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Politicos Dancing Badly: A Ballroom Instructor Weighs In

by Carter Maness

July 22, 2016
Delegates dance before the start of the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The doom-and-gloom Republican National Convention was filled with speeches warning of an imminent, violent apocalypse. America is, apparently, weak. It’s been humiliated. The opponent, one Hillary Clinton, deserves to be locked up for her “crimes.” Yet beyond the usual chest thumping, the RNC crowd seemed bouncier than expected at times. If this is indeed the end of America, they wanted to dance their way to ruin.

It’s possible that we simply use our smartphones and social media accounts to document more of our lives than in past election cycles, but we’re seeing a lot more dancing this election season than in past contests. Supporters and politicians alike are strutting their stuff, showing they know how to be down to earth, trying their damnedest to let us know they too can let loose.

GOOD spoke with Tiara Shelley, a certified ballroom dance instructor and director of Dance Lincoln in Nebraska, about what she thought of the moves going down at political events this year. “The folks at the Republican National Convention certainly had an abundance of energy,” she said. “The same cannot be said about their rhythm. You don’t have to be a professional to express yourself with dance, but if the music eludes you, less is more.”

For George W. Bush, this might as well be Woodstock.

This certainly would have been great advice for former president George W. Bush, who swayed his way into online mockery at a recent memorial service in Dallas for the five officers shot by Micah Johnson. Watch him hold hands with two first ladies––his wife, Laura, to his right, Michelle Obama to his left. He stands out, dressed in a royal blue suit surrounded by a sea of mourning black. But it’s not the odd choice of apparel you notice; it’s the dancing, the rocking pelvis, a defiant grin across his face. He mouths some of the words to “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.” It’s a hoot. He just can’t help himself. George W. Bush is, after all, a human, and he’s feelin’ the music.

“Although you won’t catch me adding the mournful hymns of a funeral choir to my playlist, for George, this might as well be Woodstock,” Shelley told us. “He knows how to have a good time, but when you dance to the beat of your own drummer, I think the former and current first ladies would agree with me: It’s best not to try to make it a partner dance.”

And what of Hillary Clinton? At a campaign rally before the New York primary, watch State Senator Adriano Espaillat take her hands and raise them high. As he twirls her, Clinton swivels her hips like they’re being controlled by a rigid metronome. She knows this dance. She’s done it many times on many campaigns, and it’s not terrible. She dances like everyone’s watching, waving to the crowd like she’s jangling keys for their amusement. At least it’s not her much-dissected version of the nae nae she did on Ellen.

“Hillary has a great sense of rhythm and dances well with others,” said Shelley. “She exudes happiness when she dances, and that is so important. Things do go a bit downhill for the former first lady when she turns her merengue into a flag dance.”

Hillary has a great sense of rhythm and dances well with others... Things do go a bit downhill when she turns her merengue into a flag dance.

Which, of course, brings us to Donald Trump. Other than dancing to “Hotline Bling” on Saturday Night Live last year, the best clip of Donald busting moves is when Beau Davidson serenaded him with a live adaptation of “Stand By Me” last March. Trump shimmies in confused slow-mo as he feels out what Davidson is doing, but by the chorus (“Donald, Donald, stand by me”) he clearly wants to run away, clapping off-key, staring at nothing in the distance.

Shelley declined to comment on Trump’s moves here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was silently praying for his private jet to arrive and whisk him to safety. The hips still move, but there’s an inability to pretend. Trump can’t fake his way through a dance. He’s lost control, and he’s mortified. If elected, beyond the all-encompassing fear of how our economy and standing in the world would be destroyed, it would be hard to imagine Trump’s first dance at the inaugural ball with Melania. Would he continue indulging his love of classic rock or go for something slow and meaningful like the Obamas, who rolled the dice in front of millions of viewers to a Beyonce rendition of “At Last.”

“People don’t realize how hard a slow dance can be,” Shelley said. “Factor in the adrenaline boost that comes from doing any kind of performance, let alone [when] the entire country is watching, and it’s easy to speed through things. That being said, the first couple took their time and hit every beat perfectly. There was no one for Barack but Michelle in this dance, and the intimacy was really something touching.”

People don’t realize how hard a slow dance can be, let alone one when the entire country is watching.

The coming months will likely see politicians and their supporters engaging in more awkward gyrating than at any point in history. Those swayed by policy and conspiracies are already swayed. Those on the fence might need a little nudge, and it might be tempting to provoke that nudge with a deft twirl and arms held high. But politicians should remember: Try to act natural.

Take Shelley’s words to heart. If you aren’t feeling the beat and the rhythm eludes you, less is most definitely more. Maybe, if the apocalypse is really on the way, the answer would be to avoid dancing at all.

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Politicos Dancing Badly: A Ballroom Instructor Weighs In