Now, before anyone gets mad: I am the child of two professional dancers who earned the vast majority of their income in their adult lives through performing, competing, and teaching. The truism that white people cannot dance is not a universal truth, but is instead an axiom in reference to the spiritual connection between body and mind which is often de-emphasized in countries with European roots. Essentially, this means there is a certain grain of truth in the stereotype that white people can’t dance.

dancingwomenAs Dr. Tuncer Cabadag (doctorate in sociology) once explained to me: there are cultures that dance towards the heavens and those who dance towards the Earth. Those who dance towards the heavens are primarily focused in the theoretical and the fantasy underlying experience, as opposed to a focus on the aesthetic experience itself. We can actually even somewhat put these cultures into the categories of individualists and collectivists.

Dancing towards the sky, even when planned completely (as in a waltz), supposes a strenuous connection between the individual and the theoretical: potentially putting more stress onto each individual in their performance. This stress, along with a generalized uncertainty -which ironically seems to come hand-in-hand with hyper-individualistic or hyper-collectivistic cultures – makes the individuals less “sure” of their dancing, less willing to simply let themselves fall into the beat and rhythm.

Of course, this a major generalization and it is not difficult to find exceptions and contradictory evidence. Still, the stereotype did not originate from nothing, and I find this explanation an interesting one. To apply it on a more abstract basis: a more primary  connection to the community may allow people to more completely submerge themselves into the moment and the music. The type of internal self-confidence that a spiritual connection to your body, and/or to music, requires can either originate from training and discipline, or from an emotional bond between yourself, those around you, and the ground that you dance on.

In nations where hyper-collectivism rules, but people still feel very uncertain (as in a few Asian countries), you will see concerts where the people don’t trust themselves to dance to the music. The main issue is not individualism versus collectivism, but the ability of the individual to feel comfortable in their own skin and allow themselves to “feel” the music. Anyone can do it, of any race or origin, independent of culture, but certain cultural and personal experiences can make this act of self-trust and aesthetic experience more difficult (or easier).

White people can dance, the question is whether their experience allows them to trust themselves to do so. People of any color, brought up in a society that undermines their sense of self, their trust in their ability to correctly perceive themselves and the beat, will have trouble dancing well.