To anybody that was in the 6th grade with me: if the cherished memory of your very first school dance was tainted when you inexplicably got hit in the face with a chicken finger, that was me. I can explain.
Like many, I attended my first dance in the 6th grade. At the time, I didn’t really understand why I did most of the things I did that night.
My survival strategy involved being constantly on the move; the unconscious idea behind all of this was to look as though I had somewhere compelling to go, and that I was much too busy to stand around, obviously lacking the requisite balls to ask somebody to dance. Additionally, I knew that the chaperones thought we were adorable. Since I was already dealing with the deeply personal fear that I might get a boner while slow dancing, I resented their poorly concealed smiles. Being adorable wasn’t helping.
The kicker was when I made the unfathomable decision to throw chicken fingers. The lunchroom/dancehall had a high ceiling, allowing me to lob oily bits of fried bird way up into the air. Since they fell nearly straight down into a crowd of jostling, emotionally vulnerable tweens, nobody could really tell what direction they being thrown from. Imagine if Sodom and Gomorrah had been catered by Chik-fil-a ™ and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I’m describing.
I was supposed to be growing into a young adult at that first dance, but instead I turned out to be a sort of awkward terrorist. At the time, if you had asked me what the hell I was thinking, I would have shrugged, or blinded you with hot sauce and made for the window. Like Rambo in “First Blood,” I wasn’t at my most rational, and I refused to be cornered. But looking back, it’s pretty clear to me that I was horribly nervous and embarrassed. I needed to do something bizarre to relieve the pressure.
A lot of things have changed since then, of course. I’ve been to a lot of dances since then and know what to expect now. It’s easier to dance in groups. The music selection has expanded beyond “Cotton Eye Joe” and the “Electric Slide.” As any college student will tell you, alcohol changes the whole experience. And I rarely throw food anymore, until I’m really pushed into it.
But I never really got rid of that nascent feeling of awkwardness. What I have realized, though, is that I’m not wrong to feel that way. I may not have coped as gracefully as I could have, but the simple truth is that guys look blindingly stupid when they dance.
Obviously, this isn’t universally true. Some men pursue careers in dance, or practice hip hop moves in their basements. The internet is chockfull of incredible dance videos, shot by guys that must pop & lock their way through exciting, urban lives filled with bass beats. Frankly, though, I don’t move in any of those circles – and I’m betting that you don’t either. In my world, dignified male dancers are creatures of myth. Rather, most of the dancing guys I have seen tend to share some common traits which I, ever the scientist, use to categorize them into an org chart [see below].
Dancing is a complex social phenomenon and proper analysis can yield valuable secrets as to how the genders view and court each other. As far as I can tell, modern social dancing in the U.S. has evolved in such a way as to make a complete fool out of anyone possessing testicles. This being the case, dancing becomes a challenge, similar to the Christians/lions matchups of old.
The questions men must answer with action are: a) Whether or not they will put aside their pride and step out of their comfort zone for the lady in question, and b) Will they display at least some evidence of coordination and rhythm, or do they flail about as though there’s a wolverine trapped in their pants (2)?
Maybe that pressure is why so many guys roll their eyes or fake their own deaths when their girlfriends/wives start to talk about how they never go dancing anymore. My findings seem to indicate that women don’t fully realize that this pressure is even being applied. I imagine that this is because all women look good or even great when they dance; in the worst possible scenario, a woman will just look OK.
I would kill for “OK.” Do you know what happens when I shimmy my hips and wave my hands around to the beat? My friends trap me under a bed sheet and beat me with socks full of quarters. And I’m not even mad at them. I deserve it.
All of these dancing-related complications are really just a symptom of a much deeper, underlying social dynamic. In American society, as I understand it, the onus of courting falls entirely on men. I realize that things are the way they are, in large part, because of the male power structure that has existed for centuries, and that only recently are women being seen as anything other than objects to be won. Obviously, the fairness of all of this is an entirely different issue, and so I’ll stop at saying that this is simply how society has developed. But, fairness aside, I will say that this entire setup is funny. Why?
Because my gender, on the whole, doesn’t know shit.
We don’t know what makes a room “beautifully decorated” or “Oh my God, so tacky.” We don’t know that blinking at us twice or touching our sleeve for .03 seconds is an invitation to invite a girl to dinner. And we certainly don’t know how to dance. Women might as well be getting courted by circus bears with flowers in their mouths.
In an ideal world, a girlfriend would complain that she doesn’t get taken out to drive go-karts or play paintball enough.
Men Dancing: a comprehensive chart
“Zombies:” Zombie dancers are the guys who get really into dancing, but fail to realize that they are simply terrible at it. The truth is the blissful ignorance of the zombie dancer is kind of charming; they’re just rocking out, not trying to hurt anybody. But then, real zombies aren’t necessarily evil either. They’re simply reanimated corpses with an insatiable lust to snack upon the brains of the living. The thing to remember about zombies is that they don’t know what they’re doing, and they aren’t really at fault – but you still have to shoot them in the head.
“Boy Band:” The crucial difference here is that the level of smugness the person exudes. If zombie dancers are the William Hungs of the dance floor, boy band dancers are the Kanye Wests – jerkoffs with a desperate need for attention, and self-confidence out of proportion to anything ever they have done or ever will do. These guys are the ones throw gang signs in the air, and jump into dance circles so everyone can see how great they are at crip-walking in Dockers. And when all else fails, they channel Shakira and shake their asses really hard, because they’re guys, so it’s hilarious! I’m often surprised that they don’t just pour a bowl of punch over their heads, because, hey, that would get attention too.
“Forgotten Soldiers:” These are basically like the ghosts of those lost at sea. They often haunt the dance floor, standing off to the edge and sipping at their drinks. Often, their date will have disappeared minutes or even hours earlier into the swirling mass of glitter, lights, and rapidly failing deodorant. Sometimes, they’ll wander through the crush of people, smiling nervously as they search for her. These poor saps are in the worst position, because a) their fear of disgrace is positively crippling, and b) their date doesn’t have the goddamn courtesy to hang out with them because it’s time for The Percolator. But the Forgotten Soldiers are also an object lesson: it’s better to dance badly than not at all, because otherwise you end up like this.
“The Chosen:” A noble tribe. These are the guys that try gamely to dance, and while they look incredibly stupid, they manage to get by. Why? Because they have taken a philosophical leap, and ascended to a slightly higher plane of being by shrugging, and saying to themselves, “Well, fuck it.” So they soldier grimly on, shifting from side to side in a circle of dancers. They smile, they occasionally get danced with, and they pretend to be just as happy as everybody else when that song about applebottom jeans comes on. But ultimately, they just try to fade into the woodwork and do no harm. It’s a tense mission, carried out deep in hostile territory, but the payoff is to not fall into any of the previous three groups. And that’s more than worth it.