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I Won’t Dance, Merci Beaucoup

Ballroom dancing doesn't mean always saying yes. Sometimes I won't dance.

In general I try to explore the different feelings and experiences I have when dancing. I’m also curious about what goes on when I’m not dancing. When I won’t dance can be just as interesting as when I will.

Tennessee, ‘The Volunteer State,’ provided my girlfriend Autumn and I a wonderful spring break to remember. We toured bluesy Beale Street and ate amazing ribs in Memphis, pushed ourselves to explore the sights and sounds of the Great Smoky Mountains, and explored all that downtown Nashville has to offer. In Nashville we spent several hours on Broadway, the main drag, exploring the endless bars with live music entertainment. After a few duds, we found Holland Marie, a captivating singer with a charismatic band backing her. We were enjoying the music and all was right with the world. Then, Autumn asked me to dance.

I froze up. I didn’t want to.

That’s pretty odd for somebody like me, usually willing to dance at the slightest provocation. Something about the scene, the music, or (more likely) my mentality was preventing me from getting on the floor and busting a move. I’d like to explore those thoughts here with you. I’ll start with the least interesting parts for me and build to the introspection.

First, I’m not a big country music fan–never have been. My reasons have as much to do with childhood stereotypes as they do with present-day social justice. Suffice to say I have a difficult time identifying with most country songs. My attitude did shift over the course of the trip, especially with regard to Johnny Cash, but it remains a style that I find it difficult to move to.

Second, and related to the first point, I had no good go-to style to dance to this music. Usually I know in seconds what dance I’d do to a given song, but none jumped to my mind. Some could be West coast swings or triple-step swings, but by and large they did not fit the mood. With little left but freestyle dancing, I did not feel incredibly motivated to invent a dance for the music.

Additionally, I don’t know the dance scene in Nashville. There is a certain comfort that comes from dancing with people in the Twin Cities, where I know I’m likely to see a friendly face or familiar follow. Even elsewhere in the country, I know what to expect from a ballroom crowd. I had no such knowledge to draw from here.

Now we get to the more interesting thoughts. That night I was also wary of potentially stealing the spotlight from the singer. Quite the conceited thought to have, eh? I have no good retort for that, but it did feel like people were there to hear the music, not to watch somebody dance. As a dancer who has worked so long on his performative abilities, it would be impossible to take all of those aspects out of my dancing entirely, and I was afraid of becoming a side-show attraction to the main stage.

Why was I afraid of this? I’m not entirely sure. Combined with what I’ve said above, I suspect my pride and insecurity over my dancing wouldn’t allow it. I’ve prided myself on my ability to dance, and to have it’s validity thrown into question, (if only in my own head), by dancing to unfamiliar music in front of an audience was a risk my poor, bloated ego was unwilling to take.

And that, I fear, is probably the most honest answer for my unwillingness. It is too easy to get complacent in proficiency and paranoid in mastery. Once you’ve learned to West coast with the best, it’s hard to humbly start at the very beginning of Argentine tango. Too quickly, we assume that those around us will hold us to our own standards, and judge us as harshly as we would ourselves, convincing us in the process that inaction would be better than somehow risking a reputation that wasn’t in peril to begin with.

What will my course of action be in the future? I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and that I won’t let this affect me again, but the largely subconscious nature of the beast makes me doubt the efficacy of those convictions. For now, it’s good to have written it out, and acknowledged the issue. We shall see if and how I improve.

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