Why We Dance

by Matt Chambers on April 4, 2012

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I’ve been asked by any number of people why I dance, what I hope to get out of dance, or what my end goal in dance is. I’ve heard other people asked the same thing, or mull it over by themselves. It’s an interesting question whether the why of it really matters or not, and some consideration of motive – whether dancing socially, competitively, or in performance – can help avoid certain mistaken objectives that people frequently pursue.

Social dancing

Fun – that’s the short of it. We go social dancing because we enjoy the company of other people, interaction with other people, loud music, and – for some ineffable reason – moving to said music. Simply tapping our feet isn’t enough; we have to get up and move. Dance – as well as music – is one of the uniquely human things in the universe; anyone who has ever danced (even badly) knows what I’m talking about.

Dancing is also a good way to meet people too, but in my experience it is not – however much it may seem like it – an especially good way of finding romance. At least, it isn’t much better than other social venues. A good social dance will break the ice nicely, but don’t expect dance to be your wingman. There are plenty of stubbed toes and lead-follow miscommunications to complicate things, and the pressure to be good at what you do – especially for guys – can be intense.

Competition

Competitions are fun too, but lots of people compete for a bad reason that just winds up making them miserable: their egos. No matter who you are (with exactly one exception at any given moment) there will always be somebody better than you, and whether you win or lose depends as much on who else was on the floor as on your skill. Don’t compete for the sake of proving something.

Aside from fun, there’s another equally good reason to compete. When you compete you have goals, and when you have goals you invariably work harder and get further. All of the best social or performative dancers that I’ve seen in my seven years of dance experience got their skills through competition. And the things you learn in dance aren’t just technical; the patience to cooperate with another person (i.e. your partner) under pressure, the humility to accept criticism (from coaches, judges, or – worst of all – a video of yourself), and the guts to perform with hundreds of eyes watching you are all extremely valuable life skills.

Performance

Finally – and back to the ineffable thing that leads to dancing in the first place – there is dancing for the sake of artistic expression, which has value even in a vacuum, but generally means an audience. For egotistical dancers, performance may be merely an opportunity to show off of course, but mature dancers perform for their audience’s enjoyment rather than (or, in addition to) their own. In this context, dance is a means of expressing things, especially masculinity and femininity, that can hardly be expressed any other way. Anyone who’s seen a good samba or quickstep knows about excitement and awesome; anyone who’s seen a refined waltz or rumba knows about grace and sentiment. The joy of such artistic expression – though ineffable – is unmistakable to anyone who has ever sat in the audience or danced on the floor.

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