The Curse Of Being A Wallflower


We are all taught basic social skills when we’re very young: don’t talk with your mouthful, always say please and thank you, etc. But what about those important social skills that can’t really be taught?

There are certain social abilities that, whether we like it or not, we’re often expected to have. One of those skills, unfortunately for wallflowers like myself, is dancing.

I am a terribly shy person in “real life,” to the point where, if I’m wearing black, it’s hard to differentiate where my body ends and the wall begins. This is not because I don’t want to be socializing; it’s because I am dreadful at it and have a terrible time with crowds and strangers. The conversation in my brain doesn’t match up with the words that come flying out of my mouth; in my mind, I’m zinging left and right, but what comes out is “Oh, yes. I like that television show as well.”

However, when I’m with a group of friends, I’m good, I’m all right, I’m myself and ready to go. Until somebody says the dreaded words: “Let’s go dancing!” To which my brain responds: Oh god oh no oh shit oh for fuck’s sake oh what excuse can I make this time? How easy would it be to break my ankle right here?

For a non-dancer, the social anxiety attached to dancing is hard to even put into words. Let me just preface this by stating that not only am I too shy too dance, I am terrible at dancing. I make Elaine Benes look like Mikhail Baryshnikov. But dancing is an unavoidable part of socializing: it begins with middle school dances, rooms filled with peers who suddenly have abilities you didn’t know about, dancing around like professionals to such gems as the Tootsie Roll and Skee-lo’s “I Wish” while you, the Wallflower, stare at Brian Murphy’s ears and think, “If only I could do the damn butterfly! Then he’d love my coke bottle glasses and brace face!”

In high school, of course, the proms come around. Luckily, I had mono during the prom, and actually had a physical reason why I couldn’t dance. “My spleen will explode,” I told everyone. “It will just shoot out and get all over your dresses and rented tuxedos.” In college, I was able to avoid dancing by acting like it was beneath me: the clubs were gross and dancing was a waste of time. But that didn’t last very long: at every party I went to, people were dancing and having fun, and once again I found myself on the wall, scared to death.

The recent onslaught of weddings I’ve been invited to has only increased my wallflower anxiety. At one recent function, I looked around and noticed that myself, a guy who was too drunk to stand, and a couple in their 80’s were the only people not on the dance floor. A friend of mine came over to yell at me. “You should be dancing,” she said, in her best Bee Gee voice.

“I look stupid dancing,” I told her.

“Everyone looks stupid dancing,” she said. “That’s what alcohol is for.”

A long pep talk and a few drinks later, she had dragged me onto the dance floor. Everyone around me turned into Brian Murphy from 7th grade. “Oh god,” I thought, “I still can’t do the butterfly.” But then something somewhat awesome happened: I caught glimpses of some of the people I’d grown up with, dancing terribly, with huge smiles on their faces. I was in the company of former wallflowers, former dorks and nerds and geeks who had somehow learned to say “Fuck it, I’m dancing anyway, I don’t care what the Brian Murphy’s of the world think.” And so we danced around for a while, and I did my spot-on Elaine Benes impression, to much acclaim.

I am still not a fan of dancing, and 99% of the time I freeze up at the suggestion. It takes a lot to get me on the dance floor (and a few Shirley Temple Blacks) but like most things in life, once I realized that you don’t have to be perfect at something to be successful at it, I was finally able to get past my fears and just dance like an idiot with the rest of the world. Because as stupid as I feel when I’m dancing, it doesn’t feel nearly as dumb as I feel when my back is attached to the wall, staring at the crowds with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.

I still can’t do the butterfly, by the way. But I can Safety Dance with the best of them. So get out there, Wallflowers. You can dance if you want to. You can leave that wall behind. Cause the wall don’t dance, and if it don’t dance, well, you know how it goes.

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