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Publication: British Elle, 2003


Disco Infernal: Married Men Can’t Dance

The season’s festivities will again prove that lads are hopeless at dancing, but, say Kevin Braddock, married men are the worst

It's a well-known fact that men are hopeless at dancing, and I am no exception to the rule. Like most men, my 'dancing' is actually lurching, staggering, twitching and appearing to fall over without ever hitting the ground, all to the sound of music. However, I am Nureyev compared to friends who're married or in stable relationships. They are to dancing what Joaquin Cortes is to bricklaying. They have all the natural coordination of a shopping trolly. When I recently DJed at my friend's Ian's wedding, I got to observe at close quarters the subtleties in the way married men dance, and the news isn't good.

The tune was, of course, Abba's 'Dancing Queen'. The girls moved first and, to a woman, grooved cheerily, eyes twinkling under the glitterball and faces aglow with unselfconscious delight. Next followed the few single men in the throng who shimmied and gyrated, racily eyeballing whichever girl was in line of sight. They boldly squared up to the women with I-want-you expressions, grabbing a hand here, slipping an arm round the waist there.

And lastly, as if a bunch of robots with poorly-charged batteries had been remotely activated, the guys in relationships lumbered reluctantly onto the dancefloor, discomfort written over their faces in bold type. Men who are otherwise able sportsmen, experts in their field and all-round good guys suddenly developed four left feet, one for each limb. Their brains said 'dance!', their bodies responded with extreme malcoordination and embarrassment: one guy tossed his wife into the finger buffet in a vain attempt at Grease-style jiving, while the rest threw shapes with all the dynamism of C3P0. It was agony to watch.

Why can't married men dance, either alone or with their partners? Why is it that women dance no differently whether they're single or married, while men devolve from bad dancers into terrible dancers in the time it takes to slip a ring on the finger? No matter whether it's a wedding, a club, a orbital rave or a tea-dance, the plain fact is that women dance because it's fun, whereas no heterosexual man cuts some rug purely for the expressive joy of trying to look like James Brown. Men dance purely because if they don't, they won't pull women. It's a crucial, though arduous, component of the mate-selection ritual, the physical expression of a series of pick-me-please messages: look at my pert bum! My gyrating hips suggest I'm hot in bed! I drive a fast car, you know!

All of which makes 'married' men and dancing a paradox. You click, you bond, you're bagged and the next thing, you find that the impulse to shake some ass at whichever female is in your vicinity evaporates. The brain, rather than the groin, dictates the way the body moves, the result being a series of mechanical, desexualised twitches. In short, you're not on the pull any more, and your body knows it. Forget looking other women dreamily in the eye at whichever social function you're at, because your wife/partner/girlfriend won't have any of it.

At the wedding, when I played James Brown's '(Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine', 28-year-old product designer Nathan got up and felt very much like a sexless machine, dancing in ways that could have got him arrested for crimes against The Funk. Chic definitely didn't have him in mind when they wrote 'He's The Greatest Dancer'.

'I've never felt more embarrassed,' he says. 'If you're single and you dance, you're trying to pull. It's preening your tail feathers, showing yourself off and engaging someone's eyes. I was dancing with my girlfriend Lisa and I just couldn't summon up any moves, partly because she's much better at dancing than me and partly because Lisa wouldn't have been too chuffed if I'd shot off to flirt with other girls.'

However, the pressure to do a passable John Travolta impersonation remains, whether it's out of a lingering urge to impress every other girl on the dancefloor, or so's you don't feel your turning into your dad. There's a minority of married men can pull of the eternal bachelor routine and flounce his way across a dancefloor like Rod Stewart on Viagra, with or without the consent of the missus. But in the main, the unsightly displays above amount to the tussle between commitment-phobia and True Love expressed with the feet. Which brings us to the second reason married men can't dance: you're out practice, 'man'.

28-year-old Gaye can't help noticing how her husband Matthew has 'rusted up' somewhat. When they met, four years ago, she considered him a hot mover. 'He was a DJ,' she says. 'I remember thinking he could dance, and I never felt embarrassed to be dancing with him. It was drum & bass at the time. Also, we started going to salsa classes together and he was really good at that too.'

