At Dancing

“Bend your KNEES, Shelby!” That was my drama teacher’s refrain at every dance rehearsal for Little Shop of Horrors in my junior year of high school. I was cast as Crystal, one of the three “Greek chorus” style girls who narrate the action with sass, song and shimmying. I had the first two covered, but unfortunately my dancing made me look like a chicken who’d just been shot up with epinephrine. Needless to say, that was not Mrs. Whittaker’s desired visual effect.

I’ve never been a good dancer, and I’ll probably never be a great one. I’m the opposite of athletic and my depth perception is awful, but most of the problem is in my head: I get nervous about moving my body in front of people, which makes me tense, which only makes my physical klutziness worse.

Unfortunately for people like me, dancing is everywhere; it was one of the first things human beings ever did for fun, once we got good enough at hunting and gathering to have a little time to party. Thousands of years later, young people are still gathering in large groups in dark places to move their bodies to music of varying degrees of quality. Bottom line: if you’re under 30 and you want to make friends, you have to be willing and able to dance without hurting anyone.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner... but they occasionally make her carry ovoid fruit. Original still from Dirty Dancing. Photo from pinkpeonies73.blogspot.com

Nobody puts Baby in a corner… but they occasionally make her carry ovoid fruit. Original still from Dirty Dancing. Photo from pinkpeonies73.blogspot.com

Surprisingly (or maybe not), I’ve gotten way better at dancing over the past couple of years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not good, but at least I don’t look like seizing poultry. If the idea of dancing in public makes you physically ill, you don’t need to focus on getting really good at dancing; you just need to focus on getting to functional, because once you get over the initial awkwardness, dancing is really fun regardless of your skill level. Consider me your Johnny Castle—I won’t even make you carry a watermelon.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of rhythmic action as being able to move one’s body to the beat of music without causing bodily harm to oneself or anyone else… or looking like Jerry Lewis from The Nutty Professor.

1. Get used to beats. There are three kinds of people: the kind who listen to chords, the kind who listen to rhythm, and the kind who listen to lyrics. I’m the third kind; music majors tend to be the first kind; the second kind tends to be made up of the best dancers. When you’re listening to music, try to find the beat; generally you can find it in the drum or bass lines. Once you find it, tap your foot or your fingers to it, and then gradually add in movements from the rest of your body. Do this while you’re driving, while you’re cooking, while you’re walking to work or class… The more you practice, the better off you’ll be.

2. Loosen up. If you’re not used to dancing, being at an event where lots of people are dancing can give you stage fright fast. However, unless you are actually on a stage in front of a captive live audience, the reality is that no one is watching you. Generally, in life, people are too concerned with how they look to other people to notice how you look. Like I learned from Mrs. Whittaker, worrying makes your body tense, which only serves to make dancing more difficult and less visually appealing. Relax your muscles and joints and try to focus on having a good time.

3. Do the Xerox. Having rhythm is one thing; having the right moves is quite another. If you’re dancing somewhere like a club or a party, look around and try to copy what other people are doing. No, not the ones who immediately draw your attention; those are the really good dancers, the ones who are actually out to dance and not just to socialize. Do not copy them. You will fall down. Copy the average dancers. Sway along with the crowd. If you think a move is out of your depth, give it a shot for a few minutes—remember, nobody’s looking at you—but know your body’s limits. (Twerking is way out of my butt’s possible range of motion, for which my family and friends are thankful.) Of course, if you’re in a class trying to learn a particular style of dance, do your best to copy the teacher and flag them down if you think you need a little extra help.

4. Find a partner. This person can be someone you’re attracted to, but they don’t have to be; the only requirement is that they seem friendly and willing to suffer through some novice twitching. Dancing with someone else gives you a chance to learn one-on-one, can satisfy a universal human need for touch, and helps you accomplish what you’re really out to do anyway: meet new people.

Maybe your niche is the Carlton. Originally filmed on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Image from gifsoup.com

Maybe your niche is the Carlton. Originally filmed on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Image from gifsoup.com

5. Experiment with styles. After failing miserably at musical theater dance, ballroom and Latin and just barely passing muster at club-standard “dancing”, I found my dance niche: swing. I have no idea what makes me like it so much. Maybe it’s the retro music; maybe it’s the innate courtesy of people who are drawn to swing dancing; maybe it’s just an excuse to wear a twirly skirt. I don’t know, but after a couple of lessons and dance socials I figured out that I’m weirdly good at it. The lesson here? Maybe you’re not bad at all dancing; maybe you’re just bad at most of it. You’ll never know until you try.

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At Valentine’s Day

Over the past few weeks, a number of you have expressed a desire to know my relationship status. That number is zero, but I’m going to tell you anyway: currently I’m playing the field, which I define as letting Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream battle over my affections. I’m pretty happy with the way things are now; in fact, I’m using a date with both of them as an incentive to finish writing this post. I find they’re less demanding and infinitely less stressful than any alternative company could be.

