“Real men don’t dance,” he says, smiling at me rakishly. I know I’m meant to laugh, but I flinch instead; I shrug and let it go, for now. We were on a date, a really good one. It had been going swimmingly well, until this sudden blip. It bugs me, this scornful dismissal of something that comes so naturally to the body. What is it that these so-called “real men” have against dance, anyway?
For most of us who went to college in the late ‘90s or early noughties, the freshers’ party was probably our first introduction to the boy-girl dance. I remember mine. At 16, everyone’s a bundle of nerves. Every so often, a girl would topple on her newly acquired (but not yet broken in) heels and the boys were, without exception, all elbows, flailing arms and several left feet. I remember stepping on my partner’s feet while dancing, and his (totally exaggerated) howl of pain and subsequent retirement to the men’s room for a suspiciously long time. I also remember having the wind knocked out of me when he tried to manoeuvre me in an overly complicated twirl, but jabbed me in the gut instead. At 16, you’re supposed to be unsure, gauche, awkward and easily embarrassed on the dance floor. It’s one of those rites of passage. But somewhere along the way, that changes. By the time we’re in our 20s, inching towards the terrifying 30s, we learn skills that help us survive the dating world. For real men, dancing, apparently, is not one of them. Why?
Between strangers, dancing can be a first conversation; a wordless, eloquent, introduction instead of admiring someone from afar. In a world where Cupids operate online and sex is one lazy right swipe away, a man who can dance up to a woman and flirt physically (without getting creepily close) is the unicorn we’re hoping for. I’d trade a 100 Tinder matches in a heartbeat for a man who is assured enough to try and match my body’s rhythm on the dance floor. A boy stuffing his face with chips while lounging in front of the TV in his tighty whities, can never come up with a pickup line as potent as the allure of a man who knows how to hold a woman’s attention on the dance floor.
Between new lovers, dance is an exploration, a way to get comfortable around each other’s. It is an expression of lust, an insatiable, burning greed for each other’s bodies, a fledging love. Sometimes, it is about marking your territory, stamping your possession, a very good excuse to be close in public. At other times, it’s simply about carefree, childlike fun. To our minds, a good dancer is a good lover, but it’s a lot more than that.
You don’t necessarily have to be good — you just have to be confident enough to try. It tells us that you’re adventurous and willing to attempt things you may not be good at, that you’re confident and in control of your body, but are man enough to laugh at yourself if you end up looking like a goof. No woman wants to date a man who is a wet blanket about an odd embarrassing moment here and there. Most of all, it tells us that you’d cheerfully look silly just so we can do something that makes us happy. That’s dating gold.
For longtime lovers, dancing together is like coming home – a place, and a person, who can make your jagged edges fit just so, where your inhibitions and walls come crashing down. A dancer friend once told me that dancing as a couple is a lot like making love; the more you do it with one person, the better you learn their body and the more keenly aware you are of your own, through theirs. It makes the connection between two people in love transcend the emotional and reside in each one’s muscles, as memory. It’s kind of like how you know your way around an old lover’s body, even with your eyes closed. The memories might blur, you might get rusty, but you never truly forget. Once you know the beat that another’s body moves to, there’s no way to unknow, so the next time a woman asks you to dance, don’t turn her down.