However, a wedding, a mortgage and one-year-old Lily have all taken their toll. 'He's stiffer now,' Gaye adds, 'his hip movement aren't as fluid as they were. I imagine he'll revert to the two-step: you know, that step to the side and back again thing dads do. It's not that severe yet, but I can see it heading in that direction.'

This being the party season, you can make your own notes on the subject, since the next few weeks creaky married blokes everywhere will be trying to get their mojo working again, even if they haven't seen or felt their mojo in ages.

'The company had a party the other day and I was dancing there and yeah, I felt stiffer,' 32-year-old Matthew, who works for MTV, explains. 'I couldn't get the moves out too quickly and I definitely felt more self-conscious. I guess I was still trying to impress people. When you get hitched you stop going out and although we don't have set dances like the Twist these days, subtly the way people dance does change.'

Luckily, for my friend Ian, a 30-year-old business consultant for The Prince's Trust, his wife Sara sees the funny side. Never exactly the hot stepper as a single man, he now fully embraces his own dreadfulness as a dancer, having bid farewell to the last vestiges of rhythm on his wedding day. 'That was when I realised, I couldn't dance,' he says, 'the actual first dance at our wedding. It was uncomfortably embarrassing. Now when I'm dancing, it makes Sarah laugh. I think it amuses her more than anything.'

Ian is a short step away from the worst kind of married dancer: a man who'll overcompensate for his blatant lack of moves with ironic parodies of dancing's greats. While most blokes are hesitant to try anything more ambitious than a Liam Gallagher-style simian shuffle, Mr Trying-Too-Hard will vainly attempt James Brown-style slides, an incompetent moonwalk and some air guitaring, all while wearing an idiotic grin. Spot a man doing this and you've spotted a man who deserves your sympathy more than anything.

'The last thing you need is to dance with someone who want the attention from everyone, standing in the middle of the group and just breakdancing or trying to look like MC Hammer,' says 22-year-old PR Liz, who's 22. 'It's doesn't matter if they're not exactly a brilliant dancer or anything. You want them to be focused on you - that's the main thing.'

Perhaps it's an upshot of the club culture revolution that we're all hopeless dancers. Acid house, the Happy Mondays and Ecstasy may have liberated a generation of white men and permitted the clumsiest of us to 'get down' and 'give it up', yet it also means what we're used to dancing alone in a crowd. Since we're about as likely to understand the intricacies of the Foxtrot, the Waltz or the Gay Gordons as we are to own a deerstalker and a shooting stick, few have us have any idea how to negotiate their way round another person. The way we're dancing, oddly enough, mirrors exactly the confused state of male-female relationships. Who leads? Who follows? Who's move is it anyway?

The fact is that the two principal reasons we dance in the first place have become blurred. Either we dance with a partner as sexual rite, or we dance as a tribe to summon rain, to celebrate our idols or to tell rivals not to mess, which explains why men will generally prefer pogoing beerily across the dancefloor in the arms of other men.

At his wedding, after my friend Craig's had dispensed with the formality of the first dance with his wife, he got down to the true business of the evening: all-out dancefloor moshing with his mates, not so much dancing as scrumming. The tune in question was James's 'Sit Down'.

'It's about celebration,' says Craig, who's an editor. 'You dance for different reasons, like because you remember a tune and a good time, and you leap to the dancefloor. A club like Schooldisco is so popular because nostalgia is readily available and it's not cheesy, because everybody's doing it. Dancing like an idiot is a prerequisite, because everyone dances like an idiot at school.'

The truth of the matter is that men will only ever be happy to dance after the tricky business of capturing a partner is out of the way, one the pressure too look cool is out of the way. You can guarantee that the man who's most desperate to impress is the man who's the least comfortable with himself. If you're in any doubt, just ask yourself how you'd about taking the floor with Michael Flatley.

The flipside to this is that for all his dreadful sense of rhythm and tendency to shimmy more like Michael Buerk than Michael Jackson, your boyfriend or husband just can't dance well because he doesn't need to. He's yours, he knows it and the last thing he wants is to upstage or upset you. Take it as a compliment that he's not scissor-kicking, doing the splits or performing an arabesque in front of your girlfriends, sisters or mother. And in any case, you want your own personal sex machine in the bedroom, not on the dancefloor, right?

© Kevin Braddock, 2003

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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