Why Can’t White Men Dance?

Two Friends Search for the Answer…

Penelope: “White folk simply can’t dance. It’s just not in their blood, nor in their culture. Two words: Vanilla Ice. Stiff pale bodies, two left feet, no awareness that knees bend nor that hips sway or move. Every part of the while male body appears to act independently when attempting to dance, jerking rigidly to and fro, without natural flow. Which is the perfect form for Country-line dancing, the white man’s triumphant contribution if that, to the art of dance. But when it comes to Salsa dancing, there’s no hope. Sure, I’m not saying that all whites are incapable of learning footwork, but the vast majority lack the rhythm and soul it takes to become a good Salsa dancer.”

3447a“Latinos on the other hand learn how to dance as kids so by the time we are adults, dancing is just a natural part of life. I distinctively remember one day at a birthday party dancing the Samba in a circle with my girlfriends. An adult male approached me and with a chuckle told me I didn’t know how to Samba. He went on saying that I was doing the dance with my right foot only, and that I needed to do it with the left also. This is true, but that’s how you learn; first with your right, then your left, I wasn’t there yet. I was 6 years old! So I practiced until I got this very difficult step down. I digress but my point is that in Latin countries everyone has the opportunity to learn how to dance from a very young age, and since it’s just part of everyday culture nurturing this wonderful part of life, it becomes second nature to most Latinos, and we grow up to need it.”

“We pride ourselves in being good dancers, but that doesn’t just mean knowing fancy footwork, upper body rhythm, and tempo, it also means adding our own individuality and flavor to your personal style of dance.”

“Son Cubano in New York City used to be our group’s dancing playground. Always worth the wait in line, we danced until our bodies had a healthy glow from sweat, and the doors were closing. On one of my friend Matt’s many visits down to South Beach we were getting ready to head out to Macondo, having a couple of cocktails and listening to salsa at my place when my neighbor came out of his house. Neighbor: white male in his 30s, artist, docile, and modest.”


3403aScott: “Growing up as a white male in a mostly white environment, I was all too familiar with the development of dancing among ‘my kind.’ It starts in middle school with the first school dance. Girls on one side of the room, guys on the other, and you could only safely dance when it was a slow song. That way, there was no chance of looking like a complete idiot…mostly. And from that point forward in life, you could go in one of two directions: you could either develop white man rhythm and hopefully in your late teens master the line dance, or you could develop your natural rhythm and dance well.”

“When my Brazilian neighbor Penelope looked me straight in the eye and without hesitation told me that ‘white men can’t dance,’ I laughed! I laughed a hearty white man laugh, for I had chosen the road less traveled and learned to dance. This crazy Brazilian before me had not bore witness to the rhythmical stylings of her white man friend. While I typically only bust out my moves for small groups of Japanese tourists, I decided that, to borrow from George Bush, this aggression would not stand. With her stern view and unwillingness to accept a reality I knew to be different, Penelope would force me to come to the rescue of white men the world over and so a plan was hatched: she and I would go dancing and I would prove her wrong. Or possibly right. We made our plans to go out for a night of dancing, starting with Salsa lessons at Yuca followed by dancing elsewhere.”


Penelope: “Sitting at work, staring at the computer screen, which I had already been doing for nearly 12 hours, I looked at the clock and jumped out of my seat. 7:15pm, class starts at eight. I logged off and headed home. Quick shower, dress, shoes, purse, knock on Scott’s door. ‘Are you ready?’ He walks out and asks me if what he was wearing looked good, I concurred, especially since we already had this conversation at which point I informed him that he needed new shoes, brown ones.”

salsa2Scott: “The first thing to tackle with this whole ?White Men Can’t Dance? business was not looking overly white. I just can’t go out looking like Ryan Seacrest; I needed to look happening. So what does a white guy do in this case? What else? Put on his khakis and a white button down. Um, yeah.”

“It really was a very stylish shirt with exotic patterns, though, and the khakis were loose fitting linens and snappy! So I wasn’t THAT white. Seriously. (As I make this claim out loud to Penelope and type the words, she addresses me from her patio. ‘No, you were seriously white, dork. But you looked better last night,’ she confirms.”

“ANYWAY, we arrive at Yuca for our dance lessons provided by Salsa Mia. We’re in front of the line and I survey the situation: lots of couples of all ages, a relatively balanced mix of whites and Latinas. Alright, I’m on a level playing field. And these people are all here for lessons.”

“There are five levels that Salsa Mia provides, with level one being the beginner level going up to the advanced class, level five. We would start at level one. Our instructor for the evening would guide Penelope and I (and eighteen or so other people) through the introductory steps of Salsa. First, we would learn the basic steps without music. Then, the music would start. We’d then run through these simple steps to music. I danced with great aplomb. Penelope had natural rhythm. My hips were a little rigid initially, but then the music came into me. White man got his groove on.”

