Personal Statement: Dancing Like Nobody's Watching

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 3:15pm

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Illustration by Shane Achenbach

 

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love to dance, whether at a party or even in the most mundane setting.

For the record, I’ve never taken a dance class in my life — nor have I ever been interested in being a professional dancer. And yet it’s a quality about myself that most people note immediately once I start moving and grooving. Anything with pounding bass and wobbly synths, a pop or hip hop number, I can dance to. I’m all for up-tempo songs, and my favorites include the typical Top 40 bangers: Outkast’s “Hey Ya!,” Usher’s “Yeah!” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” to name a few.

I’d like to think that my dancing skills stem from my maternal grandparents, who were known to always be the first and last ones on the dance floor at any occasion. But the truth is that my passion for dancing derives from trying to escape social awkwardness growing up as a shy, sensitive and mostly introverted kid. It was my cousin Alex’s bar mitzvah party in 2006 that changed the trajectory of all that, transforming me from a restless, socially inept kid with an inferiority complex into a more self-assured young adult. 

The night of the bar mitzvah party, I recall the evening starting off on a bad note. Entering the event, I immediately felt out of place. I was dressed in a black shirt too big for my torso, gray slacks that felt too long and leather shoes that seemed too fancy for the party. There were a variety of activities, including a pop-culture trivia tournament that I thought I’d try out. After waiting a while, it was my turn, my opportunity to stand out among the crowd. Up against four other partygoers, I did my best to answer the question as soon as it was asked. But alas, I missed my moment: My cousin Austin buzzed his button before me and gave the wrong answer. That was that, and my turn was over. My 15 seconds of spotlight faded and I wallowed back to my seat, feeling defeated and disappointed.

During the rest of the evening, I sulked outside the main ballroom, where all the customary bar mitzvah party traditions were taking place. I missed the Hava Nagilah, the corny candle-lighting ceremonies, the sentimental speeches. But I didn’t even care. Still upset about the trivia tournament, I was fuming with angry silence, staring down at the ground and sitting in a rigid, crisscross-applesauce position. It wasn’t until hours later that I finally decided to join the party, where I sat at a table by myself in the midst of it all. To this day, I have immense gratitude to one of the female, referee-jersey-wearing entertainers, who approached 9-year-old me, sitting by my lonesome, and asked if I'd like to dance.

Stubbornly, I declined her offer at first. But as the night dragged on and the music got funkier, I thought, “What the hell? I’m 9 years old. I’ve got nothing to lose.” (I didn’t actually think that, but I assume that’s how I felt in the moment). And thus, Sam Rosenberg the Dancer was born.

As my legs wobbled and my hips gyrated to the thumping beats blasting from the speakers, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my pre-teen veins. I got such a rush, simply from taking the risk of dancing along to whatever mid-2000s pop hit roared over the speakers. The entertainers would pass out glow sticks, goofy glasses and silly hats to every kid and I made sure to wear and flaunt each and every item I could get my hands on. My cynicism of the night changed quickly into optimism. I no longer felt insecure about whether people would care about what I did; I liked this new side of myself and wanted to continue to explore this aspect of my personality.

As I entered middle school, dancing gave me a space to express myself, even at my most self-conscious. I’d often be the only boy at a bar mitzvah party who was dancing to the rhythm of the music, instead of just jumping up and down in a circle like the rest of my male peers. Sometimes, I would get strange looks and when I did, I would immediately notice and stop dancing. But other times, people would encourage it and even ask me to give them some tips on dance moves. I recall a specific moment at my middle school social in sixth grade when I got the attention of an attractive seventh grader after I rapidly moved my arms in a wave-like formation. It was stupid and weird, but for some reason, people liked it and that’s all that mattered to me.

High school came and I continued to glide seamlessly into the party scene, shaking my shoulders, inventing spontaneous dance moves and letting the beat carry me at every homecoming, prom and function I attended. College has been an even better experience for me, with almost every party offering a comfortable capacity for me to dance.

Personally, dancing has always been a way for me to deal with social anxiety and to boost my self-confidence. But I also consider dancing to be a beautiful expression of human behavior. We don’t often think about how ubiquitous dancing can be and how fun it is to just let loose and groove with your friends and family and even strangers. And the best dancing is the one where you don’t care if you look stupid. Whatever the song, you can shimmy, shake, twerk, bounce, whip, nae nae and milly rock without being judged.  

Despite what most of my friends say, I don’t consider myself an exceptional dancer. I don’t know how to salsa, box step or moonwalk. I can’t do the Worm or the Running Man. I’m not trained to perform or do dance-offs like the dancers from “Step Up,” “You Got Served” and “Stomp the Yard.” When people spread out to make a circle at parties or music festivals, I’m always hesitant to step in, thinking that my brain would freeze in the moment and I’d do the same dance move over and over like a broken record.

Nevertheless, it’s always comforting to know how much confidence dancing has given me over the years. I may still feel somewhat overwhelmed whenever the spotlight is cast on me, but when the opportunity comes, I do my best to not miss it, and I just dance like nobody’s watching.