Hamish McBain on why strutting your stuff on the dancefloor is an important part of the next few years of life
When we first discussed the idea of me writing about dancing and why dancing is a great and truly important thing for men over the age of 30 to do, it was suggested I be photographed and videoed and all kinds of things to illustrate it. But I said, “No way”, firmly, and the reason for this is simple.
It’s because when I dance, I like how I look in my head – a slick amalgamation of Little Richard in the Fifties, Mick Jagger in the Sixties, John Travolta in the Seventies, Michael Jackson in the Eighties and absolutely no one from the Nineties onwards – and I don’t need that image ruined forever by the reality, which is… actually, I don’t even want to think about what the reality looks like. I’m shutting it out. If I ever saw a video of the reality, I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t leave the house again, ever, much less cut a rug in front of lots of people.
And that would be a tragedy. Without wishing to get too heavy about it, dancing is the last true form of escapism I – and probably you – have left. Dancing, really dancing, to a song by a band you loved when you were young with all your friends is as good as life gets (and a much more cathartic experience than paying through the nose to see said band trot out said song for cash).
I could wheel out the predictable ‘science’ bit at this point, about endorphins being released and all that jazz that you already know. But let’s be honest: a lot of the appeal is down to the fact that dancing in your thirties, apart from in the privacy of your own home (which doesn’t really count), is a rarity. A thing of the past.
For a multitude of reasons that range from an impending mortgage to the fact that I feel like I’m going to die for about three weeks afterwards, I can’t stay out until 7am grooving my arse off any more. At least not regularly. In fact, when I do stay out late, it usually involves sitting still with people I used to do that stuff with, and conversation – rather than being just a short interlude in which we simply argue about which club we’re going to next – tends to be about our impending mortgages and how we are all about to feel like we’re going to die for about three weeks afterwards.
So the only time it happens is at weddings and at under-attended birthday parties (“Sorry, the babysitter fell through”) and, if you’re really lucky, at a Christmas do or two (all the places that snide bloggers deride as havens for embarrassing moves, basically). At weddings, in particular, you can literally feel people itching for the speeches to be over (sorry, best men, but it’s true), so that we can all get on with the important business of throwing shapes.
Now the people in the first 25 years of their life dance all the time (or should be doing), and so are not that bothered. The people in the final 25 years of their life are… well, if they can even manage it, they’re to be applauded. But those of us in-between? We have a thirst. A thirst to go for it, and to go for it properly. And also, thanks to the inordinate amount of gym time, the last gasps of the physicality for it.
Really, your thirties are the glory years for dancing like nobody is watching. No, scratch that: for dancing like everyone is watching, and you’re amazing at dancing.
Consider the recent, omnipresent video for Pharrell’s Happy. A simple idea, it features lots of people of all shapes and sizes and ages jiving down the street to its infectious, impossibly sunny groove and looking like they’re having the time of their lives. The most joyous people in it are at 0:23, 1:24 and 2:36. If you feel like you’ve had enough of that tune now, and can’t be bothered to go and check then you will just have to trust me: the most ecstatic people in it, the people who look the most like they have taken the sentiment of this song to heart – “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof” – are the thirty-something guys.
Consider also the recent performance by Baltimore band Future Islands on the Late Show With David Letterman. Thus far, this is the only “talking point” music performance clip of 2014.
Watch it right now if you haven’t already.
If you have, you will know a large part of what makes it so awesomely watchable is the frontman: a man by the name of Samuel T Herring who, to put it politely, is some way from being in possession of the physical attributes classically associated with being a lead singer in an indie band. But he makes this his strength. He slides violently from left to right. He punches his chest. When the chorus kicks in, he punches the air. There is no nonchalance, there is no irony, there are no “but is it cool for my band to be playing on a mainstream talk show?” doubts. There’s only a broad, slightly balding man going for it like he knows he’s unlikely to get another chance to be remembered by an audience of 10 million people, and so gives it everything he’s got.
Of course, there was some sniggering. But in the main there was a consensus that this was a truly joyous, life-affirming performance.
David Letterman himself spoke for the majority of people watching when, beaming like he hasn’t done for decades, he simply exclaimed “Wow! Buddy! I’ll take all that you’ve got!”
And this is the point: the important thing is not to be able, but to be ready and willing, and especially willing. When it comes to dancing, willing beats able every night of the week. Have a look at some of the young and professional dancers in music videos, see how tired and bored and exhausted and sick of life and blankly expressionless most of them look. Then next time you are at party that involves dancing, have a look around at the moves on show. Madonna once sang that dancing all night should be a sweet sensation. Which of these two scenarios do you think best fulfils her brief?
You are in your dancing prime. Enjoy it while it you still can.