You may not realize it, but we live in a dance-normative society.
I can’t tell you the number of times someone has come up to me during some sort of event with loud music — a wedding, concert, at a pub, or whatever — and tried to get me to dance. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they beckon, sometimes they beseech, and sometimes they just grab my arm and try to pull me to my feet — but whatever the case, when I resist or shake my head no, I’m always faced with a look of extreme disappointment or exasperation, or a “come on, it’s so much fun!” Which at best makes me feel like a party pooper for not dancing, and at worst makes me feel harassed.
People seem to be able to respect my other decisions not to do things — they respect my decision not to bungee jump, not eat mustard or drink coffee or beer (all of which I think taste disgusting), not to smoke, even not to eat meat. But the problem is that going to places where there is dancing is at times an unavoidable part of modern socializing — dancing is often the expected entertainment at weddings and concerts, at bars and clubs, and at parties with friends. And unlike how tea or juice or water tend to be available at coffee shops in addition to coffee, it’s quite common for there to be nothing to do at a dancing venue other than not dance.
And I just have no taste for dancing. I don’t enjoy it and it definitely doesn’t make me feel good. When I do dance, I always feel like I’m forcing it, these weird artificial flailing and shaking motions I’m trying to make my body do. This is not what my arms and legs were built for.
And while any time I go to a social event with dancing I have to decide whether or not to play along, my aversion to dancing is more than just a decision. I’m not deciding to be “no fun” — that’s stupid. Dancing does not a fun person make. I strongly believe that “not-enjoying dancing” is intrinsic to who I am. It’s like those people who, due to genetic predisposition, taste extra flavor compounds and simply can’t stand raw tomatoes. Well, I can’t stand dancing. And the problem is that while it’s socially acceptable to not like certain foods, or choose not to drink or smoke or eat meat, it seems taken for granted that everyone should like dancing. Like, if you claim to not like dancing, that secretly you do, that you’re a closet dancer and that you’re just putting on and that not liking dancing is a choice.
This attitude is wrong and disrespectful.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to tomatoes: my beloved grandmother finds raw tomatoes disgusting, she has never liked them despite repeated attempts to “get over it” or “grow out of it”. She has come to the realization, over time, that her palate simply does not approve of tomatoes and that’s just who she is. I, on the other hand, LOVE tomatoes. They are almost certainly my favorite food, I look forward with great anticipation to late summer, when fresh, real, ripe juicy fleshy tomatoes are plentiful and I can eat them for every meal and sometimes like apples in between meals. I love tomatoes so much that I have a hard time understanding how anyone could possibly dislike them. Even so, I don’t force raw tomatoes upon my grandmother; that would be rude. I understand that my grandmother has made the choice not to eat tomatoes precisely because they do not taste good to her (which, incidentally, was not her choice).
Well, people, I was born this way. I don’t like dancing. It seems like an alien activity to me: why, when there’s music playing, do these human creatures feel compelled to shake their flesh around? What is it that renders them unable to maintain composure and instead bend and contort their bodies into shapes they don’t normally take? It’s certainly entrancing and delightful to watch, but I do not grok it.
If you are one of these compulsive flesh-shakers (I suspect you most likely are), you might say to me “Can’t you feel the groove? How do you NOT feel the music? Are you just an emotionless robot that isn’t moved (literally) by this rhythm, this beat, this melody?”
Well, I do indeed feel the music. I feel the groove. I am a musician, and in fact, I can’t listen to music while doing other things like homework or reading or working the way most people can — I find myself drawn inexorably into music, it distracts me, captures my attention, and even compels me to act. Act, yes. Dance, no. When I hear music, I am not compelled to move my body — I am compelled to play along. I feel a beat and just want to pick up an instrument, to join the magical emotional sonic craziness that is music. Playing music is my dancing.
This can make going to concerts an extremely frustrating experience, because while it’s often socially acceptable or at least seen as a compliment to get up and dance to the music, it is definitely NOT acceptable to whip out your piano/mandolin/kazoo and jump up on stage and join the show. And the better the concert is, the more frustrating the experience — I went to a performance once by Béla Fleck, probably the best banjo player in the world. When he plays the banjo, it does not sound like a banjo; it sounds like angels singing. And so, sitting at that concert and listening to his beautiful banjo refrains wash over me, I was both in heaven… And strongly compelled to jump on stage and play with him (sadly, I did not).
So yes, to all those dance-normative flesh-shaking folks out there, when I listen to music I DO feel compelled to move, to express my emotional reaction to music publicly and openly and without restraint. Just not by dancing.
I love listening to music. I even enjoy watching people dance! I just don’t do it myself. I am not a dancer and I was born not a dancer and I will remain not a dancer.
And I know I am not alone. There are others like me — you know who you are — leaning against the wall or sitting on the sidelines at weddings and parties. I see your struggle in a way the flesh-shakers simply can’t, and I understand your plight, especially when someone is attempting to cajole you into dancing. We may be few, but we exist, we the lurkers in the shadows, the non-dancers. Please respect who we are.