Dad dancing gets a bad rap. There are websites devoted to this much-maligned discipline, showing what at best could be described as a disparate selection of plonkers swinging limbs, mostly in an uncoordinated fashion, as if dancing to music only they can hear.
Unlike certain jazz forms, it’s a genre we all recognise immediately at weddings, bar mitzvahs and sometimes funerals. Gangly teenage boys shuffle their feet uncertainly, elbows attached to their hips, cautious and mortified; young women are less restricted, occasionally closing their eyes and raising their wrists above their heads; they’re lost in music, caught in a trap, but still aware of their surroundings.
The peculiar flamboyance of the dad dancer implies they just don’t care – they’re going for it regardless, a lunge here, a swivel there, stirring the pot of love, pulling invisible guns from their holsters and sliding them back in again.
There’s no move too gaudy for the fatherly body. But does it turn anyone on? Probably not.
Research at the end of last year by Dr Peter Lovatt, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, found that dad dancing was genetically triggered, an unconscious way for men with children to repel the glances of young women, leaving the reproductive field clear for men at their sexual peak.
Nine months on, I’m still struggling to come to terms with these findings. Like most people questioned in the Dance Confidence, Age And Gender report, I rate my dance ability as “better than average”.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been cajoled into dancing at an event, having refused at first, only to find myself, five minutes later, the focal point of clapping people who’ve cleared a space for me to do my Cossack dancing party piece. But this was before I became a dad. Now all I can think about is my doomed biorhythm.
I haven’t danced publicly since hearing about Lovatt’s findings, but have been experimenting at home in private. “Don’t worry,” I tell myself in the moments between closing the blinds and firing up the music. “You’ve still got it.” And sure enough I do. It starts in the shoulders, a wriggle here, a deep, circular arch there; and then it moves to the knees: a wee sway, a dip, a shin kicked in the air; then comes a loosening of the hips; the pecs and triceps take a few seconds to warm up, but before I know it they’re communicating with each other, a rippling whole.
By the time the chorus comes I’m the disco king, reaching for the lights, doing the splits and giving it tiger motions with my hands. But could I pull this off in public? The evidence suggests otherwise. Something as innocuous as my mind’s eye spotting a man in his sexual prime could throw my manoeuvres dangerously off balance. And worst of all, I might not realise. Does nature have anything invested in my knowing the truth?
For me, people would still be clapping as they always were, shouting “You’re some mover, Dalgarno”, but the emphasis would have subtly changed. My genes might instigate an eardrum override, pumping music into my head from my own private nightclub. I’d marvel at the fact no-one else was grooving at the right tempo and this would spur me on to demonstrate with even greater abandon.
I could become a textbook case of dad dancing, embarrassing everyone except for me.
First published on Herald Scotland.