Welcome to Debate Club, a new column from THUMP UK where we will be posing club culture's biggest conundrums to an expert panel. We'll be dealing with everything from the ethics of flirting to the spatial-politics of dancing, the joy of a French exit, and the horrors of ketamine.
This week's panelists are THUMP UK staffers Josh Baines and Angus Harrison, alongside VICE UK staff writer Joel Golby.
The question: Should you ever dance—as in, actually try and dance—in a nightclub?
Josh: How many drinks does it take you to start dancing?
Angus: I will dance in a club with no drinks in me. I actually find no movement at all way more uncomfortable than slight movement. My reflex is to move a bit if I'm in a club because otherwise you look like a pervert at worst and a drug dealer at best. Standing in a nightclub and being the one person not even rocking slightly is such an odd look.
Joel: I can't dance sober because I'm not a sociopath, but it is all about context. You've got to read the room and match that with your own drunkenness. Let's say, test conditions, I'm in a well-lit church hall, and there are between one and five people in there, it'd take me 15 drinks to dance.
JG: 15. We're talking a few bottles of beer before I get there, a few shots in quick succession, some big vodka cokes, the kind that get you heart-beaty, and then also a real banger has to drop. Then I'll dance.
A: I must make sure you're not invited to my funeral.
JG: If it's a rowdy room and everyone's having fun, my threshold drops a little. Maybe it'd be five or six drinks then. If it's a dead night with a lot of perverts on the sidelines, I will join the perverts.
A: Why do you feel so strongly about dancing?
JB: It's not that I find dancing as an act abhorrent, I just find the sight of other people dancing utterly embarrassing. My three year old sister started dancing at Christmas and I just felt total revulsion. I wonder what that stems from...I've always found dancing unpleasant actually. I was a shy child and quite dyspraxic, so maybe that could be it.
JG: Does the fact you dance like shit matter?
JB: On a fundamental level, it must.
A: I'm a good dancer. I'd back myself in saying I don't dance badly.
JB: You're a tight dancer. You know the space you're working with.
A: To be fair there are types of dancing that I see and even I'm not into it. Dancing in a club should be about you doing your little bit for the night; you're an atom in the molecular strain of the club. If you get too performative, too John Travolta, then you can fuck up the entire vibe.
JG: It's very important to not try to match anyone move for move. You've got to be in your own zone. My problem is that I know I'm not ready to dance if I'm still getting second hand embarrassment from other people's dancing, so I need more drinks, and then past that I'm rowdy. But you've got to remember that there's a lot of me. When I start dancing I need a barrier around me; I'm flinging arms around, I fall over quite easily, I've got a high centre of gravity. I need need a toilet cubicle's amount of space to get going.
A: There's also the issue of ironic dancing, which I think is actually taking place in nightclubs more than actual dancing. People mugging, throwing faux-gang signs about and doing some cheeky chappy Robbie Williams thing.
JB: I think that happens when someone catches themselves properly dancing. They're aware that they are being themselves in a social space, then they're aware of being watched, and then they feel exposed.
JG: What ironic dancers don't understand is that in a dark nightclub, no one knows you're being ironic. You can do all the lampooning all you like but unless you're in someone's face making it really obvious that every movement you're making is a joke, that all the fun you're having at that moment is a sheen of humour, then no one knows. So people assume you're having fun and they get involved, which makes ironic dancing in a club as important as sincere dancing.
A: Josh, I've been to clubs with you, and danced while you stand still, and because I know you it's fine, but it might be jarring to strangers. Without ever dancing, how do you express the fact that you're enjoying it?
JB: I just shout "THIS TRACK'S FUCKIN GREAT," in your ear every 30 seconds. There's part of me that probably does want to dance.
JG: Who hurt you as a dancing child? Have you ever had fun dancing?
JB: Genuinely, no. I cannot think of a single instance where dancing has been the primary source of pleasure for me.
JG: That's so fucked up.
A: Surely dancing is the natural physical response to dance music?
JG: Clubbing is quite a basic activity. There are only a few components. You go out to listen to some music, someone flashes a purple light in your face a lot, you try and have a conversation with a mate's mate, you pay a fiver for a bottle of beer, and you dance. Occasionally you'll go out for a smoke. That's it. If you go to a dark room and listen to music and resist the only reaction possible to it...
JB: I think I take some vicarious pleasure from watching mates enjoy dancing.
A: So you feel like a part of things?
JG: You don't feel like you're missing out?
JB: I never leave thinking a night was shit because of my lack of physical involvement.
A: What would your golden rules for dancing be then?
JB: As a spectator, I'd like to say: be aware of your space and where you are. Also, don't form a dance circle and force someone into the middle of it. They always look harrowed and panicked.
A: Even worse is the person at the sides of the dance circle, really eagerly awaiting their turn because they think they can body-pop. That's the worst person in the nightclub.
JG: Where do you fall on lip-syncing along to songs while dancing?
A: I'd love to say it's shit and you shouldn't do it, but I'm always doing it.
JG: Same, and I always expect someone to come up to me and offer me a drink for knowing every word. Essentially it is akin to a crime, but when I'm in the zone where I can dance, my ego's split and I no longer care about how I look, I'll go wild and sing along, and then think "I nailed that!"
A: Although I realised recently that when I think I'm mouthing the words I'm actually singing very quietly, which is really creepy. I sound like a dying Bee Gee.
JB: Despite my reservations, it seems like you two are going to win this one. Dancing is probably okay.
A: That said, as we've all raised, self-awareness is the most important thing. For example, if it's 3AM and you see someone dancing with their eyes closed and they're clearly having a moment, don't be the dickhead who grabs them by the shoulders and goes "YOU ALRIGHT MATE?" They're in a deep meditative state. Basic golden rule: let other people dance or not dance; don't impose your shithousery on other people's enjoyment.