“Go Keisha! Go Keisha!”
It’s a college party. I’m in a Soul Train line, surrounded mostly by white people, and it’s my turn to dance. A popular rap song is blasting from a giant stereo and people are losing their collective shit, arms flailing, bouncing up, down and around, shout-rapping (“shrapping?”) along but skipping the word “nigga”, some glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes. An expression that says, “See? I didn’t say it! Aren’t you proud?” “
God. I have to dance. I can feel the weight of their expectations. They are here for the entertainment. I hate these damn lines. How many people here even watched Soul Train? Where are the other two black people at this party? Why the fuck am I out here alone? Those fools are probably hiding. They knew.
I plaster a big smile on my face, take a deep breath, and begin swaying, hands in the hair, trying to look simultaneously sexy – there are cute boys here after all – and hip-hoppy. As I near the end of the line I take in everyone’s gaze, their chants slowing with each step I take. The other two black people have reappeared. I can sense their second-hand embarrassment. I bet they can even dance too! Why me?! A sloppy-drunk guy licks his lips at me. Disappointment hangs in the air. Black girl can’t dance? I have failed.
Screw you guys. My dancing is fine, you all need to lower your expectations!
Variations of this scenario are peppered throughout my personal black history. Black people have a reputation for being great dancers. The bar is raised for us. I have never been one of those fab dancing black folk, though I love to dance. I’ve danced for as long as I can remember. I took my first dance class when I was 6, in Brooklyn, with Ms. Francine. It didn’t last very long. I later asked why I stopped taking ballet classes and “someone” told me that I “wasn’t very good” and so it made me unhappy.
I should have learned then and just given up public dancing. But, as I have little recollection of this sentiment – being unhappy in ballet class – I can only assume that I found my lack of talent for ballet so traumatizing that I had to suppress the painful memories, leaving only the shiny happy moments in the quick recall bin of my memory bank. Instead, for years, I’ve suffered through the scrutiny of dancing while black in hip hop dance classes, a jazz dance class in college where I’m pretty sure my teacher wanted to cry in disbelief – it takes me forever to learn choreography; I couldn’t even get an ‘A’ in that freaking class – as well as parties and anytime a new dance craze mesmerizes the country and people assume I can teach them how do it. I can’t teach you how to Dougie either! Go ask YouTube!
Last year, at a friend’s wedding, drunk on free-flowing champagne – the videographer paid me extra attention and kept bringing me drinks; I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed the attention and he was cute – I could not stay off the dance floor. My partying nights are few and far between these days, so I hadn’t danced in what felt like a decade but was probably closer to six months. I feel alive when I’m dancing to a fun song with a high energy beat. It’s the closest I get to a meditative state since I can never seem to quiet my mind long enough to actually meditate meditate. If I’m having a bad day, dancing it out at home alone to Beyoncé, like I have no shame, like I think I could ever come close to approximating the sexiness she oozes as her body moves like a sultry snake, it reinvigorates me.
My friend’s boyfriend was also a fixture on the dance floor. As I danced near him during one song, he yelled over the music to me, “C’MON, GIRL. SHAKE THAT GHETTO BOOTY!”
Oh life. The situations you throw at me, you jokester you!
Let’s see here. It’s my friend’s boyfriend, whom I like and know as a decent, kind human being. I also know that he is South American and their views of race and their cultural history greatly differ from the US’. So, what I’m not going to do is act a fool. It’s my friend’s wedding. I don’t need to get stank. I am a lady.
I raised an eyebrow, half-smiled and yelled back, “I AM FROM THE SUBURBS!” Let’s laugh about it, shall we?
“WHAT THAT MEANS?”
“I AM NOT FROM THE GHETTO. YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!”
“OH! C’MON. I KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!”
I wasn’t angry with him. I knew he meant it innocently, but it’s like hearing the same dumbass joke for the 1000th time. It gets old and tired. I just want dance floor liberation! To dance however the hell I want without feeling the pressure of the gaze of dozens of eyes anticipating a live performance straight out of America’s Best Dance Crew. If you’re familiar with that show, you may have noticed that many of the dance crews are Asian. As a matter of fact, many of my Asian friends are better dancers than I am. When I dance too close to them, in comparison it’s that much more obvious that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
Lately, party Keisha has emerged from hibernation and she’s been itching to shake a tail feather. I know I’m for serious when I’m out and starting popping 5-hour energy drinks. There is a direct correlation between the amount of stress I feel at work and the intensity of my need to pop, lock and drop it. These days I wanna dance! I wanna be a Dancing Queen.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bar with a dance floor, hip hop music playing and me the only black person in the room. I was minding my business, doing my little dance, enjoying the song, getting Into the Groove, and one of the guys with my group chanted to me, “Go, Keisha! Go, Keisha!”
Oh hell no, there’ll be no starting of a dance circle with me in the center. I inched away from him and kept on dancing.
Sometimes I want to dance like a straight fool. Like I’m not worried about steps, rhythm, being sexy, pushing some pelvis gyrating dude off me or twerking for tips, but rather just feeling the music and going with it. I want to get all Duckie to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” I don’t think that is too much to ask. Freedom from the pressures of dancing while black.