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According to Hollywood and society as a whole, white men can’t jump and they certainly can’t dance. I think both of those claims are stereotypes and wrong.

I also believe the “white man can’t dance” trope was the launching pad that created the “bumbling/helpless white guy” character who we often see aimlessly meandering around in commercials and TV shows.

White men’s so-called inability to dance is about more than just a terrible 2012 movie. It’s about how straight white American men have become the butt of the joke in an effort to minimize their place in society.

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The stereotype goes like this: Black men are “cool” and “smooth” because they have rhythm and the ladies swoon just watching their moves on the dance floor.

They’re in control and in charge. You can practically smell their testosterone.

On the other hand, white men are supposedly awkward and goofy-looking on the dance floor, they have no rhythm and women point and laugh at them.

You can practically smell their estrogen.

That’s the gist of it, and most people buy into the stereotype—especially white men.

It has become a running joke for decades now, and few people realize how this “joke” has given way to a non-stop stream of attacks against straight white guys.

There was an interesting conversation that took place on Twitter recently about the subject of white men and dancing. It started from this tweet, showing a “goofy-looking” Bill Gates dancing during the Windows 95 launch.

In this clip, Bill Gates embodies the “white men can’t dance” trope so well, you’d almost think he was doing it on purpose.

Here’s what one Twitter user said:

“Back then, dorky white guys could just be goofy dorks and didn’t need to dumb down and “jive up” their demeanor”

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And that comment is what sparked the debate.

“Full disagree. Dancing is important. Poor dancing rooted in self consciousness, fear, weakness. Good dancing in vitality, physicality, truth rising through limbs.  You do not need to “learn to dance” to dance well.”

And then things got even deeper:

“You can’t really even learn to dance. People have rhythm or they don’t.”

“People who “can’t dance” but who dance without fear are the best dancers, eg Ian Curtis.”

But because it’s generally a public performance with mainstream expectations, it’s can be stifling unless you’re trained and/or good at mimicry.

The entire point of dancing is to not be stifled. Many misunderstanding this.

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He may be onto something because there’ a study out of Helsinki that found dance can put men in touch with their masculinity.

Gee, is that why white guys are discouraged from dancing?

Dancing is ancient and beautiful.

Dance is traced all the way back to ancient civilizations of India, Greece, and China. Each dance was different and was centered around specific cultures. But they all had on thing in common—to tell a story.

And significant milestones in humanity were marked by dance. Achievements like language, writing, and the creation of tools were celebrated and described through dance.

Dance was so important that the structure of each society impacted how they were performed and interpreted.

There’s an interesting dissertation piece that was written on this topic. The intro to the piece is especially fascinating, and raises many questions about how this “white men can’t dance” trope has influenced culture.

(Straight) White men can’t dance: The dancing body as racial and gendered ideology in American popular culture from 1980 to 2018:

This dissertation aims to chart an evolution of the (straight) White man dance trope, in which White men are presented in television, film, and video as either non-dancers or bad dancers in American popular culture from 1980 to 2018. In particular, this dissertation analyzes movement from White men in order to discern how dance in American popular culture reflects gender and race ideologies. I locate the inception of this trope in comedian Eddie Murphy’s sketch in Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), commonly referred to as “The White Man Dance” sketch, in which Murphy argues White people “can’t dance.” I contextualize how this sketch emerges in part from the homophobic paranoia produced by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

In order to thoroughly discern the ways in which these movement texts further gender and race ideologies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, this dissertation considers how the joint theater histories of minstrelsy and vaudeville are instrumental in providing a model for ethnic mimicry in dancing, i.e. what it means to dance “White” or to dance “Black.”

Vaudeville and minstrelsy provide not only an historical framework for how these comic traditions could inform these choreographies, but also a cultural foundation for how these current images of the White dancing male construct Whiteness much in the same way vaudeville and minstrelsy images constructed ethnic stereotypes. Further, the intersecting theoretic disciplines of masculinities studies and gender studies provide a philosophical grounding for the ways in which White men are represented in these audiovisual texts.

Masculinities studies offers a deeper understanding of values placed upon masculinity in American mainstream culture, while gender studies offers an interrogation into how one performs reiterative gender norms. This dissertation questions how these choreographies reinforce or subvert traditional norms of gender and race, placing the White male in a liminal space between Whiteness and Blackness, masculinity and femininity. It offers an intersection of these ideas and attempts to illustrate how dance can be seen as the moving image reinforcing outdated or complicated modes of gender and racial identity within American popular culture.

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The author goes on to point out how he observed the “clownish ways” straight American males were portrayed when it came to dance:

In my observation, the more politically tense our American world has become, the more frequently viral videos of White men purposefully 3 (or so it seems) dancing like goofballs were shared, often tagged with some variation of the following caption: One thing that will make you feel better about today. What is it that makes us “feel better,” albeit temporarily, while watching the reigning figure of the American patriarchal system dance as though he cannot dance, move as though no one watches him? Perhaps more to the point, I also began to observe a lack of variation of movement and quality in these White men buffooning and exaggerating their movements across American screens. In other words, perhaps to self-consciously point to the heterogeneity of the White male archetype itself, these dances were becoming strangely uniform, presenting what I sensed as the same comic viewpoint again and again.

And it’s that same “buffoonish” character who now exemplifies nearly every white guy in a TV commercial. The hapless, bumbling doofus who needs a woman to help him pick out deodorant.

White men have basically been shamed into not dancing, or if they do, they feel self conscious, like everyone’s watching them, and snickering.

Wouldn’t you feel insecure if you were literally the butt of a decades-long joke?

Well, the time has finally come for straight white men to cast aside this emasculating trope and embrace dancing.

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You don’t have to adopt anyone else’s style or flair, just be vulnerable and express yourself with confidence and purpose, and see where it takes you and what you learn.

Happy dancing, fellas!