Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Comments 15
Napoleon Dynamite dance
“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

15 thoughts on “Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?”

  1. Bravo! Wonderfully inspirational! Thank you Matt. PS. I have a sudden urge to dance it out to Canned Heat now 😉 Cheers!

  2. Well written without being cheesy. Most people are so consumed thinking about themselves that they don’t give you a thought!

    1. I thought that was super-powerful.

      I worry about stuff on a case-by-case basis. What someone else might think about something I said, or my outfit, or whatever. Anything.

      If we would constantly remind ourselves that almost no one gives a shit, and that even if they somehow did, that it wouldn’t matter even a little bit five minutes from now, if ever…

      Wouldn’t life feel a little freer? A little better? Always?

      I feel like it might.

      These are my things. I write this kind of stuff every bit as much for me as for anyone who might read it.

      Thanks for reading and leaving this note.

  3. Hi Matt,

    I’m a Libra and we are infamous for our inability to make decisions. These are a few jokes about us that I keep close to my heart.

    There was once a donkey who had a very generous owner. Said owner was rewarded by a neighbor who gave the man bales of grass and hay in return for a favor. Owner pitched several bales of each in the barn for the donkey to enjoy. Donkey starved to death because he couldn’t decide which one to eat first.

    A Libra man went to his psychiatrist because his inability to make intelligent choices was playing havoc with his life. Psychiatrist devised a test to see how serious the problem was. Man was taken to a room where two closed doors of equal size and shape faced him. On one door, the sign said, “Open this door to experience the most amazing sex you could ever have.!” On the other door the sign said, “Open this door and read about the most amazing sex you could ever have!” Which did our Libra choose?

  4. Well said, Matt. Words of wisdom there.

    In general, as we get older, our concern over other people’s approval and judgments goes away. It’s a beautiful thing. It totally caught me off guard when I turned about 40 and was suddenly surprised to discover I really had no need or desire for anyone’s approval, just like that, just like a switch flipped off. I had no idea how much of my energy used to actually revolve around seeking other peoples approval and being such a people pleaser.

    Kind of funny, I used to look out for an old guy and I went to visit him one day on his birthday. There he was, sitting there in his birthday suit having a grand old time. He was a real gentleman,so when he finally realized he wasn’t dressed for company, he was a bit embarrassed. I had to hand him a blanket and reassure him I really appreciated his good manners and thoughtfulness. I really did, but I also appreciated seeing him there totally relaxed, joyfully celebrating his birthday in his birthday suit.

  5. This is so inspirational and wonderful and meaningful to me right now. I’m going to print it out and save it so that I can reread it when I need motivation. Thank you!

  6. I don’t enjoy dancing even though I don’t give a shit about how I look doing it. I noticed a long time ago that nobody gave a damn what I’m doing most of the time. The conundrum is, while I just don’t like to dance, everyone thinks I’m self-conscious and takes a shot at “encouraging” me to dance. It’s a pain in the ass that invariably ends up with me dancing because it makes my wife, who enjoys it, happy and because I hate the idea that people could think I’m the kind of guy who would deprive himself of something fun out of self-consciousness. No offense intended. It is a trap. I end up doing something I don’t like do in order to avoid the appearance of not doing something that I do want to do.

    1. No offense taken, sir. I find your version of neurosis and self-consciousness every bit as hilariously useless as mine.

      Appreciate you sharing that. Made me laugh.

  7. When I was younger, I longed for the freedom to not care what anyone thought of me. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care. But I did care and lying to myself didn’t work.
    Now it’s….not so much that I don’t care what others think. It’s that I finally care enough and more about what I want. I allow myself to be a priority and so what others think…. just becomes irrelevant to my goals/desires. I still have moments of insecurity for sure but I’m aware of them now and can help myself out of that.
    I LOVE the, ‘it doesn’t matter what you think’ (about yourself). I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it that way. My method works for me until it doesn’t and then I reassure myself and comfort myself etc. But, the ‘it doesn’t matter what you think’ takes ME right out of it! And moves directly into accepting what is. I can skip that whole routine of fear and not good enough and then reassurance and comfort. ‘It doesn’t matter what you think'(of yourself) drowns out my small and fearful thinking and gets to the point of honoring our unique expression and not letting out ego get in the way.
    Just when I feel like I’ve put years of hard work into getting where I am, there’s this realization it doesn’t have to be that hard! This is good. Everything just got easier.
    thank you

  8. I really wish the hubs would come to learn dancing with me. But he’s just not a fan. Said he’s uncoordinated and would be embarrassed. And I’m like “have we MET?” It’d be fun to be klutzy together….but if I want to learn, I have to go alone. While I often find myself incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin, I do know how to laugh at myself.

  9. I admire people who can dance. I especially admire those who can make it look effortless, but even so I appreciate anyone with the bravery and willingness to just step up and try.

    I always wanted to dance. I came into a relationship with a woman who was rather good at dancing, but she would never dance with _me_. During our time together, I even took a few classes and private lessons so that she wouldn’t have to start from scratch in teaching me. But any time we went out to try, she would decline my proposals to dance, and then claim she was tired and wanted to go home to sleep.
    (I have a theory that even if Average Jane is better and more used to dancing than Average Joe, some or most(?) Janes would rather wait for a Joe who actually knows how to dance, than having to show someone even if he’s ever so eager to learn. I don’t know, it’s just a theory that falls in line not only with my own experience but also with a lot of behaviors I’ve witnessed while standing around dance floors *not* dancing.)

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.