Oh how I love the phrasing of this prompt. Is it asking me what song I’m good at dancing to? No sir! Is it asking me what song I like dancing to? No ma’am! It’s asking what song I want to dance to — and that makes all the difference.
I’m not a very coordinated person. I’m not talking “Our romantic comedy protagonist / audience proxy girl needs flaws, but nothing that would actually be unpleasant, so we’ll make her drop things sometimes” uncoordinated. It’s not a zany, gangling Rick Moranis kind of uncoordinated. It doesn’t even ascend to the level of Martin Short. My legs simply seem to have a fundamental dissatisfaction with the idea of being legs, and with doing the kinds of things that legs are supposed to do. I literally have to watch my step to determine where my feet are, I’ve a tendency to lose my balance even while standing still, and prolonged spans of standing can themselves make my muscles feel like they’re going to snap right off my bones. Practically speaking, dancing is a lot like gym class — it’s supposed to be fun, but I just find it painful and embarrassing.
However, if I’m shooting a wall’s worth of bricks from the two-point line, that’s terrible — but it’s an isolated kind of terrible. A constructed kind of terrible. It means my body is bad at playing certain invented and arbitrary games. My body’s also bad at doing some of the unstructured, “natural” things like running and jumping and whatever, too; I recognize that if I’d been born a few thousand years ago, I’d be nothing but Smilodon Chow. But dancing is a kind of art. One that goes hand-in-hand with the art of music, as well. So it’s one thing to have a body that can’t run fast or jump high or swim, a body that can’t win competitions or contests of skill. It’s another thing to realize that your body does not function as a channel for certain kinds of art.
So what kinds of dancing can I do? It’s a short list. I’ve been subject to brief fits of The Pogo, which I later immensely regret. My Electric Slide could use a little WD-40. And, yes, I am of an age such that the moves to the Macarena are etched into my brain. Headbanging is probably my move of choice, though that’s less of a dance than a maneuver. In my brief and unillustrious history of dancing, I’ve felt most at home at my college town’s Goth night. We had only one actual dance club venue, so they rotated between hip-hop and techno and foam parties and whatever else. But, once a month, there was a Goth night, usually with a theme of some sorts. A Steampunk Night, a Zombie Night, even a wonderfully self-mocking 90s Goth Night. I’d go, when I could, dressing up to whatever degree I was capable of, having a drink or two, and generally staying out of everyone else’s way. I was surprised to find that I felt comfortable there — I overheard snippets of often-nerdy conversations, and saw plenty of other solo people drinking and dancing. The dancing itself seemed to be my style, too: the disjointed shuffling and inexplicably greater emphasis on torso and arm movements than leg movements made my traditional Stand In One Place And Sway more suitable there than it had ever been.
But what songs make me want to dance? What songs most make me wish I could bust any number of moves? To what songs am I liable to dance anyway, despite every reason to the contrary?
A good few of them would be Oldies, if just because there were a vigintillion dance crazes back then. As a kid, I’d listen to 50s and 60s dance songs and wonder what these moves were, how they were done. The name-dropping of dances sounded like a secret code — one weird word that could tell those in-the-know what to do, leaving the baffled outgroup to retreat to the walls and watch. Even though I was aware enough to know that Oldies were no longer cool, I still thought it would be time-defyingly awesome to be able to do all those moves. All, say, 1000 of them.
Which would make me more than capable of shaking a tail feather right alongside the Blues Brothers and Ray Charles:
Songs that are exhortations to – and therefore justifications for – dancing are perhaps the easiest things to dance to. When the Ramones ask if you want to dance, you do not say no:
And if nobody asks you to dance, well, if Billy Idol doesn’t mind dancing with himself, neither should you.
Some songs don’t even ask, though — the beat alone makes me want to move. I’m usually no big fan of dance music, but I’m a tremendous fan of mashups, so when the two overlap, I tend to have a pretty great time. John Marr’s mix of Martin Solveig’s “Hello” with Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” never fails to get me chairdancing:
As is the wonderful alchemy of mashups, it can make me want to dance to things that never move me on their own. Disco? Yech. Rap? Kindly no. Rap mixed with disco? Clear the way to the dancefloor! Daily Daze’s “Stayin’ Low!” mixes Lil Jon with De La Soul and The BeeGees, and it makes me want to dance every time I play it. Which is a lot. I can’t find it on YouTube and the Soundcloud link is down, so you poor souls will just have to get your very own free mp3 of it!
Of all the songs that have ever made me want to dance, though, one stands out. I’ve heard it a billion times on the radio and at every wedding reception worth its salt. I can’t dance to it, but I can always almost see myself dancing to it, with a whole big crowd. Maybe at my own wedding reception someday, if that were a thing that ever was going to happen. It might be its very overplayedness that appeals to me — a commonality that becomes tradition that becomes something nigh upon ritual. Regardless, The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” will never not make me want to dance like an absolute goon.
So I envy the people who can dance. Who can tell their bodies where to put their parts, and to have the movements be fluid and graceful and accurate. The ones who can move in ways that impress others, or who can express a range of emotions just through wordless movements. I envy the people who have the stamina to dance all night, even in ridiculous shoes, and still walk home afterward — probably with somebody. The ones who can be moved by a song and move themselves to it without doing an utter disservice to at least two different forms of art. The ones for whom dancing is just as fun as it should be.
Maybe that’ll never be me. But that’s all right — my body might not be able to move to the rhythm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t detect it. I’ve got a sense of rhythm so deeply ingrained that I edited my college essays for spelling, grammar, usage, and meter. I can write poetry that, instead of being a column of florid words, actually scans. I can even wreak the occasional parody, coming up with lyrics that fit the original rhythms and rhyme schemes. I can’t tell my physical feet what to do, but I know my way around another kind of feet. Creating things like this is still often an utter disservice to art — but it’s just as fun as it should be, and then some.