Ta-Nehisi has an interesting post up. Hat tip to Carmen Van Kerkchove for Twittering it before I had a chance to find it.
Anyway, he was saying that whenever he hears black people brag about being able to dance better than white folks, he has to laugh to himself. It's like a kid from Harlem bragging to some Wall Street dude about the width of his gold rope. "You have to be able to dance," my buddy said. "because you have nothing else." On the contrary, when you see that white dude out on the floor, he's free to just enjoy himself. He has nothing at stake--nothing hanging in the balance. For us it's ritual. But for them--it's just a good time. And they're free to do that. Hell, we wish we lived in a world where we couldn't dance. Read more...
I don't think this explains the whole black people = rhythm meme--I think part of our seemingly innate ability to move our bodies to the beat comes from that fact that the music of African American culture (and the African culture of our foremothers) is rooted in strong rhythm. Many of us grow up listening to music with a heavy bass and pounding rhythm and so we become comfortable with it and learn to effortlessly move to it. I have met several white people who grew up in black culture and can dance far better than this black girl, who grew up listening to the lighter rhythms in rock and pop and who can keep the beat but really can't dance a lick. It's not race; it's relation to rhythm.
But there is some truth to the idea of white folks having a dancing freedom that black folks don't. (Te-Nehisi uses the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah's Karen O. as an illustrative example.) In high school and college, there was something about so-called "white" dance parties that I found more enjoyable than gatherings of my own folks. White kids seemed free to flail and whirl to the music with abandon and enjoyment--a sign of physical freedom. At a black party, I felt pressure to do that era's equivalent of today's "stanky leg" and do it well. (i.e. the latest dance move. Yes, I have discovered there is such as thing as a "stanky leg" with an accompanying song, no less. Also, I just realized that I sound like a modern-day version of my mother--see the post below.) That felt constricting to me. Dancing was not about freedom, but skill. If you had the skill, you had fun. If you didn't...not so much.
Check out Ta-Nehisi's post. What say you?