This story was written for The Sunday Times Style two weeks after the editor and I discussed dad dancing over lunch. She made me do the shoot, honestly. Think am glad I did just to find out how hard it is. It went in the men's issue a week ago. Will brace self for the torrent of abuse from certain readers. Won't be publishing abrasive comments though. Why would I? If ya don't like it, log off. Right? Funny ones I can handle. Might be long for a blog, but giving it a go. This edit is the original, without subbing for a Sunday Times reader. For example it might have the word arse in it somewhere. Some of the pictures have been used before on S&E, apologies if boring in advance. Photography by Jake Walters (click), styling by Tom Stubbs.
So I was down Vogue Fabrics, right, dancing, yeah? Some well-liked style journalist was celebrating his fortieth birthday at Dalston’s searingly cool/consistently grimy nightclub with a slice of London’s older ‘cool’ set. Editors of major fash’ mags, proprietors of hip restaurants, drag queens and bears all jigged about cheek by beard. Marc Moore, (Eighties DJ), was DJ-ing and as things hotted up, more dancing was going down. Holly Johnson (Eighties icon) out of Frankie Goes To Hollywood was even on the floor. As I panned round the subterranean vista it suddenly struck me. Almost all the fellas in there, and it was mainly fellas, were blatantly ‘Dad dancing’. Shock of the old. Weren’t this lot supposed to be cool? It would appear you don’t have to be a dad to dance like one. Was I Dad dancing too, and if so is this whole dancing caper over?
In essence Dad dancing is an apology for proper, urge driven rhythmic display. A listless, box-ticking mode of dance floor conduct employed by squares feeling obligated to dance when they’re not really ‘feeling it’. Also by men who simply can’t dance. Politicians in awkward tour party scenarios Dad dance. So do most vicars, many teachers and all members of the royal family. Now also apparently aging hipsters. It’s a simpering parody of dance, a side-to-side two-step lean with synchronized maraca hand movements. Or gentle, uncoordinated open-palm wafting, while swaying aimlessly like a God Botherer during Kum By Yah. It’s the dance equivalent of the closed mouth fake smile British strangers give each other when passing on the way to the campsite toilet. One thing is for certain, Dad dance is one hundred percent un-sexual.
Dancing is hard wired into sexuality. Granted is also about fun and showing off. However, when the young dance they’re usually projecting a blazé nonchalance shot through with dashes of sexual intent. At least that’s how I see. Messages such as, “Watch it. I might just fuck you if I can be bothered”, are sent via the medium of gyration, shrugging and hand waving. A quarter of a century later the messages are confused and potentially ridiculous. You’re dancing, feeling like Terence Stamp. But you’re actually golf club shuffling, looking like Terry Scott, thwarted by a bald patch, paunch and a Volvo V50 in the car park. The primevil telegraph system might still be ticking over, but the diktats have got lost in decades of translation. Even when you’re merely dancing for fun, it’s still a sexual language you’re speaking. With aging participants a discord is struck. Something about dancing with sincerity past forty looks, well, a trifle futile.
As Joe Jackson once pointed out, it's different for girls. The display ritual involved in courtship/pick-ups means that as long as girl is taking care of her own attraction scenario proficiently, she doesn’t need to be ‘setting out her stall’ in quite the same manner. Women are more relaxed and confident on dance matters. It’s always the girls that are up first. It’s the men getting judged on their dancing when they do manage it. Note. No one actually pulls just from dancing. Instead another layer to the selection process is provided, like an audition stage. Get through this, and possibly find yourself back at judges houses.
Laid bare, dancing is of course plainly silly. With age the dignity quotient kicks in, beating gay abandon hands down, not hands in the air. Dignity takes the edge of your edges. Age takes the headiness out of hedonism. Self-consciousness takes over. When it used to be about the freedom and the frowning, the contorting and the letting go, removed all flourish and vitality you’re left with the piss-weak excuse that is Dad dancing. So should we give it up past forty? With the aging population shift, everyone is doing everything, older and longer. The band of potential dancers has shifted accordingly. Denying yourself a dance vocabulary is the party parallel of not eating seafood when on holiday in Palermo. So what does one do? Get yourself an over forty dance manifesto, obviously.
