It's a Guy Thing

Dancing Like My Dad

Give me some style on the dance floor! 

By Ian Kirke

Twitter = @ianjkirke

I have little proof in this assertion however, I passionately believe that Sophie Ellis-Bextor was thinking about me when she and Gregg Alexander wrote ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’. Perhaps even Genesis saw some footage of my exploits too, enabling them to title their famous 1991 track, “I can’t dance.” When it comes to dancing I have the following qualities: two left feet, a total absence of rhythm, and I can literally look like I am fighting a natural obligation to harmonize with the rest of humanity. Recently the term ‘Dad dancing’ has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary and is defined as, “awkward, unfashionable, or unrestrained style of dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged or older men.” On one hand, this literal classification was reassuring in that I can’t be the only guy on the planet who suffers this embarrassing social humiliation although on the other it gave no remedy. No magic bullet, no short-cut, and zero signposting to the promised land of composure, credibility, and class. 

Not that I want to master the late Michael Jackson moonwalk, mimic John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ or stomp the ground like Michael Flatley. I just don’t want to resemble a bag of potatoes caught up in a hurricane with a forced smile on my face. I guess like many things dancing, at any level of competence, requires a certain degree of tuition, practice, and reinforcement although I would firstly like to grasp the fundamentals of gyrating to the beat at routine gatherings such as work dos, Christmas parties, and birthday bashes. On the grand scale of human socialization, the ability to dance is probably not a deal-breaker and since I am not seeking to don my tuxedo and command the ballroom I would like to establish if there are any shortcuts? You see I am inherently lazy, especially when it comes to things that aren’t that important to me. Nonetheless, this dancing conundrum is irksome since the times I find myself wanting to, at least, perform an entry-level jig and thus distract unwelcome gaze away from me I am woefully bereft of a suitable answer. 

To place my situation within the wider context I sought the opinions of men of a similar age. If my current dancing etiquette was significantly below par the vast majority of the responses I got back did little to motivate me. The sage advice from one was to, “Dance like no one is watching. Those who matter don’t care, and will enjoy it.” This might work for you old bean, but my reality screams for a skill-set that avoids others, especially outside close-knit family members, thinking that I am suffering from some form of seizure or that I have lost control of my bladder. Another was proud of their credentials, or lack of them: “I’m a Dad dancer but it doesn’t bother me, nor does it deter me from getting up.” Whilst another jubilantly added, “Was never a problem Ian. Up to the age of thirteen, I danced in front of audiences wearing a skirt. After that I was fearless!” I had to concede that wearing a kilt at such a tender age would probably have left the onlooking audience in little doubt that you wouldn’t want to mess with this geezer, especially in view of the long-held principle of what Celtic men had lurking underneath. He also added, “Just go for it and forget your inhibitions.” Close, but alas no full cigar gents. I wanted a tad more finesse. Then I heard from a man, of not dissimilar age, who I shall call Frankie. Why should I choose such a moniker? Well, that is his name: Frankie Franklin. A man who gloriously left the shadows and gave me faith with his story. 

“I grew up with parents that could and still do, dance. My father’s eyesight deteriorated from fourteen years of age, and now totally blind he is still a much better dancer than me. 

Standing at the side of dance floors at weddings, Christmas dos, and family parties I used to watch the ‘oldies’ dancing together, jiving, slow dancing, and other old-fashioned stuff. I was always impressed, and it all seemed so easy to them. I didn’t dance as I thought it wasn’t cool, although being honest I was too embarrassed to try. 

Then, aged eleven, I went to my first school disco in 1980. I was ready to impress, dressed in double denim (still awesome), shiny Clarks commando shoes (with the built-in compass in the heel), and a dab of the old man’s aftershave behind each ear. 

I remember watching two of the older boys having a dance-off to the epic Ska track, ‘Too Much too Young’ by The Specials. All the other kids were cheering and egging them on, and they clearly loved the adulation. I was up for a bit of that hero worship and prepared myself to smash the next on the playlist: ‘The Walk’, a 1958 classic by Jimmy McCracklin. I watched as the other boys and girls lined up and, in time to the music, walked and strutted back and forth. I joined in. 

I found myself pushed to the back of the dance floor and I was finding it almost impossible to keep in time, in fact, for most of the record I was going in the opposite direction to everyone else. I cut a lonesome figure. Imagine finding out you were a ‘Dad dancer’ aged eleven and in front of your peers. 

At this crucial time of my life, where the boy would ultimately maketh the man, I also discovered that my idiot of a brother was absolutely frigging fantastic at dancing. 

Not to be defeated I took up drama lessons, as I figured this would improve my social standing and improve my chances with the opposite sex. I was cast as the Artful Dodger in the school play ‘Oliver’ and luckily for me, it didn’t have a lot of dancing. I was so excited when the local Operatic Society asked me to play the same character in the up-and-coming production of the classy Lionel Bart musical. Then the dancing started, and I was humiliated. 

Later on, I became a Mod, dancing to Motown and other such music which is basically swaying back and forth. I was miserable at this too. 

