Dance Psychology

Looking at dance and dancers through the lens of psychology

Dance? I'd rather have my fingernails pulled out!

Dance? I'd rather have my fingernails pulled out!

I Don't Feel Like Dancing...

People feel sexy, passionate, empowered and alive when they dance. For some people, dancing makes them they feel relaxed, content and whole, and for some other people the act of dancing brings them close to a state of self-actualization, spiritual completeness, and a state of mind-body harmony. These are the lucky ones, those oh so lucky people for whom dance enhances their lives.

Now spare a thought for the others. Those others for whom the act of dancing, or thought of dancing, or even just watching someone dance, makes them cringe. Hundreds of people have told me why they don't, or wont dance. Here are the top two reasons why people don't dance.

Self-consciousness
So many people, and especially men, tell me that they don't dance because they feel self-conscious. To be self-conscious means that we are consciously self-aware and in addition we feel that other people are also aware of us, and may be judging us negatively. This is reflected in other reasons people have given me for not dancing.

A women in her 30's wrote "I feel self-conscious and feel like I'm doing it wrong and that people will notice" and another women in her 50's wrote "I don't dance because I am not very good at it and I have this feeling that people are watching and laughing at me".

This lack of confidence in one's "ability" to move freely in public to music clearly has a debilitating effect. One man in his early 30's made the astonishing statement "I think I'm too ugly to dance" and several other men expressed similar sentiments ("I look foolish", "I look and feel stupid", and "It looks funny...when I dance") concerning how they think they look when they dance. With such perceptions it is unsurprising that some people steer well clear of the public dance floor and react negatively to the prospect of social dance.

Relationships
Clearly there are some forms of dance, such as tango and west coast swing, that require a partner, other dance forms where you dance individually but as part of a group, such as line dancing and party dances like the Hokey Cokey, and there are other forms of dance that you can do completely on your own, such as Pogo, head banging and some form of disco dancing. However, despite the existence of solo dance forms many people say that their reasons for not dancing are based on relationship issues.

One of the joys of being a parent is the opportunity to dance with your children. However, it seems that dancing with your parents can put some people off dancing for the rest of their lives. One young teenage girl wrote that her reason for not dancing socially anymore is because "I had to dance with my mom once and it sucked". Poor mom. Oh well, at least Mom will have her husband to dance with. Not so. "My husband never danced and I'm too old now to find another partner... although I have asked!" wrote a woman in her 60's.

A number of men seemed to get to the heart of their reasons for dancing (and not dancing). For them it is all to do with finding a mate. "The only times I have ever danced were to try and pick up women" wrote a man in his early 30's and another man of the same age wrote "I do not dance now because I am married with a child".

There is some scientific evidence suggesting that we engage in social dance as part of a courtship display and furthermore that the way we dance in social settings is influenced by our hormonal and genetic make up. According to this view we dance in part to communicate our genetic "fitness" to be a reproductive partner and as such there might be reproductive, hormonal and genetic reasons why we do or don't dance. I'll address this in my next blog.

If you don't dance, I'd love to hear your reasons. You can tell me by going to my website www.DanceDrDance.com and clicking on the big yellow square.

As a psychologist who loves to dance I find people's stories of their low levels of confidence and high levels of self-consciousness very emotive. When people tell me that they want to dance but cannot because they feel too clumsy, awkward, unskilled or un-partnered it convinces me of the need to reframe social dance as a fun and natural activity where there are no hidden agendas and no opportunities to get it "wrong". When you relax and dance in a free, natural way you express who you are. What can be "wrong" about that?

Peter Lovatt is a psychologist and dancer based at the University of Hertfordshire.

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