Sexual attraction and the urge to express ‘self through dance doesn’t vanish like an interest in skateboarding. So how best navigate this pivotal mechanism of display and expression? Firstly, listen to the music and actually try and react to it and your surroundings, (even if its with malice and bitterness), an emotion is the way best forward. If you really don’t like it, stop stock-still and reconsider location in venue. Secondly, dance like someone is watching, as there are perils attached to total abandon. While spiritually sound, letting-go tactics can be visually and socially flawed when out of a mosh pit. Conversely, taking dancing seriously is dangerous muggish. Aside of vanity, it’s a preposterous mindset over forty. A balance of controlled dance liberation needs to be struck and deployed with confident aplomb. Tricky, but its the holy grail of non-Dad dancing for the forty plus troupe.
Channeling her shoot-from-the-hip wisdom, my editor entered the Dad dance debate and demanded I be made to dance for the camera. Having learned to acquiesce some years ago, I found myself in the studio with a model/dancer named Mischa. Knowing nothing about actual dancing we enlisted the counsel of a Strictly choreographer. His face as he climbed the steepest of learning curves was the essence of disbelief, finding he was dealing with a complete binary dance thinker. Hours later he’d straighten me up, strengthened my carriage and had me making vaguely acceptable shapes. The multiple tasking that included don’t drop girl/squat like a goalie/pull face like Hitler making speech was nigh on impossible to deal with. Like an Olympic level hernia puller, I gurned through the lifts as my partner looked dreamy and serene despite being swung about horizontally. Having fancied self as a bit of a mover, I was humbled. I now hold prodigious respect for professional dancers everywhere. I could never do it. I did learn a couple of little moves that might just find their way into my routine however. Perhaps Vogue Fabrics should do a Strictly night next time they have the olds in? It would be a hoot. “Relax. Don’t Dad Dance. When you want to come” the flyer would read. Where else can an oldster legitimately drop some moves these days?
Miraculously a dance/age amnesty comes to pass at a wedding party. It’s the only egalitarian dance floor situation where all ages come together, united in celebration. You’re granted carte blanche to have it right off, if you’ll pardon the technical parlance. It’s the perfect blend of the familiar and the unknown.
One week after my Dad dancing epiphany, I was at my best friend's wedding. For us the wedding of the year. The music was brilliant and suitably pan-generational, the crew elite in dance action status. Elder figures graced the fringes aided by youths, a couple of fifty plus party generals bubbled knowingly by the speakers, while numerous forty-something lieutenants operated with varying degrees of dignity. Carefree posses of thirty and twenty year olds and younger reveled in their freedom. It was what is should have been. Frivolous dance floor carnage. We raised the roof in a party toast to the couple. Just when it was kicking off properly, like old times, toe to toe with pals/dance adversaries, and you’re finding you’ve still got those elusive signature moves to hand, your very own twenty three year old import comes up and drops a dance bomb shell. Laughing bent double she delivered the crushing line, “that’s the worst dancing I’ve ever seen!”
Wow, what a toughie. What do you say to that? Nothing. One can’t explain that actually she’s wrong, and that back in the day this particular lick was quite stylish and ‘that was how we rolled’. No. The young don’t give a monkey's about history and pedigree. It’s all moved on. Several times since your day. It's dance Darwinism. You can preserve your culture and adapt as best you can through changing climates, but you’re only fending off the inevitable. Dance credibility extinction. What else to do, but take in a few large doses of the exuberant atmosphere, recalibrate and carry on regardless into the dance melee. Note. People do pull at weddings, and it’s often on the dance floor where the deal is negotiated.
As the dance worlds collided under the marquee and bunting, it was it was a warming spectacle. Good job there a plentiful supply of proper young ‘uns looking on in bemusement and disbelief, instinctively plotting the next wave of dance floor revolution.