Many more women than men want to dance. Cyndi Lauper wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and I’m saying “women want to dance.” This appears to be true all the way up and down the age spectrum. There are always men who are excellent dancers and love to dance too, but they are relatively rare. (Any of you guys looking for love, take notice! If you are a good dancer, a genuinely nice guy, and not skeevy, you’ve really got something!)
An internet video called “Dance like nobody’s watching: mall” shows a woman (Angela Trimbur) dancing alone (and very well) in a mall and being almost completely ignored by passers by.
And there it is, my point entirely:
Who is dancing? Where? Why? And who is noticing?
I’ve had a great vantage point as a bandleader and singer for observing how people’s responses to music and dancing have changed over the past three decades. I’m going to write one post every week for the next four weeks on how these kinds of fun have changed. So for this week, the issue is women’s experiences of fun with dancing.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, dancing in male-female couples was a cultural model of heterosexual romance and a familiar experience for many Americans. Big band swing, ballroom dances, and early rock n roll supplied soundtracks for couples to dance to. A breaking point came with the Twist in 1960. Couples could now dance separately, without touching.
Over the past fifty years since then, couple dancing has ebbed and flowed in popularity, influenced by musical and dance styles such as disco and dance movies such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Dirty Dancing (1987). Since then, dance styles have been heavily influenced by hiphop, rap, and music videos that feature solo or group dancers more often than couples.
However, a British survey in 2007 found that Dirty Dancing remained number one on their list of women’s most-watched movies and those dance scenes still hold special appeal for women. Women still think dancing is fun—as well as potentially romantic or sexy.
Several months ago our band played a wedding in which “I Had the Time of My Life” was a theme song and the bride expressed hope that the end of the wedding would resemble that ending scene from Dirty Dancing (it did). Such joyful, intergenerational celebrations are not easy to find in places other than weddings these days. The dinner dances that clubs and organizations used to sponsor occur much less frequently now. Weddings are often the only chances for social dancing that many people have. I hear “maybe I can get my husband to dance with me” often enough to know that many women still want to dance more than their male partners do. Bands and DJs try to meet this pent-up demand from women by playing female anthems like “I Will Survive” and “Dancing Queen” that women can dance to in a group. We also know that structured activities like line dances allow women to participate without having partners.
But what if no one you know is getting married? Where else can you dance? If a need isn’t being met in one place, it will often show itself somewhere else. So women are dancing in exercise classes (typically with other women and led by a woman), we are dancing in gyms, YMCA’s, pools, and now even the mall; we are dancing for fitness, to enjoy movement and music, to have fun and feel sexy, and to be happy, but we are not dancing in couples that much or in traditional social situations the way people danced years ago.
Dancing and physical movement to music are just too much fun to miss. Think about your own experience. When was the last time you danced? How did you feel about it? Was it fun? Why or why not?