Shut up and dance with someone else

Please stop telling me to dance.

My entire adult life I have felt a deep dread when going into situations that might involve dancing. Work parties, house parties, and, of course, weddings, are not safe places for me to be.

And I want to be clear up front: I am not against dancing. I love watching others dance, both friends and professionals. It can be beautiful, or silly, or just a visceral physical expression of joy.

That doesn’t mean I want to do it.

The act of dancing for me is one of extreme self consciousness. (I’m actually getting a little queasy just writing about it now.) I don’t find the movement enjoyable. In situations where I’ve been pressured into it, I’ll do jokey dancing, where I’m obviously making no attempt to dance well or naturally. (Though, actually, one of these dances — where I hold my arms close to my sides, make fists, and pump my arms in mini jogging motions with my face an open-mouth Muppet smile— probably is natural, considering the complete defensiveness and insecurity that body language conveys.) The last time I tried to get away with this, I actually got dirty looks from the friends who made me come dance in the first place. I walked off the floor, straight back to the table where I’d been contentedly sitting before.

I suspect that more people than we think are dancing because they feel like they have to and not because of the joy of it. When people are begged — or, more frequently in my case, instructed — to dance, and are clearly reluctant to do it, the person begging should drop it. Getting someone to dance by cajoling them is like getting someone to laugh by tickling them; you may get the result you want, and they might look like they’re having fun, but they’re not enjoying themselves.

I also understand that the reason people do this is usually because they want me, a person they like, to join them in a thing they’re doing so we can enjoy it together. I’m not insulted or hurt that they ask, but I want people to understand that pressuring someone to do it is unkind (even if you don’t mean it to be). I’m a singer, and have literally never told anyone “you HAVE to sing with me!” I have dear friends that I wish would sing with me, but don’t. Maybe they have reasons for this: maybe they don’t like performing, or maybe they feel like they’re not good at it. But the truth is, they don’t need a reason. The simple fact that they don’t want to do it outweighs my desire for them to do it. Their declining doesn’t hurt my feelings.

I hope this doesn’t feel like an attack on those of you who have asked me to dance with you before. Let’s be clear: life would be easier if I enjoyed dancing. I have friends I love who have spontaneous dance parties at people’s houses; friends who will walk into the middle of a bar with no dance floor and dance because they feel something inside them that just urges them to do it. That is beautiful. I wish I felt the same way. But I don’t. I just don’t. And that is not the kind of feeling you can force.