How to Dance Casually Without Looking Like an Awkward Goofball
Life is too short to be a wallflower. Here's how to get out on the dance floor without looking (too) awkward
Credit: Seinfeld/YouTub (fair use)
Do you shrink into the background when dance music starts blaring and rumps start shaking? Do you look at dancers enviously, wishing you knew how to move your body without looking like Elaine from Seinfeld? You're not alone, but there is a cure. To help you get your groove on and learn to casually dance, I chopped it up with dancer Marlyn Ortiz, the owner of North Hollywood's M.O.Dance and Fitness studio, to get a professional's advice on how to dance like no one is watching (even if everyone is watching).
"Anybody can learn how to dance. Anybody can learn a step or two and look great doing it," Ortiz said. "But first you have to want to dance and express yourself in that way." Ortiz has toured the world dancing with Madonna, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and many others, so she can probably teach you enough to not look like a tool at your brother's wedding reception.
(If you're a visual learner, scroll to the end of this article for a video of Ortiz demonstrating some basic, casual dance moves.)
How to get into the rhythm
The key to dancing is obviously rhythm, so being able to find the beat is essential. "The easiest way to guide yourself to dance when you're not a dancer is to put on some music you like and just listen to the beat," Ortiz says. "Let's say you're at a party and there's an amazing band playing. You're gonna hear the instruments; you're going to hear the bass and drums and feel that vibration, that's what you want to use."
If you're exceptionally rhythmically challenged and feeling it out doesn't work for you, you could try counting along to a song. Just count to four, over and over: that's the song's beat. If you're still snapping your fingers at the wrong time, a video tutorial might be able to help you lock into the groove. Check this one out:
Now that you can find the beat and bob your head to it reliably, congratulations, kid: you're dancing! Kind of. The next (terrifying) step is to actually move your feet.
Meet the "step-touch," the only dance move you will ever need
According to Ortiz, a great place to start dancing is with a step-touch, a move so easy that anyone can pick it up in 30 seconds, but so powerful, it's all you will ever need to not look like a square on the dance floor (as long as you can do it in time to beat of the song.)
The step-touch works just like its name. "You step on one foot, and touch [the opposite foot] with the other. It's standard and straightforward and it doesn't take much: you step on one foot, then touch with the other. You're creating the beat with your feet," Ortiz said.
Step-touching can have a minimalist cool if it's literally the only thing you do when dancing, but you could look even cooler (or at least have more fun) if you move beyond the most basic head-bob and step-touch, and use other parts of your body to dance.
How to throw your hands in the air...
Hands can feel awkward when you're dancing. They're just hanging there at the end of your arms. So what are you supposed to do with your hands when you dance? Move 'em around. There are obviously no rules for your hands and arms when it comes to dancing—you can move however you want—but there are a common motions that feel better than keeping your hands in your pockets while you bob your head and step-touch.
"You could clap your hands," Ortiz suggest, "But most people don't clap on the beat, so maybe don't clap. But if you want to go all Jersey Shore, go ahead and give it a fist pump--punch it up in the air. Or make like you're hitting a punching bag, boom, boom, boom. Pump the ceiling up, you know, with your palms open. Just have fun."
Once you have a few hand moves, and you're doing them in time, put everything together. "Start connecting the dots," Ortiz says. "You could fist pump. You can step touch with a fist pump, then you can just bob your head. Feel the vibe. Let yourself go. You don't have to think about it, you have to just let your body go."
...and shake 'em like you just don't care
Credit: Josh Brandao
For many, the hardest part about dancing in public is the "just don't care" part of waving your hands in the air. Even if you know a step or two, you might be too self-conscious to groove in front of other people. Luckily, you don't have to dance—it's a free country—but maybe you should dance. Maybe doing things that make us uncomfortable is how we grow.
If your personal dance challenge is "I'd like to dance, but I'm afraid I'll look like a dork," there's no remedy but doing it. "Close your eyes, listen to the music, and just fucking do what feels good for you," Ortiz said. "Life is too short to worry about, 'Oh my god, I look crazy.' People might look at you, or may not look at you, but who gives a fuck? Get your body moving so you can get out of your nerves in your head...Then you can let loose that inner child. That's the freedom. That's reaching the moment where you can be free."
Watch someone dance like no one is watching
It's hard to describe even basic dance steps in words, so Marlyn Ortiz was nice enough to do a a few very simple, casual steps on video to give you an idea of how it looks when it all comes together:
Stephen Johnson is a Staff Writer for Lifehacker where he covers pop culture, including two weekly columns “The Out of Touch Adults’ Guide to Kid Culture” and “What People are Getting Wrong this Week.” He graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing.
Previously, Stephen was Managing Editor at NBC/Universal’s G4TV. While at G4, he won a Telly Award for writing and was nominated for a Webby award. Stephen has also written for Blumhouse, FearNET, Performing Songwriter magazine, NewEgg, AVN, GameFly, Art Connoisseur International magazine, Fender Musical Instruments, Hustler Magazine, and other outlets. His work has aired on Comedy Central and screened at the Sundance International Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival, and Chicago Horror Film Festival. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.