Joining the Navy, I only had to grasp the ‘Matelot shuffle’, essentially mastering the ability to stand upright and move one foot to the side and back again, then repeating with the other foot. As easy, I thought, as falling off a log. But again, my wooden feet that supported the now stonewash double denim and Doc Marten boots attired defender of Her Majesties territorial waters and beyond failed to impress the onlooking, and by now giggling Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service). 

When I married my wife the first dance loomed over me like the ghost of Fred Astaire. Rather than ride her like a surfboard I did the next best thing and got absolutely drunk. As you can imagine the wedding night didn’t involve much jigging either. 

The final humiliation came when I was in the police, a sergeant, and a respected figure amongst the shift. One of the lads was getting married in Poland and a dozen of us traveled to Rzeszów. Every single Polish chap got up and danced. Then the father of the bride approached me and wanted to know why I wasn’t dancing. I made up some rubbish that I wasn’t all that bothered, yet he immediately found me a partner who, with a vice-like grip, took me in hand and onto the dance floor. Everyone was having a great time dancing with their partners. All except my Eastern European octogenarian partner who, after only ninety seconds with me, made her excuses and walked away leaving me alone again in the middle of the dance floor. This was when a shaft of heavenly light bore down on me and I finally realized that something had to be done, even though I had waited until I was fifty. 

Taking Rock ‘n’ Roll jive lessons has been brilliant! Firstly, the moves at the basic level are not too hard and even I can master them. Well, most of them. Secondly, as a bloke, jiving with a partner is great because for 95% of the time you are standing still and moving your partner around you. And it looks great too!” 

Phew! A cathartic release that rhythmically chimed with my own horror story, and a wonderful and comforting conclusion. However, not that surprising I guess since appropriate training will always aid personal development. Having said that, I had never heard of Rock ‘n’ Roll jive although the generally static nature of my would-be contribution is somewhat appealing. The clips on YouTube edify this notion and I am tempted. This reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend about the potential shortcuts to high achievement. The transfer of professional knowledge within any discipline is often delivered on a platform of traditional learning; years of reading, revising, applying, evaluating, and testing. I had pondered if there were ever other feasible opportunities to sometimes circumnavigate this process? 

In the 2002 Steven Spielberg biographical film ‘Catch me if you Can’, from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, Leonardo DiCaprio played the part of Frank Abagnale who, whilst still in his late teens successfully duped hordes of victims by posing as a Pan Am pilot, a Doctor, and a State prosecutor. Indeed, so good were his skills as a forger that after capture and conviction the FBI employed him! Abagnale had heaps of confidence yet I suspect he appreciated the now contemporary approach of Modelling Excellence, propositioned by Doctor’s John Grinder and Richard Bandler. The essence of this fast-track approach to learning is to first of all find someone who is excellent at what they do. If you think about it for a moment our early childhood development mirrors this approach since children will seek to mimic those influencers proximate to them, especially language. I remember slagging off someone or other in the car one day, and at the conclusion of the articulate diatribe my then three-year-old son Adam, seated in the back, simply blurted out, ‘wanker’ and repeated it several times before I used the distraction technique of a huge ice cream and bag of sweets. 

Having selected your starlet, who can often be benign in actual overt coaching (hence the usefulness of YouTube), chunk down the behavior into digestible pieces and repeat, repeat, repeat! As Zig Ziglar, the American author, salesman, and motivational speaker proclaimed, “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” In his book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice’ author Matthew Syed reflects on key moments in sport where more often than not some players freeze. Citing penalty shootouts, he argues that players should rehearse these moments in full color, identify and reinforcing the associated thoughts, feelings, and actions over and over again. The players of my beloved Notts County please take note. This approach links directly to the powerful cognitive tool of visualization. As Professor of business at Harvard Business School, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, said, “A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” 

Plucking up the courage to tentatively make contact with a professional, I spoke to Amy Davison, founder of ALDANCE (, who trained at The Brit School. Her sage words and practical signposting got my right foot tapping. 

“Listen guys there’s light at the end of the dance floor! Dance is a form of expression so don’t treat it like a military drill. Relax and loosen your body so as not to look stiff. Connect a few simple moves or steps together and before you know it, you’ll be dancing! Try a couple of the following to be dance floor ready: Step together or step touches otherwise known as the ‘two-step’, keep your knees mobile and once you feel comfortable you can add in clicks or claps or even use the ‘two-step’ to move around in a circle. Another timeless step and basic tool from the Foxtrot to the Rumba is the ‘box step’. Imagine that you’re in a box and literally use the corners to either practice your two-step, or you can just tap one foot out at a time to each front corner, or even start to add in some hip action if you feel comfortable! Another extremely easy move that you can do, even with a drink in hand, keeping your feet still is ‘shoulder leans’. You can literally lean or sway to the right and then the left, and once you have got that you could follow a simple sequence of single, single, double, single, single, double. If you are still feeling like a ‘Dad Dancer’ then there are a lot of classes around, so look for a good teacher and book a couple of lessons to learn the basics and always remember to smile and have fun!” 

I think even I could start with a ‘shoulder lean’ and target a ‘two-step’ in no time. And let us not forget the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, “Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” Once this damn COVID-19 is over watch me bop and go! 

© Ian Kirke 2020