Whether you like doing it or not, we all possess the innate desire to dance. Rhythmic movement to music is a universal human practice. But what is the objective of dancing? In my opinion, the motivations behind our gyrations and syncopated thrusts and lurches are twofold.
Firstly, we dance to express ourselves. Like an instrument to song or a pen to prose, we use our body as the instrument with which we compose a message to all those around us. Secondly, we dance to appeal to others. What are we all but peacocks or birds of paradise spreading and shimmying our comparatively dull plumage to attract potential mates? With these principles in mind, I took to Lawnparties this Sunday. Saturated with live music and a higher concentration than usual of Princeton students feeling a little loosey-goosey, the Street provided an ideal research setting for an ethnographic study on the types of dance preferred by Princeton students and how well each achieves dance’s two primary goals: self-expression and sex appeal.
Dance #1: The Hand-Up Tap
Although less present at the eating clubs, the Hand-Up Tap was undoubtedly the most popular move at Third Eye Blind. The best way I can think of to describe this move is this: Imagine that you are in a position where there is a child in front of you, and you must pat the child on the head. But for some reason, perhaps lice, you are disgusted by the thought of having the child close to you and engaging in a full-on hair-ruffling. Instead, you extend your arm to keep the child at a full arm’s length and keep your hand flexed so that it is parallel to the ground. Then, bending your arm at the elbow, you gingerly pat the child’s head. Now imagine the child is gone. But continue patting, and lift your hand high above your head. That is the Hand Up Tap. Often it is performed in conjunction with its close relative in the White People Dance Moves family, the Head Nod, to be discussed later.
In terms of self-expression, the Hand-Up Tap says little; ranging from “I’m kind of into this band” to “This is literally the only coordinated thing I can wrangle my awkward body into doing.” And sex appeal? Little to none. Maybe if one were under extreme pressure to procure a mate, a suitor performing the Hand-Up Tap and Head Nod combo would have a modicum of a chance. Just maybe.
Dance #2: The Head Nod
As previously discussed, the Head Nod is a popular member of the White People Dance Moves family. Its mechanics are rather self-explanatory, but the intricacies of the Head Nod lie in the degree to which it is executed. At the mild end of the spectrum is the slow, pensive head nod, as if one were listening intently to a convincing argument and thinking, “yes, yes, I am beginning to see your point.” At the other end, the nodding becomes frenzied, almost dangerous, as if to proclaim, “I am having such a good time that I don’t even CARE if I’m killing my brain cells!” Head Nods at this end of the spectrum begin to overlap with aspects of the Mosher Out Of Water, which we will examine later. On the totem pole of sexy dance moves, the Head Nod outranks the Hand-Up Tap, but just barely. The positive suggestion of the Head Nod, a universal symbol for “yes,” essentially gives others the green light, if you will. Like the Hand-Up Tap, though, the isolating of movement to one part of the body does not demonstrate any particular physical prowess.
Dance #3: The Grind
I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone here who has not, at some point in their lives, engaged in the Grind (more commonly known as “grinding”). And if you do find someone who has not fallen victim to this animalistic style of dance, please congratulate them and celebrate them as heroes of our generation in the war against gross human behavior. I don’t know why or how this style of dance became popular and more or less accepted as a thing that people do. Before I go further, let me clarify that the style of grinding to which I refer involves a male standing behind a female, holding her on the waist or hips, and oscillating or swaying from side to side. I’ll let you flashback to middle school dances now. Some of the worse cases of this style I have seen have occurred while a peppy pop song plays not-quite-loudly-enough in the background, and the dancers try desperately to keep up with the beat in their contrived position by incorporating a sort of jaunty bounce in the knees into their already strenuous routine of synchronized elliptical rubbing. On the other hand, there are types of grinding that can no longer really be called grinding. I’m talking about this almost acrobatic type of dance that requires extreme physical strength and endurance and, from what I’ve heard, the help of a wall or a friend’s hand to hold on to for balance and resistance. Can you picture what I’m saying here? As it happens, I have not found myself in the position to participate in or even closely observe this style of grinding up close, but all you need to know is that if they weren’t wearing clothes, I would be describing something other than dancing. Despite how uncomfortable this overtly sexual expert-difficulty-level of grinding makes me feel, I can’t help but applaud the physical strength displayed by its dancers. Bravo. I mean, all in or all out, am I right? However, the last time I saw this caliber of grinding was at Quad during Reunions, and the only grinding to be seen at Lawnparties was of the former category.
Couples engaging in this butt-to-crotch swaying express the sentiment, “We are here to make you uncomfortable, especially when you accidentally get too close and end up momentarily forming a three-person grinding train with us. Deal with it.” As for the move’s sex appeal level, it’s hard to say. I guess the dancers find each other sexy enough to be grinding on each other and have already found a partner, so they aren’t really interested in what anyone else thinks of them.