“After learning some of the basic steps, the instructor then had us pair up, with all of the couples forming a circle. Men’s left shoulders pointed to the middle of the circle, women’s right shoulders pointed inward. And then the music began again. And from here, we danced the dance of the Salsa. We would switch partners (the women stationary, the men moving counter-clockwise to the next partner) roughly every four beats. Para mia. Para baho. These are words that would be shouted over and over again, effectively getting the student body to move in unison, however un-trainable we were.”

“I will readily concede that there are many a white man who can’t dance. The second time we went, we brought a mutual friend and I wished we hadn’t. Penelope would see in him all of his whiteness on the dance floor. But it wasn’t just him, really. It was most of the white guys there. I was the great white hope and seeing my fellows white dancers step left when they should step right? watching them move like robots (and not in some good 80s break-dancing way) when their bodies should move fluidly? it only inspired me more to prove Penelope wrong. I was a team of one that night, my fellow whities leaving me out to dry.”

salsa1Penelope: “I was feeling mighty confident that I would pass Level 1 after a couple of classes, and given my Latin friends had already taught me a thing or two on Salsa dancing, this was going to be a piece of cake. We began learning the steps, some of which I already knew but I did realize I hadn’t been doing it correctly I had been simply faking it at the clubs. ?I want to get really good? I thought to myself so I listened intently at the teacher’s instructions of the fancy footwork. The classes are structured so that, even if you go by yourself, you’ll get to dance with a partner due to the rotations around the circle of mostly newbie’s. There are people of every age, some taking this way too seriously (have they figured out that Miami is mostly Latino and they need to get with the program?) , others who were there just for fun like Scott and I, and lastly older men and women who surely appear to be there to meet other singles in the community. And why not? What better place to meet someone than in a hot and sweaty room filled with pheromones stemming from the sexy rhythms, blood pumping lust, and teasing touching Latin music brings to your soul?”

“I digress. Surprisingly Scott isn’t THAT white when it comes to his ability to actually learn the footsteps and have some coordination on the dance floor. For a white guy I was mildly impressed, but I still had to make fun of him for he didn’t quite have the ?IT? effect he needs to become a sexy Latin dancer and swoon girls onto dance floors.”
Scott: “What did she say? She’s crazy. I’m a sexy Latin dancer! For two hours we danced. We moved to the music, we drank beer to keep cool and loosen us up, and we swayed. Then we took our dancing to another club, Score, where Penelope had friends that would get us in the door free. I regret to inform the white male populace, though, that I somewhat let our people down. While I managed to shred Penelope’s notion that white men can’t dance, I made zero headway in the ?white men can’t hold their liquor? category. After drinks at Yuca and then more drinks at Score, this dapper Fred Astaire turned into a red-nosed W.C. Fields, sloshed, and incapable of walking straight, let alone dancing. When I laid down in the middle of Euclid Avenue en route to whatever our next destination was, I realized it was time to call it a night.”


Penelope and Scott dancing at Yuca
Penelope and Scott dancing at Yuca

Penelope: “We decided one time wasn’t enough and since weeks had passed since our last lesson, we decided to try it one more time. We arrived for round two, and this time we had a hot little Latina teacher boasting a pair of incredibly high, sexy and shiny silver heels, in tight jeans, and this chick could move, unlike the boring guy teacher from last time. Surely she wanted to just ?get moving? but soon she realized how green we all were. But that didn’t stop her from teaching us some turns and spins though, and she ran quickly through the basic steps, moving onto the turns like we all had been there several times.”

“Dang, I even had a hard time with the side-to-side turn! I was beginning to grow frustrated thinking ‘how can I not get this??’ but after a few tries, I had it down. We brought a white male friend with us this time and he was sweating like a pig. His shirt soaked, he appeared lost, but I give him props for not giving up. Now HE is truly white. Poor guy (laughing).”

Scott: “While we still went in as level one dancers, the game was all complicated this time. There was spinning and turning and then MORE spinning and more turning. Still, I held my own and danced like a?. like a?. well, like a white man. But like a white man with rhythm and soul. And again, I was at the top of the class, dispelling Penelope’s foolish notion.”


Penelope: “No, no my dear friend. Ok, I”ll give Scott his props for not embarrassing me completely during the lessons, but I will also add that it didn’t help proving my point when everyone at the class was totally horrible the second go-round. Had this been a real Salsa club, my poor friend would be left in the dust like a typical white guy for just knowing the steps doesn’t make you a good salsa dancer, it makes you decent but still vulnerable to budding jokes.

Latinos are no joke. This is serious business and much like when a peacock raises his feathers to attract females for mating, Latin guys show their appeal by knowing how to swoon a girl on the dance floor, making her feel weightless and beautiful. This can’t be accomplished by white men as they simply don’t have what it takes physically to be able to move fluidly, nor do they possess the charm and sex appeal a Latin guy confidently boasts to make a girl fall into their arms and let them lead the way, lead our bodies, and influence the heart.”

SUCCESS! (mostly)

Scott: “We ended our night of dancing at Yuca. And we ended with me proving Penelope wrong. She, of course, might say otherwise. But she would be lying. White men CAN dance. Just maybe not all of us.”