When I was approached a few months back ago to volunteer as a dancer at my daughter’s school’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Fundraiser I declined. The excuse I used, to my shame, is that I was too busy. The truth is that I was too afraid. Like many men of my age, I avoid occasions where I might be asked to dance like the plague. On the rare occasion I attend a wedding these days, you’ll see me cowering at the bar pretending to be in intense conversation to avoid the eye of enthusiastic dancers trying to lure me onto the dance floor. I haven’t, I’m embarrassed to say, danced with my wife in years.
I used to love dancing in my teens and twenties. My signature dance move was based on the slow side to side arm swing of Sting in The Police ‘Walking on the Moon‘ video. Over the years, I added a few variations to the routine – a few borrowed from The Blues Brothers , Colonel Abrams and then (usually later in the evening), some ‘moon walking’ courtesy of Michael Jackson. Dancing was part of the mating ritual at the time – a means of meeting girls. I like to think that my attempts some breakdancing moves to a Run DMC track at a Cambridge doctors residence party in 1994 is what caught my wife’s eye across the dance floor. Like most couples who have found their mates, after a while we stopped going to night clubs.
These days, on the odd occasion I am cajoled into dancing with my youngest daughter I am painfully aware of how stiff, unimaginative and exaggerated my dance moves are. She thinks its hilarious. My older kids are so embarrassed for me that they avoid eye contact by leaving the room.
Whereas there are lots of things that I have become less afraid of as I age, my fear of dancing seems to worsen. I am longer ashamed of not knowing the names of any of the Irish soccer team, I have overcome my (justified) fear of looking ridiculous in a pair of cycling shorts, or of crying in public. But I am paralysed by fear at the thought of dancing in public for even a few seconds.
People like me, according to dance psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt, are anxious about dancing because they’re self conscious about how they will look. This comes from being afraid of making a mistake while dancing or looking ridiculous. We also sense (quite correctly as it happens) that dancing in middle age may not have the same wow factor for members of the opposite sex might have had in our 20’s. In a survey of 14,000 people, which included over 8,000 men, Dr Peter Lovatt found that men in their 30s and 40s used bigger and less coordinated dance moves than men in their teens and 20′s. Lovatt also found that women rated these moves as less attractive than the smaller and more coordinated dance moves often displayed by the younger men. Perhaps, as my wife helpfully pointed out, its an evolutionary mechanism to stop me from straying. Or as a warning to prospective partners that that I am past my reproductive prime.
So why would we bother? Dancing, it seems is good or you. It has a positive affect on cognition – by improving your ability to think divergently. There’s evidence that it regular dancing reduces the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression and increases feeling of self confidence. It may also be good at staving off the effects of dementia and treating the symptoms Parkinson’s disease. If the participants of our local Lets come dancing evening are anything to go by, it also makes you look very happy.
Whereas I could continue avoiding my fear of dancing easily enough, I think its time to face my fear of looking silly, failing or being laughed at. If I could let myself dance, I could do anything.
Dr. Ronan Kavanagh has signed up for next years Salerno School School Gymnasium Strictly Come Dancing Fundraiser. Rehearsals have started in earnest already.