Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy stand opposite each other in a crowd of bubbly, intoxicated socialites, brooding at one another while the band begins its next song. They gently take hands and flutter across the floor, weaving in and out of the people on either side of them, remarking on the size of the room and the number of people in it as their motions keep time with the lonely violin.
Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson tear into the gym floor in their prom duds, waving at friends and energetically slapping their thighs and clapping their hands as if they were born to hand jive. The room rocks with excitement as the couple gallops across the floor in a sea of rowdy teenagers.
The New Boyz jerk down an L.A. sidewalk with their crew at their heels; all are laughing and spinning and occasionally breakin’ it down for the camera. The group ends up in an abandoned warehouse, which is decorated for a bitchin’ rave, and proceeds to break-dance on the floor to cheers and applause.
This is the group dance. For centuries people have found confidence in the folly of others: a barn dance is only fun when you can hee-haw your way through rows of friends and neighbors; the electric slide pulls you and you, in turn, pull your innocent friend out to the center of the dance floor to cut into the next turn to the left; when you hear the “Macarena,” you ironically put your hands out in front of you, joining the Pavlovian party at your cousin’s wedding reception as they begin that moronic sequence of moves that was oh-so-popular in the mid-90s.
For a group dance to be successful, it must be simple enough for all to participate, yet challenging enough that one would need to practice at home in one’s bedroom at night in order to perfect it. Also, the dance cannot be so boring as to allow its participants to lose interest completely when performing it on the dance floor.
Unfortunately, this leaves little room for improvisation or creativity; it also means that most of the moves in the dance are going to be pretty dumb (hops, slides, turns, rocking front to back, etc.). You could crank dat better than Mr. Tell ’em himself, but you’ll still look like an idiot. The group dance is not meant to make you stand out from the crowd as the next contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance?”; you’re going to blend into the crowd like a polar bear in a snowstorm so no one will see you go left instead of right.
Since these dances don’t scream individuality, it’s a shame when, at a bar, the only songs people get really excited about are the ones that are accompanied by a pre-determined sequence of moves. The song starts playing and, once recognized, people forfeit their identities and slip into a mass of faceless participants who march to the same drum. Mindless and drooling, the zombies slide to the left … slide to the right … criss cross! … criss cross! And turn it out.
We fear our potential to be unique and when we step out onto the dance floor, comfort comes to those who teach others how to dougie instead of inventing their own dougie, or marty or jamie. I can imagine approaching the center of the room like stepping toward the edge of a cliff. The anxiety that comes with the fear that comes with the image in your head of you plummeting to your death, which, in this case, would be your social suicide. You see the choices and you pick the funky chicken.
When I was a young girl in northern Virginia, I used to shamelessly start dancing at parties and weddings, spinning around and giggling, not caring who was watching or laughing at me. Then, as I grew older, it was funnier to do “the lawnmower” or “the shopping cart.” You start it up and all your friends follow suit, mowing up the laminate under your feet on your invisible John Deere riding mowers. It was the day we discovered the shame that comes with our self expression that we stopped really dancing. We were ballerinas from birth, but somewhere along the way we lost the confidence to put on our tutus.
Picture via Flickr.