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Frankly … social
Everyone’s dancing

A young man dancing
The probability that you will pass somewhere and see dance movements is very high nowadays | Photo (detail): Breakreate; © Unsplash

There weren’t many things more embarrassing than dancing – back in the eighties. Today it’s all very different. Maximilian Buddenbohm has spotted a cultural change.

By Maximilian Buddenbohm

One of the little-noticed achievements of society is that dancing has ceased to be embarrassing. It’s embarrassing neither for the elderly or the young, no specific social groups are embarrassed by it anymore – not even North Germans, and that’s really saying something. It’s okay to dance, and you can do it in public if you want to. Just like that. It still occurs to me from time to time how outrageous that is.
To illustrate the importance of this achievement I’ll just rewind to the early eighties, to my childhood, when it was still categorically unthinkable for us to move in time to music. The idea was absurd, people just didn’t do that. Not unless they were girls at a rhythmic gymnastics session. That was weird too, but excusable. No, people didn’t dance. Not until they reached that pubescent age when tradition dictated that the whole class went to a dancing school to be initiated in the obscure rites of the discofox, rumba and waltz. 

There were seriously challenging moments 

That was the most mortifying thing – enjoyment and fun were out of the question, in fact there were some seriously challenging moments. You see, well, they were all dances for couples, you had to touch people of the opposite sex and get unsettlingly close to them. Of course this might involve the right people of the opposite sex as well as the wrong ones – and it was quite difficult to imagine which of those options was worse. I died a thousand deaths in both of those situations, while the relentless dance teacher chanted “Rock step, chasse right, chasse left!” and forcibly shoved me closer to my partner as she passed by.
I don’t have the space here to go into detail about the development of popular culture that finally started to gather force – I’d have to mention hip hop, the Fantastic Four, MTV, video clips generally, and after going through countless chapters of this story I’d have to finish with today and the game Fortnite, with the moves that an entire generation masters without a second thought, performing them at every opportunity whether appropriate or not. 

“I’m doing dancing” – nothing out of the ordinary 

My sons attend all-day schools, where there’s more than just maths, German and English. They can choose something they enjoy from a wide selection of courses. Sometimes I ask them about all the things they’re doing, and when they answer “I’m doing dancing”, it’s a perfectly ordinary sentence for them. It makes me think of one particular boy back then, who joined the rhythmic gymnastics class against all likelihood and convention and as a result became the laughing stock of the school. If you go past a school playground nowadays and catch sight of kids doing dance moves – there’s a very high probability! – then it’s just a little observation but there is a very long story behind it.
And recently I saw a group of teenagers in the park who’d been having a huge amount of fun and laughter rehearsing a dance from the past. I watched them for a while and eventually recognised it: the discofox.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas. In “Frankly ... social”, Maximilian Buddenbohm reports on the big picture – society as a whole – and on its smallest units: family, friendships, relationships.