take cues from, them). The more you lose yourself and enjoy the music, the more fun you'll have.
posted by zonkout at 7:15 AM on March 10, 2006

If dance classes aren't your thing, find a friend who is a good dancer, and is willing to teach you. In the privacy of your living room, have them teach you a few moves that you can use with most styles of music.

Just knowing one or two moves will give you enough confidence to make it through a song or two with something resembling enjoyment.

Then you can sit out the rest of the evening and pretend that all that enjoyment threw out your back and you need to take it easy, but you still get your props for trying!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:26 AM on March 10, 2006

Play Dance Dance Revolution or similar just a few times - it'll make you aware of the beat. I think most people who suck at dancing (points at self) just can't hear a beat very well. Once you can hear it just concentrate on doing some inocuous, non-dorky movement in time with the beat. Good enuf.

On preview: what zonkout said.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:35 AM on March 10, 2006

to zonkout: Yes, dance classes are very frustrating to begin with but so is learning anything new. Learning languages, sports, new video games, driving a car, how to operate Windows, etc. usually makes you want to pull your hair out for a very long time. Everything worth doing is frustrating. That is the price to pay if you want to do more than sit on a couch and watch tv. Watching tv is rarely frustrating, except the Superbowl. If there is something worthwhile you can pick up instantly and without a lot of practice, please tell me.
posted by JJ86 at 7:59 AM on March 10, 2006

1) Have a few drinks.
2) Get somewhere in the middle of the dancefloor, if it's crowded, so you you don't feel exposed.
3) Move your hips; your feet are not glued to the floor.
4) Try to enjoy yourself.

I'm a non-dancer that is slowly learning to enjoy it. Also, it helps to notice that most people look really stupid while dancing, as others have mentioned. Those 3 people on the floor that look totally hot are anomolies.

Do you have friends that like to dance? Try going out with them. I sometimes feel like more of a dork standing on the edge of the dancefloor by myself when almost everyone else is getting down.

Also, figure out what music you like to dance to. I can't for the life of me get into typical "clubby" music, but I'll wear myself out at certain shows.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 8:19 AM on March 10, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all your comments thus far!

redteam: Up to now, I have been doing that shuffling right-foot-out, right-foot-in, left-foot-out, left-foot-in thing, on the beat. But I've always felt a total fraud for doing it, since it's pretty much the 101 of dancing. The ones who look like they're enjoying themselves on the dancefloor don't do that - but then, I don't know what the hell they do in the first place!

nebulawindphone, I do tend to look down on people who do "zany" dancing. There's one particular guy I can think of who was always screaming "Look at me! Look at ME!" in his dancing.

I just admire how everyone else seems to feel fine when they dance, and I'm standing there mentally counting the tiles on the floor, the tiles on the ceiling and looking around me, not having any idea where to look let alone which way to move without feeling like a fraud.

I have to admit, I do love DDR. If only every dancefloor had them embedded or something...
posted by badlydubbedboy at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2006

And I can only feel comfortable in myself dancing if I act like a relative loon, mocking/mimicing what I would perceive to be dance moves.

totally, i do this all the time. specifically, i try to mimic my friends dance moves in a mocking way. When you get it right and other friends notice, it can be super funny. Dancing doesn't need to be a serious activity, mocking is totally appropriate. Go out there, make fun of your mates, make a fool of yourself (this part is important too) and with a bit of time, it'll feel great. hope that was helpful.
posted by garethspor at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2006

People say I'm a pretty good dancer, and how I learned to get over the 'people are looking at me' is to close my eyes. Seriously. If you keep your movements in a limited area of the floor, theres no particular reason you have to look at other people until you're comfortable enough to do so.

Just be sure to be extra polite if you knock into someone.
posted by softlord at 6:29 PM on March 10, 2006

Well, I'm glad you got that much down, badlydubbedboy. Can you go into some more detail about what it is that you wish you could do? Do you just not want to feel so self-conscious anymore, do you wish you could dance better, or both?