If Valentines were honest... and Disney-related. I didn't make it, someone on Tumblr did.

If Valentines were honest… and Disney-related. I didn’t make it, someone on Tumblr did.

Still, there are times when being single stings a little. For a lot of people, one of those times is Valentine’s Day. From early January until practically March, stores are covered in little red hearts and naked angels in diapers. Friends who are in relationships get disgustingly happy and gush to you about their plans for the Ides of February while you sip idly on your caramel macchiato and try not to look like you’re wondering what color to paint your nails next. ABC Family takes a break from its obsession with Harry Potter weekends and instead runs The Notebook on repeat for a week.

Of course, even with all the love in the air, being in a relationship around V-Day can sometimes feel like an arrow in the rear end. There’s SO much stress and pressure for everything about that day to be perfect for you and your sweetie, from the messages on the candy hearts (read: multicolored heart-shaped chalk) to the dinner to the outfits to the gifts (which of course MUST be either handmade or very, very expensive). Whether you’ve already paired off with someone or you’re still floating around in the world of “table for one, please”, you might think it would be easier and more pleasant for everyone if we just skipped straight from Thursday to Saturday next week and left it at that.

What do I think? Glad you asked: I think it’s silly to write off any excuse to celebrate. Maybe what we as a collective, frustrated, burned out culture should do about Valentine’s Day is just lower our expectations. Just take a deep breath and feel ‘em sink: your expectations for yourself, your expectations for your significant other (if you have one) and your expectations for the day overall. It won’t be perfect… but it can still be fun.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day in the United States as having an overall positive 24 hours while letting the most important people in your life know that you love them.

1. If you’re in a relationship, do something special. Do something out of the norm for the two of you. If you normally hang out with Netflix and some popcorn in pajamas, dress up and go out somewhere fancy; if you’re party animals, stay in for a candlelit dinner and some snuggling. Breaking out of your usual mold will create memories and inject some novelty into your time together (which, as any married couple will tell you, is absolutely necessary in a healthy long-term relationship). If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner aren’t exactly the “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” type, don’t worry; there’s no Valentine’s Day higher authority that will punish you for going out rock climbing or hosting a two-person Sherlock marathon instead of filling your day with hearts and flowers. If you truly believe in your heart that Valentine’s Day was a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make money (which it wasn’t… look it up), then really surprise your sweetie by making special date plans on February 15th. Who could possibly see that coming?

2. If you’re not in a relationship… do something special. So you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner. So what?Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and as much as romantic love is an important part of life, other kinds of love are just as essential, if not more so. If you’re doing Valentine’s Day solo, make some time for friends or family members. This applies to those of you in relationships, too; don’t get so far into the honeymoon bubble that you forget to remind the other people you interact with that you care about them. If all your friends are busy on Valentine’s Day, borrow from Leslie Knope and have brunch with them on the 13th or post an e-card on their Facebook page (best-friend sappiness optional). You can even show some love to your mom (and maybe win a prize!) by entering a fun little contest (NOT SPONSORED BY ME) here.

Leslie takes all her lady friends out to brunch on February 13th... Ever thought of doing the same? Gif taken from rebloggy.com.

Leslie takes all her lady friends out to brunch on February 13th… Ever thought of doing the same? Gif taken from rebloggy.com.

3. Don’t make it weird. American culture attaches a lot of expectations to February 14th: if you buy into the hype, it has to be romantic, it has to be sappy, and above all it has to run exactly according to the expectations of everyone involved. That’s why taking big steps like going out on a first date, making a relationship “official”, losing something important and self-defining (like your car keys!) or getting engaged on Valentine’s Day can get really awkward, really fast. One or both people involved might feel pressured to make a commitment they’re not ready for if they make the Big Decision on an emotionally loaded holiday. If you’re thinking about moving your relationship with somebody to the next level, do yourself a favor and either ask well before V-Day (read: TODAY) or just wait until February 20th. It’ll save you from discomfort, potential heartbreak and eye-roll-worthy cliché.

4. Relax. Remember what I said up there about cultural expectations? Yeah, they’re not real. Really. Yes, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to get mushy and have fun, but it doesn’t need to be perfect. Forgetting to make reservations, giving your partner of two years a gift card because you ran out of time to make something nice, accidentally-on-purpose wearing heels so you’re four inches taller than your date (or, conversely, going on a date with someone who is wearing heels that make her look four inches taller than you)? All fine. All significantly less than world-ending. All stuff that you’re going to laugh about later on. Just enjoy yourself.

5. Eat some chocolate. You deserve it. But if you’re gonna go for the expensive stuff, wait til February 15th–it’ll all be on discount.

I gotta go now, readers–I’m late for my group date on the couch. I want to hear about your Valentine’s Day plans, though! Leave a comment below, stop by the Facebook page or tweet @hownottosuckblg. Have a great week!