Dance #4: The Bop
If styles of dancing were types of cookies, the Bop would be chocolate chip – universally palatable, and everyone has a different preferred style. Because of this, it is difficult to describe. What all Bops have in common, though, is the Spirit of the Bop. The Spirit of the Bop is a wonderful, joyful, entity that lies within each individual and percolates in your blood until your desire to Bop becomes so strong that you can’t control it any longer, and it manifests itself in your Bop. The Bop is to an individual as a patronus is to a witch or a wizard. It gathers the essence of your soul and displays it for all to see in an idiosyncratic combination of knee bends, foot stomps, head swivels, arm flails, wrist flaps, hip swings, and shoulder shimmies. In addition to speaking volumes about who you truly are, it announces, “I’m just happy to be here!” and “I love life!” One thing that sets the Bop apart from the other dances is that since it is a distilled version of you in dance form, how sexy it is to someone is really how sexy they find you as a person. Think about that next time.
Dance #5: The Stand and Grope
If you’ve ever been to a dance or seen a teen movie, you know the Stand and Grope. The Stand and Grope features two dancers, front-to-front, holding one another at the waist. Usually the shorter member of the couple has his or her head resting on the other partner’s chest and the taller dancer has his or her head bowed so that the shorter partner’s ear is at mouth-level. Both dancers have their eyes closed. In its most traditional form, the couple sways to “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias or “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. What you may not know, though, is that the Stand and Grope goes way back with the Grind. They were best friend all through elementary and middle school, until one day in the 8th grade when the Grind decided it was too cool and that the Stand and Grope was “for babies.” The Stand and Grope, however, vehemently denied that it was “for babies” and accused the Grind of being “gross.” Now I don’t like to take sides, so I won’t. Both styles of dancing are weird at our age, especially in the context that I witnessed them this weekend, which was amidst a large, energetic crowd of people. I mean, we’re all adults for goodness sake. This isn’t even really dancing. A couple engaging in the Stand and Grope says to the world, “we are SO in love. Okay, maybe we’re just in ‘luv.’ Anyways, we’re the type of couple with whom you’d definitely feel like a third wheel if we were ever to hang out together.” Sex appeal: maybe in a weird, prepubescent way.
Dance #6: The Ironic Finger Point
You don’t know this song. You aren’t that familiar with the people you’re with. This beer isn’t kicking in fast enough. You’re uncomfortable. But everyone around you seems to be having a good time, dancing and laughing. “I’d better look like I’m having fun too,” you think, “so just dance, dammit, dance!” Enter the Ironic Finger Point. Your hips begin to swivel ever so slightly, your chin lifts just so, and with your elbows bent and held tightly to your sides and your index fingers pointing skyward, your shoulders begin to take turns shrugging. Naturally, your eyes widen and roll slightly upwards, and your mouth forms a sort of smug, close-lipped smirk. You have achieved the Ironic Finger Point. This move can be interpreted a number of ways, from “Don’t get me wrong, I like fun, but I’m not about to cut a rug with these philistines. I’m just here to satirize the homogeneity of our generation’s perception of individual expression,” to “I am too intimidated by what people may think of me to truly get my groove on” to “I really wish I were more drunk.” It’s hard to imagine this dance having very much sex appeal, what with the awkward state from which it was born and the uncomfortable aura it tends to maintain. Maybe try using the finger point to your advantage by pointing out someone in the crowd around you, à la Uncle Sam, and staring intently at them. People like that, right?
Dance #7: The Mosher Out of Water
A line from the “Seinfeld” episode, “The Little Kicks,” describes the Mosher Out of Water perfectly. “It’s more like a full-body dry heave set to music,” says George of Elaine’s dance moves, and the same can be said of the Mosher Out Of Water. Characteristically, Moshers Out of Water are male and share an enthusiasm for dubstep and “going hard.” I can see why this type of dancing would be appropriate while listening to dubstep, because only dubstep’s fear-inducing screeches, womps, and laser beam sounds can explain the moves of the Mosher Out of Water. Have you ever seen The Exorcist? It’s a little bit like that scene where she’s having a fit of demonic possession on the bed meeting the Head Nod on the extreme end of the spectrum. There are times and places where Moshing is encouraged. At punk and metal concerts, for example, like-minded Moshers mosh all up on each other, but Lawnparties was neither that time nor that place. Hence the Mosher “Out of Water.” These dancers are often rather sloshed and can be seen moshing alone or in small groups. A physical encounter with a Mosher Out of Water usually ends up with his knocking into you and causing you to spill your beer on him, yourself, or both. The aggressive jumps and violent punches at the air exude the sentiment, “WATCH OUT CAUSE I’M COMIN THROUGH!!! But seriously, please be careful, because even though I have diminished spatial awareness, I’m still a good guy and I don’t want you to get hurt.” From a biological standpoint, this move may be the sexiest of all the dance moves. Much like bulls pawing the ground or impalas head-butting each other with their antlers during rutting season, the testosterone emitted by Moshers Out of Water must, at least to some degree, appeal to some animalistic reproductive drive within their potential mates.
So there you have it. Next time you begin to feel the beat taking over and head to the dance floor to break it down or the next big dance craze emerges, take a moment to think about what your next move says about you.