Women Want to Dance

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?

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9 thoughts on “Women Want to Dance

  1. LOVE this video! So fun….

    I live to dance…and just had my left hip replaced in Feb. so am eager to return to my jazz dance class (age 54.) I studied ballet and jazz for years and love to dance. At my wedding in September 2011 the women were dancing up a storm. The men, not so much.

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    1. Caitlin, I am honored to have a comment from you! I’ve read many of your posts on BroadsideBlog and have high regard for your writing and what you have achieved. I also appreciate your moxie about putting it out there honestly! Your Goodbye and Hello post reminded me how goodbyes and hellos are both such opportunities to savor our feelings of connection to people or places or experiences. I bet you’ll be dancing again soon!

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  2. If I had been there when the woman was dancing and had no pressing time constraint, I would have watch her. Sometimes when I am doing Tai Chi or yoga or some of my other exercise and there is music on the smellovision, i will keep time with the music. At a bar mitzva I was dancing with a woman I had just met and afterwards, she said to me, “You’ve got rhythm!”

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  3. just consider me a disco diva with a Barnard degree.
    I thought you should know two things: 1) I hate country but Leanne Rimes’
    “I hope you’ll dance” is my anthem 2) I am so looking forward to dancing to the sounds of the Bales Gitlin band even though my husband hates to dance!

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  4. Reggae music has such a great beat that there is often a sort of mass dancing going on-usually more women than men. A bar scene if the band is tight and playing old favorites is my favorite dance scene. Then its nice to dance with a partner. My wife and I took a swing dance class and it helped a lot.

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    1. Yes, it’s fun seeing the whole room undulating to reggae music, like everyone is getting into a bit of a trance together! Our band has played a lot of those bar dance scenes I bet you would enjoy and we’re doing a swing dance at Yale tonight actually (yes, on a Wednesday!). We love this and will happily do it more often, any day of the week! Re lessons, I agree, it does help a lot! I often end up informally teaching a few steps to guests at our gigs and occasionally get hired to teach lessons before a big event for exactly the reason you stated: because it makes it more fun when people feel more comfortable and more like they know what they’re doing! Great hearing from you, RT. Thanks for writing!

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      1. There’s something about music that makes people want to move. A march makes one want to march. Other music promotes dancing or other movement. Dance must have a survival benefit to a society since it seems to be universal through many ethnic groups and cultures. “Musicophilia” by Dr. Oliver Sachs is about music-not much about dancing. Music ability is often preserved when other brain activity has lessened. Recently I heard about a demented man who can still play the piano quite well. He never could read music though. Dance is “easy” exercise whereas some other exercise requires an effort of will especially if one is naturally indolent. Eating too large a meal will promote lethargy.

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      2. Thanks for writing! Yes, we appear to be pre-wired to respond to music and various studies have showed that our brains and muscles attempt to synchonize to rhythms that we hear. Responding to music is “good for us” on many different levels. Barbara Ehrenreich has written a wonderful book called Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy that investigates the value of dancing and celebration in human life. The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit by Don Campbell is another book that makes intriguing points about the survival value of music and movement to music. It doesn’t go into dancing per se all that much, but is filled with fascinating examples of how music promotes healing and creative thought. The book also ends with a huge bibliography of additional sources. I wish I had time to read all the sources he cites!

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