When White Men DanceWho forbade white, straight, American men from dancing? It’s happened only recently, coinciding with the decline of swing dancing and the fox trot. What happened? It can’t be a remnant of Puritanism, because white, American, straight males (WASMs) danced for a while, my grandfather danced. I’m going to blame it on the sixties. That’s when dancing sort of became “free form, do whatever you want, float in a circle, you’re so high.”
Or maybe the sudden visibility of homosexuals made WASMs terrified of seeming gay, because dancing is a form of expression, and expressing emotion is supposedly not masculine. This is ridiculous, because any straight man should realize that if he can dance, he’s not going home alone. He doesn’t even have to dance well. There’s so few competition on the dance floor that women find any effort incredibly endearing.
Afraid of cutting loose, possibly losing control or undermining their masculinity, many WASMs take comfort in imitating everyday actions on the dance floor. This is an attempt to disguise the act of dancing–instead they are just “walking the dog,” “mowing the lawn,” or “going shopping.” My dad has always hated dancing, awkwardly jerking on the dance floor, so it was a great comfort when someone suggested he just pretend he was dribbling a basketball. That’s now his signature and only move.
Brave, pioneer WASMs who get down tend to move, but in a restricted way. The hips are entirely off bounds. You ask a WASM to move his hips, and he will swivel his entire body like he’s hula hooping. I went salsa dancing, and Latino men do not have this problem. I believe the only time I’ve seen a WASM utilize his hips on the dance floor was while he was “freak dancing,” or “dry humping in public.” Apparently, WASMs can only use their hips if they are pretending to copulate with a woman, so everyone will know they are NOT gay. Maybe this is why WASMs stopped dancing (unless it was freak dancing), because it no longer became a partnered activity with a woman. Suddenly WASMs were alone on the dance floor, without a woman to gaurantee their heterosexuality.
Then there’s breakdancing, which many WASMs attempt to do, probably because it seems athletic and acrobatic, rather than dancy. No one wears tights while break dancing, so we are forced to witness the worm.
The WASM dancing debacle is not their fault, and I don’t want to seem overly critical. He’s sensitive about his dancing issues. When I told a WASM I was writing about WASM dancing, or lack thereof, he said, “Be kind to your subject.” All I said was I was writing about white, straight men dancing, and he immediately assumed I would be harshly mocking them. That’s too easy. I’m writing this precisely because I do love my subject, and I want the WASM to know he has nothing to fear.
Modern popular culture hasn’t provided him with many role models or inspiration. There was Footloose, where Mr. Bacon’s stunt double did a lot of manly, gymnastic moves. Billy Elliot is Irish, so he’s no help. Flight of the Conchords has two dancing men, but they parody popular dancing, and it’s hard to cut a good parody on the average dance floor. The great white hope is Justin Timberlake, but you don’t have to have amazing choreography. Watch a couple JT videos, listen to some music, and take it slow. Think of dancing as walking in place, but it’s like advanced walking. Sometimes you move to the side and back. Sometimes your hands don’t just hang loose at the side. Before you know it you will be dancing, and you will have this girl, for one, by your side.