Don’t believe the stereotype, because the truth is, not all black people can dance.
The shiny disco ball cast rainbow-colored lights all across the dance floor. Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long bellowed out of the oversized ghetto blaster. Like army ants, young sweaty, pheromone oozing teenagers invaded the dance floor, pulsating rhythmically to the infectious tune. Their jittery dance movements synced impeccably with the beat.
I stood alone in the darkness hesitant to join them. And for good reason, I was a black teenage girl, and I didn’t know how to dance. I was born with two left feet and without an ounce of rhythm. If I was white, that probably might not have been a problem, but as a black girl, it definitely was. I had a plan though, come what may, I was going to learn how to dance.
On the rare occasions that I was home alone — and that was indeed rare given that I lived in a 6-person household, I would switch on Michael Jackson’s Beat It video and studiously imitate the dance moves. Memorizing the choreography, I repeated it over and over. I didn’t have a full-body length mirror to check if I was doing the moves right, but somehow I felt it was good enough to take on the dance floor at the next school dance. I realized however that I needed to stick to those exact same dance moves to maintain the illusion that I had rhythm. That was my life as an imposter dancer.
There was a Sierra Leonean party in Geneva the weekend before. I decided it would be my practice session.
As the familiar African song Sweet Mother began to play, I rose to my feet eager with excitement.
My bubbly little sisters gathered into a train-like formation and excitedly ran towards the busy dance floor.
They immediately settled into the beat swaying their hips with professional dancer precision and ease. My mother and aunt joined them, their arms raised up in the air, swaying their hips too, laughing in reckless abandon.
It was time for me to try my new moves. I hit the dance floor hesitantly, moving my hips from left to right, but I felt stiff.
I tried to dance but immediately felt out of sync. It was as though I lived in a world of dissonant rhythm different from all others on the dance floor. I must have looked like a disjointed puppet, bouncing up and down haphazardly like bugs bunny to a different kind of beat.
I could tell that everyone was looking at me, laughing discreetly, wondering why I simply couldn’t get it right. Some were even dancing closer to me — wildly hoping they could infect me with some type of rhythm, any type of rhythm, but I remained robotic, almost like one of those wind-up soldier toys.
The more I thought about it, the more rhythm escaped me. I gave up and went back to my seat, frustrated and humiliated. It was clear, I just couldn’t dance.
A lot of years have passed since then, and I still don’t know how to dance. I can’t count the number of times I have arrived at a party and people have said,
“You have the build of a dancer, I can’t wait to see you dance. You must move extremely well”.
I laugh to myself and secretly think, “If only they knew”.
Even more embarrassing is when people approach me on the dance floor and want to have a dance duo, and then quickly realizes I have no rhythm at all. The look of surprise on their faces is always painful for me to watch — especially if it’s a particularly long song that lies ahead. As the minutes go by, they probably curse me in their heads, for putting them through such torture.
I’ve tried everything to get that rhythm that my DNA omitted to endow me with at birth, but my body stubbornly refuses to learn it. I’ve tried dance classes, yoga, Pilates, and even alcohol to get on the beat. Nothing works.
In fact, anything that involves coordination is a total disaster — and I have come to accept that apart from the elementary two-step, the skillful moonwalk or more complex dance moves will always elude me.
And, this is why I laugh so heartily when I hear the common stereotype that all black people can dance. After you’ve read my story, I’m sure you’re asking yourself: “Can they really?” The reality is that many of us can’t. And this is a lesson in and of itself.
As is often the case, stereotypes are sweeping generalizations based on the anecdotal rather than on the factual. Don’t ever assume stereotypes represent the truth, they don’t. Not all black people run fast, and not all black people can sing either. There are so many stereotypes about black people and other groups that are simply wrong.
As for me, one fact remains abundantly clear: No matter how much I try, this black woman just can’t dance.
Thanks for reading my perspective. I hope it made you laugh a little.