You know that saying “Dance like no one is watching?” You’ve probably seen it a million times – embroidered onto pillows, bejeweled across preteen girls’ tshirts and in approximately 1,001 Facebook status updates by women who pass it off as priceless, homespun wisdom no one has ever thought of before. Well, I won’t say it’s dumb but I will say that it is just absolutely terrible advice.
It’s far wiser to dance as though everyone is watching and even better dance with everyone actually watching: your boss, that kid you had a crush on in elementary school, your great aunt Mildred, your former P.E. teacher who expressed concern about your lack of coordination skills and you know, those other six billion people.
If your dance skills are like mine, and I’m using the word skills very loosely here, what I have just suggested may seem crazy. But it’s not really, as long as you follow the second part of my advice: make sure you smile, really big, the whole time.
If you dance with everyone watching, but lack the necessary coordination and rhythm to make it look good, as long as you smile the whole time you’re completely off the hook. I know because I’ve been there. I have extensive experience at sucking at dance.
I started dancing badly at a very early age. In kindergarten I strapped on my little tap shoes and hit the dance floor with my fellow six-year-olds and after the first few lessons it was clear – coordination and rhythm weren’t really my style. However, I did have one valuable skill that soon turned me into the front row, center girl.
By far the best part of kindergarten dance lessons, aside from my Lisa Frank duffel bag for my dance shoes, were the “auditions” for the front row, center girl. Now we were six so obviously we didn’t call them auditions because there’s no sense in giving six-year-olds inferiority complexes before they graduate from nap time. But even though they weren’t called auditions, I knew what was up. I was six but I was no dumb-dumb.
I knew what was going on when a few weeks before the dance recital, our dance instructor did something crazy: she covered up the wall of mirrors at the front of the classroom so we couldn’t watch the other girls. There was no cheating off of Tiffany to see when it was time to “shuffle, ball change.” We were on our own.
I was no Ginger Rogers and 98 percent of the time I was shuffling when the other girls were ball changing but I did one thing most of them didn’t: I just smiled like a moron the whole time. When it comes to elementary school dance recitals it’s not so much based on talent so much as on who can keep smiling and not pee their pants when the house lights come on.
So for years I was front row, center girl, not because of my dance skills but because of my ability to plaster a smile on my face. When I phased out of the cute stage and reached awkward, pre-pubescent stage, my smiling wasn’t so cute but I maintained my front row, center status without the necessary talent for one reason – I was short.
I don’t know how other dance studios do it but at Steps Dance the dancers were arranged with the shortest girls in the middle and then taller girls worked out from each side based on height. This meant that girls who were better at growing than me (and 99 percent of the time better at dancing) were regulated to the sides of the stage where they were often partially blocked by the curtains while I, the uncoordinated, smiling goofball got to bask in the glow of center stage.
I was much smarter then than I am now so the whole time I knew I sucked, but what I figured out early was if you plaster a goofy smile on your face it doesn’t matter. If you’re smiling you’re already in on the joke. So please make like the much smarter, elementary school me and instead of pretending nobody’s watching, just go ahead and dance in front of well, everyone. Because really, who doesn’t need a good laugh?