I just turned 37, which is too old to pretend that things will ever change for me. I am a Very Bad Dancer, always have been, and always will be. A lot of people believe that Very Bad Dancers suffer from a mere rhythm deficiency, and are just by nature not very artistic people. But that’s not true—the philistines of the world don’t actually care that they can’t dance, while I suffer greatly. I very much want to be good at dancing. I’m a good singer, I can be charismatic in conversation, and I feel I have emotional rhythm buried deep within my bones, and I flatter myself that it occasionally emerges in writing. Nevertheless, I’ve been perpetually incapable of translating any of this into dancing.
Weddings? Weddings are a nightmare. People get drunk and are constantly trying to pull me onto the dance floor, and when I tell them I’m a Very Bad Dancer, they laugh and say, “come on! Nobody’s that bad!” And so eventually, with great reluctance, I trudge to the dance floor and attempt to dance, mostly because I’m likely drunk myself, and quickly I become instantly sober as I remember how bad I am. The painful self-awareness floods my senses, and I am incapacitated. The people who dragged me up give me alarmed looks that quickly turn to pity. Even drunk, everyone can see that I’m bad. It makes things awkward for them, too. I have ruined dozens of weddings this way. At my own wedding, a friend of mine made fun of me for my slow dance with my mother. And slow dances are supposed to be easy!
Karaoke? I wish I could do karaoke. I can sing plenty well. But I’m such a bad dancer that I absolutely no idea what to do with my body while I’m singing, and what should be a fun outing with friends quickly becomes another kind of dance torture. I’ve done karaoke exactly once, at a friend’s birthday party when I sang Len’s “Steal My Sunshine,” and despite everyone being three sheets to the wind, I brought the fun to a halt by the sheer awkwardness emanating from my poor Bad Dancer body. None of those friends has ever been able to have fun again. It was an act of accidental musical terrorism.
Normal dancing at a club or bar? Forget it. I’ve done this a few times in my life, and it’s even been fun, but once I did it in New York with a few semi-friends, semi-acquaintances, and I heard them making fun of me afterward. Never again. I choose not to dance.
But, tragically, I like dancing. My mother—great irony—is an excellent dancer, and has done choreography for musicals. When I’m by myself, I love to dance and am totally uninhibited. If anyone ever saw these performances they would die instantly of contact humiliation, but that doesn’t change my secret love for dance. All of which compounds my torture, I think. You cannot be a Very Bad Dancer without the desire to be a Very Good Dancer. Don’t believe the Elaine Benes trope—bad dancers know they’re bad. I would kill to live in a state of blissful ignorance, but people are too cruel for that.
Which brings us to Elizabeth Warren, who had this unfortunate moment on the campaign trail:
It’s so relatable, and so excruciating. The way she starts to execute a move, and then stops immediately because she’s incredibly self-conscious and understands it must look terrible; the way she looks to Julian Castro for some kind of affirmation; the way she can’t quite give up, because in her heart of hearts she knows there’s some rhythm there, somewhere; the vague signs, as in the semi-competent arm flow thing, that there are the bones of a good dancer in her, and that deep down she would love to just let loose and wow everyone with her moves; the way she ultimately stops because the sheer pressure overwhelms her and she needs to retreat…it’s like reliving a nightmare.
But my nightmares have happened in front of a few friends, while Warren’s has now been viewed, in that Twitter video alone, three million times.
Give her a break, folks! She tried. Very Bad Dancers like us should be praised for the attempt, and the last thing we need is mockery on a grand scale like this. Some people have tried to do the “it’s sexist!” shtick, but that is missing the point. This is an example of dance-ism, and it happens to all kinds of people, every day. We cannot afford to distract from the central issue, or Very Bad Dancers will never be heard.
On this topic if on no other, I pledge Warren my everlasting solidarity. To all those who don’t understand our plight, I say “shame.” Shame on you forever, you competent dancers, for heaping scorn on an already miserable people.
I’m with you, Senator Warren. With me, you have an ally in dance.