Whenever and wherever there is music playing, if you look down, you’ll find people tapping their toes. In rock-and-roll retail stores or jazz-fancy restaurants, people move their feet. It might even be Muzak playing in an office waiting room, but if you look under the desk, the receptionist’s toes are likely keeping beat to the music. Our inner dancer is always yearning to breathe and break free, but in North America, we’ve done all we can to make sure we don’t dance.
In some cultures, like parts of Europe or in Latin America (or, yes, most of Quebec, too), the opportunities to dance are close at hand. A dance floor can be created in the middle of a restaurant or on a sidewalk in front of a street musician. There are no hard and fast rules governing when and where people can dance, and dancing isn’t frowned upon as some violation of the social code. It’s just a part of life, like walking and sleeping, rather than an activity reserved for special occasions, as we’ve turned it into.
There’s one place the shackles are off, though: weddings. Here, folks who never get to dance suddenly do so, and with vigour. Weddings are great for dancing because the DJ usually plays all the hits we grew up with, and when there is an open bar, we want to hear exactly these songs. Square uncles, little cousins, and geriatric grandparents will all get up and move around to “Come On Eileen” or “Mony Mony”. And they let loose, and sometimes it isn’t pretty, but they’re dancing with no self-consciousness. Some of it isn’t technically dancing but rather the flailing of arms and legs with little relation to the music being played, but the ecstasy of this bodily freedom is evident on the participants’ faces. So much so that we could expect to see more heart attacks on the dance floor as all these people who never move around take their bodies to the limits.
With this physical unravelling comes an inevitable undressing, and as the night goes on, high-heeled shoes are slipped off, ties get loosened, and shirts come untucked. The hours spent getting ready to look just right before the wedding are undone in minutes. Dancing, however good or bad, is an abstract, corporeal manifestation of how we feel, and thus it’s as close to being an artist as many people get. The rules are different when dancing. People who would never normally touch each other might bump and grind their way across a banquet hall.
We get to be somebody else (or perhaps closer to the person we want to be), and dancing lets us escape the everyday. It’s why people keep going to nightclubs (well, one of the reasons). There’s a case for why all those disco and house music anthems are about freedom and liberation: a nightclub is a place where people can forget their boring jobs or bad days, and instead wrap themselves in sequins and feel a little bit of glamour, at least for a few hours. VIP areas aside, everybody is equal out on the dance floor. Dancing just makes it easier to let our bodies do what they really want to do.