Shall We Dance? Since the first toe tapped, the width of a ballroom has seperated men and women on the issue. Our columnists choose sides.

No: It terrifies men, and for good reason

August 20, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd

Let's get right to the central issue here, Susan, with which only a fool would argue: Most men can't dance.

Actually, that's not quite strong enough, is it?

Maybe this is better: The average guy on the dance floor resembles nothing so much as someone trying to fend off wasps while stamping out a cigarette.

Not a pretty picture, right? You want to cringe and turn away when you see something like that. Or else you want to bust a gut laughing. This, then, is the root of the phobia so many men have about dancing. They know they look goofy out there. But at the risk of sounding sexist, a lot of women don't seem to get this.

I can't tell you how many times I've been at a wedding when the band starts playing "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" and some babe with 27 layers of industrial-grade Cover Girl foundation troweled on her puss and a couple of wine coolers under her belt chirps: "Who wants to dance?!"

As my wife rolls her eyes -- she knows what this poor woman's in for if she locks in on me -- I stammer: "Oh, heh, not me. I'm really not much of a d . . . ."

"Oh, come on!" the woman shouts, swaying now, getting into the beat.

4 "No, really," I say. "I think I'll just . . . ."

But by this time she's already flying out of her chair like Wile E. Coyote launched from an ACME catapult.

Taking my clammy hand in hers, she drags me up to the dance floor and starts furiously getting down.

With no way out short of feigning a heart attack, I lurch into a pathetic, graceless gyration that involves merely shifting my weight from one foot to the other and -- if I really get into it -- bobbing my head up and down.

Oh, it's so lame.

Finally, after what seems like a week and a half, the song ends and the two of us return to the table.

The woman plops back into her seat, fans herself with her hand, looks at me thoughtfully and says: "You know, you're right. You really can't dance."

Is that beautiful or what?

Yo, sister, what'cha think I've been trying to tell you?!

Why do you figure all these women at weddings are always pestering me to dance?

Obviously, it ain't because I'm Robert Redford, OK?

It ain't because I'm driving anyone wild with desire, unless your taste in men runs to beefy guys with bad hair and an eerie resemblance to the late Jim Backus.

No, it's because they can't get their own husbands or boyfriends to dance with them.

So now they're willing to settle for any schlub who isn't wearing a prison jumpsuit.

When men do dance with their wives, by the way, there's often a strong alcohol factor involved.

Many men will start cutting a rug only with a couple of pops in them.

This, of course, does not make them dance any better.

In fact, the opposite is usually true.

Now, instead of simply looking like someone fending off wasps while stamping out a smoke, the guy looks like he's doing all this under water.

Sometimes, the booze will even cause guys to get giddy and try out a couple of, ahem, moves.

This is truly heartbreaking to watch: a man with four Budweisers sloshing around in his gut who suddenly thinks he's Michael Jackson.

At this point, of course, the guy doesn't really care how dopey he looks -- he is too far anesthetized for any meaningful self-examination.

On the other hand, if you showed him a videotape of his performance the next day, he would quietly leave the house and throw himself in front of an 18-wheeler.

Believe me, I know.

Somewhere in my house is a grainy film of me, glowing from a few Heinekens, uglying up the dance floor at a wedding 15 years ago. To me, it's more embarrassing than if I'd been caught in bed with a couple of the Green Bay Packers.

As far as my own dance phobia is concerned, I trace it all the way back to first grade.

One day, our teacher, Mrs. Lippman, appeared in class carrying a portable record player the size of a Buick.

"Children, we're going to have fun today!' she warbled. "Let's see all of you dance!"

With that, the first scratchy strains of Disney's "It's a Small World After All" filled the room and all the kids leaped out of their chairs and began shimmying grotesquely up and down.

Me, I was mortified.

Six years old and all I could think was: If this is what passes for a good time, my life is over.

Like many men, Susan, I still basically feel the same way.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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