I dislike dancing, which is sad, really, because I am a sociable person, and it is a prerequisite skill in many social contexts. I am quite possibly the worst dancer in the world. If somebody decided to make a reality show entitled So You Think You Can’t Dance, I would win it by a country mile. Whenever I tell people this, they always smile in mild disbelief. “You can’t be that bad!”, they laugh consolingly. But I can be, and I am. Megan, my wife, loves to dance. She looks graceful and elegant whenever she does so. I, on the other hand, resemble a spasmodic eel. I want to be good, I really do, but I am not. And so I don’t enjoy dancing.
Sadly, though, people do not understand this. I dread the moment at social gatherings when the music starts. Invariably some well-meaning party guest will attempt to coerce me onto the dance floor. The automatic assumption is that because she (it’s almost always a she, I am not simply being politically correct) enjoys dancing so much, I could not possibly be enjoying myself unless I dance too. I am touched by the fact that she does not want me to feel left out, but she does not understand that sometimes, in order to include people, you need to allow them to exclude themselves.
I find the whole thing quite bizarre, actually. If I were to find myself at a pool party, for instance, I would never find the person that is not swimming, who – when pressed – confesses not to be able to swim, and proceed to drag him to the deep end and throw him in, on the pretext that if he simply tried it he would find that he could. In the same vein, if I knew a friend was terrified of snakes, I would not dangle one around his neck so that he could see just how much fun he was missing. I might regard him as slightly eccentric or misguided, but I would not force the issue. I would assume that he had the capacity to make decisions based on what he knew his capabilities and preferences to be, and would allow him that freedom. Anything else is tantamount to bullying.
Still, she remains firm in her conviction that if I just try it, I will find that it is not so bad. Here is faulty premise number two. I have tried it. On numerous occasions. I did not. I have been a good sport and yielded to the benign but relentless assault more times than I care to remember (my mind tries to repress the trauma of those memories, but alas…). Not once have I had an epiphanic moment. I am quite confident in declaring that I have never once found myself on a dance floor, basking in the glow of the revelation that this is what my life was missing all along. But the well-meaning bully always watches with a misplaced optimism, waiting for my face to register the realisation that all my fears and protestations were for nought. She always turns away, barely disguising disappointment, when it does not materialise. That is maybe the only part of the experience I nearly enjoy – watching her dreams of being my social saviour evaporating in the smoke and disco lights.
But that small Phyrric victory can never bring any lasting satisfaction. My limbs have been waiting for just such an opportunity. I am convinced that they conspire against me. Almost daily they feign reasonable coordination in order to lull me into a false sense of security. Then they wait until just such a moment to humiliate me. All the attention is already on me, because I have resisted vocally. Now it so happens that I am convinced that people dance in groups (or individually, for that matter) because it speaks to their deepest insecurities about their significance. And in this moment, dragged reluctantly onto the dancefloor, I become the focal point, a more obvious distractor from these concerns: at some visceral level, people sense that they have the chance of feeling slightly better about themselves if I live up to my professed inadequacy. And when all eyes are on me, anticipating the thrill of the slaughter, my extremities offer me up as a sacrificial lamb.
Mercifully it never lasts too long. I usually smile in embarrassment and rapidly leave the dance floor with my dignity in tatters, but masking it with a joke, inwardly vowing never to let myself get into this situation again.
I long for the day when social convention will dictate an alternative form of demonstrating one’s proficiency: improvised guitar solos, recitations of Victorian verse or blitz chess matches, for example. But until that glorious day dawns, I will be the one sitting on the outskirts of the party, nervously nursing a beer, desperately hoping that nobody invites me to dance.