Dancing In Bars: Female Politics And Girls Watching Girls


You are in a bar, and it’s one of those classier ones with a live band (all men) playing Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones or sometimes Michael Jackson to spice things up, to liven the mood, so people can put on their dancing shoes and the band can feel good about how they make people feel. You walk in and are surprised to see that the only people dancing are a few youngish men (probably in their late twenties, early thirties), and you assume that they know the band members, and also, that they are… really, really drunk. One of them fist pumps his buddy in a This Is Awesome Man kind of way, and grabs the back of his best buddy from high school’s Polo with a fierce grip that seems perfectly homoerotic, but that may be only because you’re looking for it.

You start to dance, because you are one of those women that really likes to put one foot in front the other and wave her hands around, shake her hips, and also, it burns calories, and it feels good, and it makes you feel semi-sexy but more important, peaceful and relaxed. You used to have a fear of dancing in middle school, but you got over that one quick, even though your high school friends still sometimes make fun of your dance moves. You had been tentative at first, but they had seen you through dance after dance, until senior year when getting down to Lil John’s ‘Get Low’ didn’t phase you anymore. In fact, it made you feel good to da-dum-dum-dum-da-da-da-da-dum-dum-dum. You’d really like them to shut the fuck up about your evolved and quirky dance moves because deep down, you feel like you’re not half-bad. In college, you’d improved quite a lot, so can we stop talking about it now?

You may know that there are two types of women in the world: the dancers and the not-dancers, and you are grateful to be in the subset of women that is obviously the better one. Thank god for this, you think to yourself; what a drag it’d be to be one of those women. Those women are sitting on a bench close to the band, hefty mixed drinks in their hands and hazy, almost drunk looks on their faces. One of them gets up and takes a picture, and they all crowd around the camera after it flashes, no matter that it will obviously make an appearance on Facebook by the end of the weekend.

One of the women on the bench is itching to dance; she’s in your subset, you can tell by her feet tapping, but you don’t know how to approach her. In fact, it’s entirely not allowed. This is one of those bars where you don’t go up to anyone and dance with them or talk to them, one of those bars where you act like everyone around you is a stranger except for the few friends you are with (around last call, things will get more hazy, and everyone will start grabbing each other, and numbers will be exchanged like candy, but no one’s there yet. There are still a few hours left). You feel bad for her that she ended up here, with these other women that are doing everything they can to a) avoid the dancing all together, or b) get so drunk that they can laugh about their crazy dance moves tomorrow by saying “dudeeee, do you remember how much we dannnceeddd last night?” As if it were the most absurd thing. As if dancing were synonymous with tequila shots or dance-floor-make-outs.

Your secret comrade looks like she might burst. You want to approach her, lead her to your dancing, invite her towards her own, in the soft way women feel like they need to protect each other, to share in each others’ anxieties, to revel in each other’s joys. The band begins to play an upbeat number; more people have joined the dance floor, and the band members are feeling upbeat themselves. There are two other fellow female dancers now that have joined you and the rank of fratty/hipster boys that are still fist-pumping. The women are probably in their forties, dyed blonde hair and at one point in their lives, they were probably the most attractive women in the bar. They are definitely drunk, but clearly experienced dancers, and you wonder if, when you get old, you’ll have to get drunker and drunker to feel comfortable tearing up the dance floor. You wonder if you’ll think about how much you stick out as an old person on a young person’s dance floor, or if, by then, you won’t give a shit anymore about where you stick out and when.

The girl who wants to dance is still on the bench, but stands up quickly after her friend, probably another member of your subset (you didn’t see it until now) stands up too, and begins to move her shoulders, warming up for the trek onto the dance floor. The four women grab each other’s hands to walk into the crowd of dancers. The other two, the ones who’d rather not dance, look at each other guiltily. You wonder if they are telling each other I’d rather not dance let’s sit here, but you think that no, they probably won’t admit that to each other. Instead, they’ll dance for a little bit, but also take some pictures, or text their best friend from high school about how drunk they are. Where would non-dancing women be without cell phones? Lost and alone; lost and alone.

Women love the snake tactic; it makes us feel safe. So you watch the four women hold onto each others hands and snake their way through the dance floor. You have been part of the snake many times, and you think back to college and being behind one of your best friends snaking through the bar. Them looking back to make sure you’re still there; even though it’s your hand that they’re holding, so the result is always as expected.

You are still dancing, and you are also watching those women that you’d been judging so much for being those women. One of them starts flailing her arms and then looks back at her friend as if to say “look at meeee, I’m dancing!” You think that she’s like a child on the merry-go-round. The other one laughs, shuffles and gets her phone out to take a picture. Classic non-dancer. How good you are for calling it, you think.

Then, something happens. Maybe, it’s the song (“she’s a brickkkk houuuseeeee”), but the four women all experience something (is it God? The solidarity of female friendship? The Commodores?) that causes them all to let go a little bit. Even the hesitant one who, yes, maybe she’s not the best dancer, puts her phone away and succumbs to the beat-beat of the music, the euphoria of live music, the joy of dancing. Hands are up and bodies are moving, swaying, bouncing, and the men are greedily watching, mostly out of jealousy at the way women are free to move, and somewhat with sex on their minds.

You start dancing with the group of women (it’s nearing last call). One of them (the one you’d categorized as lame) puts her arm around you, and it’s totally fine, and you laugh and put your arm back around her waist. She’s been watching your dancing too, and is glad to be up here finally. You all are. Dancing makes us feel close to each other, and in some ways, distinctly female, soft and free, calm and big. 

You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter here.

image – Natalie Nikitovic