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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What’s fun about?

What’s fun about?

And is it possible to make almost anything fun, if it’s handled right?

These are the questions I’m wrestling with – or maybe I draw a smile-y face and write “playing with,” since my goal is to live the stance I’m writing about.

This blog will be an exploration of all kinds of topics, some straightforward and some a little off-the-beaten-track, but all addressed through the lens of fun.

As situations in our world become more stressful and as economic and social pressures increase for us and around us, it’s going to be increasingly useful for each of us to be able to think well about what is really fun for us and how we can help those around us have more fun more of the time.

Having fun together is social glue and social grease.  It bonds us together and smoothes our interactions.  It also releases tension, makes us feel good, strengthens our desire for the well-being of others we have fun with, and enables us to tackle harder issues more cooperatively and effectively.

We know it’s fun to play when we have time “off.”  Are there also ways to get work done while having fun and helping other people have fun too?

Let’s find out!  Let’s explore!  What’s fun about…

Serial Patchwork Employment (We’re all playing single dates now.)

What’s fun about serial patchwork employment?  (We’re all playing single dates now.)

Musicians know that diverse sources of work are often needed in order to make ends meet.  The rest of the world seems to be catching on to this now.   Many career coaches advise that each person consider themselves the CEO of their own company.  This may be a stretch, since many people don’t feel very similar to a CEO in many areas of their lives.  It’s more useful to say that the current realities of economic uncertainty and free-lance casual employment make everyone a gig player.

Musicians create a patchwork of “gigs,” many of which may be single date engagements  (my main source of income for many years).  The musician’s patchwork can include playing concerts with a band or orchestra, teaching classes or lessons, performing in bars or for social events, selling or servicing equipment, writing arrangements, recording, DJ-ing, or doing other forms of musical work. Musicians may also have “day jobs” involved with technology or computers, since there is a natural carry-over of skills between music and these fields.

The tremendous range of activities is part of what makes this fun.  We may not get rich, but the variety keeps it interesting and engages us on many different levels.

Gigging experience is going to be relevant to more and more people if current trends persist. The old model of security with one company until you retire is something only the older ones of us even remember.  If all of us are journeymen now, what can we learn about fun from musicians, the people who have been patching it together all along?

1.  Transferable Skills – Gig players have a certain body of skills that we constantly maintain or add to, which equip us to step into many situations competently.  The situations constantly change, but the underlying skills remain, and a professional gigger is usually a great deal better at adapting to new situations than a lay person will be.

For musicians, there is basic repertoire to know, basic patterns that exist within various styles of music, skills such as sight-reading, having “good ears,” or getting into a groove with others, that equip you to hit the ground running.  With these basics, a pro can often play well with others, even with little or no rehearsal.  There’s a certain sense of scrambling sometimes, but it can be fun and even exhilarating, so long as you aren’t drastically outside your own comfort and competence zone.  And when things get rough, the knowledge that “this too shall pass – and it’s gonna be a great story later!” helps keep it fun.

2.  Responsibility, professionalism, and playing your position – Just as in so many other areas of life, responsibility and professionalism, combined with a sense of humor, make someone a welcome presence on the bandstand.  As in many team sports, the understanding of one’s position and the physical and mental ability to play it well are crucial.  It’s important to be able to step up and take center stage when appropriate and yet remain a team player and not take up too much space when it’s not your moment to do so.

3.  Playing well with others – The level of cooperation that musicians usually engage in while playing together makes gigging fun.  The sense of being “a band” is a wonderful contradiction to the isolation that free-lancers can feel when they are not working (and that many of us can feel simply because of how our lives are organized).  A good leader promotes this group spirit, but sometimes a “bad” leader brings the team together too, as the musicians unite and joke about his or her counterproductive behaviors!

4.  Work breeds work– To keep a full calendar of single dates, we need a large number of referral sources and good word-of-mouth, both from clients and from others in our own fields.  If we “come to play” on every gig, our network will see and hear that.  Likewise when we see or hear others doing something well, we want to support them.

The two most meaningful forms of support for artists are being knocked out by their work and helping them get access to other paying gigs.   We never know where the next opportunity will come from, but work breeds work, both for ourselves and for others.  As supportive members of our extended communities, we can pay this forward and help keep this wheel turning for ourselves and for those we respect and admire.

One way to prepare ourselves for the world of work we’ll face in the future is to expect that we are all going to play many gigs in our lifetimes, patching our work together one piece at a time.

What basics are needed in order for someone to have a possibility of connecting with people, getting work, and having fun in your world?