Dancing Like A White Girl

My most recent first date started with promise. We laughed, I beat him at pool, and what had started as grabbing drinks stretched on to him inviting me out with friends. Excited, I hopped in his car and we met up with them at a bar downtown. But then Wiz Khalifa came on, and shit got real. His friends started laughing, dancing and flailing around in a way I could never make look cool. They tried to get me to join in, my date at one point bending over in front of me while his friend told me to smack it, but, paralyzed and clutching my beer, I declined, saying it would take more alcohol. I wasn’t always like this.

I was that little girl who wanted to be a ballerina well past the appropriate time and loved prancing around in pink. I started dancing when I was 5 and took ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and lyrical, leaping around in the front row of all of my recitals. I practiced with joy—something that never happened with piano lessons. I felt the words and music in my body and gracefully curved myself into shapes to match. But as time went on, puberty changed my lithe ballerina figure into something thicker, girls stopped took up “cooler” activities, and eventually it came time for me to streamline my after-school activities, so dancing got the ax. Though I no longer took classes, I still posed and twirled around in my room.

Things started to become murkier for me in 7th grade, the first year of the hormonal awkwardness that is school dances. It was the first time I saw dance as a romantic gesture, though the association with dancing and sex became more integrated later. Dancing with boys threw a wrench in my knowledge, and so I studied others for clues. Even through high school, the 90-percent-white demographics of my community meant there wasn’t much more to it than hands-on-shoulders, sweat-on-palms, step right, step left. What I knew of dancing was as graceful as a bird landing on the water—this looked like a bird choking on a fish. While being electrocuted.

All that changed when I went to my first club in college, one of maybe three white people there. Imagine, if you will, the cartoonish way that my jaw dropped when I, the 18-year-old white girl from the only conservative high school in Austin, first saw the rocking and writhing and the bodies grinding against each other at the most live club in Houston. I could not believe people were doing this in public; they were basically, in my eyes, having sex (a similarly uncomfortable territory), and I f*cking loved it. I loved the energy, the expression, and the daring—but didn’t see how I was supposed to contribute to this other level. Pirouettes wouldn’t do here. I self-consciously tried to shake it until eventually (and not the only time this would happen), a woman came up to me and said, “Girl, you got to LET GO.” An idea was planted that I wasn’t good enough to be dancing here.

My fear has only been compounded over the years, though I’m not sure what I’m even afraid of, as the worst already happened to me while I was dancing at a club about a year ago. A guy showing off his moves came up to start dancing with me, something I took to be a compliment until he took a step back and said, “Sorry, I thought you knew how to dance.” And walked away. It’s not that I don’t try—after a friend made fun of me, I scoured the Internet for hours trying to learn how to Dougie, but who was I fooling when I fall over myself attempting the Cupid Shuffle AND THEY TELL YOU HOW TO DO IT IN THE DAMN SONG. Yes, I had taken classes, but the dancing I learned didn’t seem to translate and there was nowhere to use it. Where I tried to steal the spotlight as a child, I now play it safe, shying away from guys approaching, moving my hips but not my arms. I sometimes even do terrible white guy things like snapping (I see myself doing it and know that it’s awful I just CAN’T STOP MYSELF!). I don’t like songs unless I can move to them, but when it comes time to actually do that I just… won’t. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t even know if I’m holding back or not.

And of course, don’t forget that I have connected dancing to sex. It’s something that I find attractive in guys, so what do they think about me? If I can’t bounce my ass up and down, does that mean I’m bad on top? Do my hips even go that way? Am I off-rhythm, and does that show that I’m not good in bed? These are actual things going through my brain when I’m on the dance floor, so how am I supposed to shake it like I just don’t care?

If I dig deep, part of what it comes down to is control. The precise, fluid movements I learned in ballet and the moves I see in rap videos require similar amounts of athleticism and practice in the mirror, but one is about keeping control of your body and the other is about losing it to the music. In ballet class there were correct positions, right answers: When your feet were like this, your arms should be like this. With club dancing there is none of that (unless you want to look like a robot) and that puts it in a realm that scares me. Like our fearless dictator and despite the advice I give, throwing caution to the wind and potentially acting a fool in public is just not in my nature. I’m far more likely to be the hair-holder than the puker because I don’t like to lose control. And that’s okay—that’s just who I am. The only time it messes with me is when I want to dance.

Since my work responsibilities preclude me from being able to study enough YouTube to turn myself into a dance floor sensation, the only solution I have found to this problem is alcohol. And that is sad. Why does it take liquid courage to do something that I love? I don’t know if I can overcome my control-freak personality enough to enjoy to truly dancing in public as I once did. I don’t know if that’s bad or if I should just accept it as part of the person who has never lost or broken a cell phone. I keep waiting for the day when dancing will once again become one of the many things where I don’t give a shit, but until then, I will be following the tradition of my awkward white brethren: dancing on my own.

View Comment (1)
  • This line cracked me up, because that description of club dancing is so ridiculously accurate :D :
    “What I knew of dancing was as graceful as a bird landing on the water—this looked like a bird choking on a fish. While being electrocuted.”
    Loved this piece, Erin

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