Just so you know, I'm no incredible dancer or anything, but I feel pretty comfortable out there. The one thing I really wish I could do right, though, is ridiculous silly dance moves for jokes and laughs. That takes a special talent. I'm entirely serious. When people can pull of silly dances and fake porno moves and crap like that, it makes me laugh big time. Particularly if it's like a group of sarcastic fuckers with drinks in hand up near the soundsystem doing hilarious shit and trying to include people in a friendly way. That's just the best.
posted by redteam at 6:46 PM on March 10, 2006

Why do want to dance?

You need an answer to that. I'm a total spaz on the dance floor too and I have a very conflicted attitude to dancing. I think dancing can look really, really cool and I wish I could do it. Unfortunately I have outrageously flat feet and the physical grace of a crippled hippo. It seems to be a sad fact that some people just aren't built for dancing, just as some aren't built for being brain surgeons.

Do you want to dance? Or are you just feeling peer pressure? If you genuinely, no, all by yourself want to dance then try classes but also just do it. Just do it and hang what anyone else thinks. I recommend serious quantities of alcohol to aid this process, and I'm not joking.
posted by Decani at 8:30 PM on March 10, 2006

If dance classes are not your cup of tea, perhaps you might try a martial art. To be more comfortable out on a dance floor it is very helpful to have the physical awareness that martial arts can foster.

However, it is probably more realistic to alter your thoughts about how you look. You probably don't look any funnier than anyone else out there, and it isn't as if they are paying attention to you because they are far more concerned with how they look! Just go out there and have fun -- that is what shows most of all and what matters in the end.
posted by monopas at 12:36 AM on March 12, 2006

Response by poster: redteam, I don't want to feel so self-conscious when dancing, and I wish I could dance better. But then I'd also like to direct.

As an instance, last night, the s.o. and I were at a family party. And I found I could only do two things on the dance floor - the 101 of shuffling feet in and out, which isn't particularly interesting, exciting, or even dance-y, and makes me feel like a basic fraud. Or the stupid/comedy thing of dancing round a virtual pole, which of course draws groans of disbelief from my nearest and dearest.

Why do I want to dance? I just want to get it right, and emerge from the dancefloor with a modicum of self-respect, instead of having to turn it into a comedy moment to hide my utter inability to dance.

Serious amounts of alcohol don't exactly help either. Since at that point, one just turns into a drunken loon on the floor, which nobody wants at all!
posted by badlydubbedboy at 5:43 PM on March 12, 2006

Best answer: Ach, ya goddamned whiner! Man up and DANCE!

Look, all this mincing about "I just wanna have a modicum of self-respect wah wah" bullshit has to end. Y'know why? Because when you think about how you look, you are self-conscious. When you are self-conscious, you are awkward. Then you come here and complain about it on the internet.
There's been quite a bit of good advice above on tactical ways to address your self-consiousness, but that's what it's about. Here's the other great goddamned secret— you're going to look like a moron while you're dancing, possibly for life. The trick of it is: would you rather be a flailing spazz AND miserable, OR would you rather just be a flailing spazz who's having some fun?
For now, stay away from the joke dancing. You don't need to call attention to yourself and your waddling. But the shuffle's good. Now do it some more. And some more. And hey, have a couple of drinks (but don't get shitfaced, since you seemed unclear on that above). And dance some more.
Everyone who is dancing well has danced poorly, like a retard on a listing ship or like a chicken in death throes or like a shuffling pantsless old man. The lucky ones got it out of their system either while their heads were disproportionately huge (so people thought it was cute) or in the solitude of their own homes. I had to lose my shuffling in a private bedroom training montage set to an old LP of the "Fame" theme.
Now I'm slightly less of a lumbering ox on the dancefloor, but I enjoy it. I dance when I want to dance, and I dance the way that I feel like dancing, and I try to keep up with the people around me, since they're usually better dancers. Not that it really matters, because unless you're a dervish of chedder-cheese vomit and gold Mardi Gras coins you won't get a second look. People who dance to be seen enforce social norms by ignoring bad dancers.

So, in the end, what do you have to do? Lighten up, relax, listen to more music with a goddamned beat, and DANCE MORE. The only real way to get better is to do it and look like some tongue-biter of his meds until you don't anymore.
posted by klangklangston at 9:02 PM on March 13, 2006 [3 favorites]

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