Why We Should Stop Making Fun of Lorde's Dance Moves

(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

The last time I danced in public, it was 2014 and my birthday. Swept up by free vodka and the company of great friends, I found myself dancing on a Brooklyn hotel rooftop to (and, truly, I couldn't have picked a more aptly titled song) "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn. I was happy and drunk, so the music took over and I danced in a way that feels natural to me, which looks to everyone else like I might be having a seizure of some kind.

The next day, one of my friends, genuinely perplexed, said, "In all the years I've known you, I've never seen you dance before."
"That's because I don't dance like a normal human," I replied.
"Yeah," continued the friend. "You looked like a unicorn on crack."

Now, in all fairness, my friend was making an observation that I don't consider factually incorrect and have heard on many occasions. Perhaps I do resemble a coked-up glorified horse every time I hit the dance floor. The problem is, I have been shamed out of indulging in what was once a joyful activity, by the normal majority of people who understand how to move appropriately to music in public settings.

This brings us to Lorde.

I have probably listened to her first album, Pure Heroine, about 10,000 times at this point, but until recently, I had never seen her really move around a stage. Then, back in March, I caught her performing "Green Light" on Saturday Night Live, and a flash of recognition washed over me around the 1:25 mark. Lorde did some air punching, then flicked her head from side-to-side while doing something resembling jazz hands. Later, there were raised knees and foot stomping.

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There it was. Finally! Someone was doing my moves! Sweet relief!

Much was made of Lorde's dancing after the SNL performance, and much of the commentary -- a solid mix of outright insults and backhanded compliments -- reinforced everything I had ever been told about my own (in)ability to dance (the way people want me to). Most of the hate came via Twitter -- something that enabled Inside Edition to shine a light on tweets that compared Lorde's dancing, not entirely unfairly, to that of Elaine on Seinfeld.

Vulture made gifs breaking down her various moves, giving them names like "The Auckland Flail," "The Christchurch Wiggle," and "The High Fives All Around." MTV worked really hard to stay polite: "This is far from the safe, predictable choreography typically reserved for pop performances." Amidst a lot of articles using the words "weird" and "unique," NPR offered me some comfort: "...her dancing, bad and with abandon, is the sort we could use more of on America's premier stages."

The chatter was loud enough that Lorde felt the need to make a statement on her Facebook page: "one day i will do a normal dance choreographed by a nice person and i will look more like your other favourite performers but we have not yet reached that day ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

Back when her music was slower, Lorde could get away with moving very little. With hindsight, the "Tennis Court" video, for example, was probably directed with the specific agenda of keeping her perfectly still. But that stillness didn't sit well with people either -- it was considered unnerving.

So when she finally allowed her arms to move and shoulders to jerk during a 2014 Grammy performance, it was interpreted by much of the public as frightening. Buzzfeed collected some tweets about her performance and put them all together in one article to reflect the point. Words in those tweets included: "paranormal," "exorcism," and "scariest."

We, as a culture, are accustomed to either choreographed dance moves, barely-there dance moves or no dance moves at all (Adele is the reigning queen of that last category). Older male musicians seem to get away with unconventional dancing with a bit less scrutiny (see: Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, and Iggy Pop), but Lorde might be the first very young female star to refuse to conform to normal expectations about how a lady should move.

The phrase "Dance like no one is watching" is thrown around in inspirational memes a lot, but almost never observed, because in the age of So You Think You Can Dance, World of Dance, and Dancing With the Stars, you can only dance like no one is watching if you don't mind being ridiculed afterwards. Anyone who's ever been dance-shamed will tell you it really takes the joy out of the whole thing.

Not only does Lorde get dance-shamed on a regular basis, she's doing it on an international stage. Her persistence and commitment to unconventional physical expression is solid evidence that she genuinely couldn't care less what anyone thinks of her. Frankly, it's an inspiration to the dance-shamed everywhere -- including myself.

From my perspective, Lorde's moves are the moves that occur when someone feels music strongly, but can't actually figure out which body part to move first, so they're forced to just get visceral about it. There is something wonderful about that freedom, even if we don't get to see it very often. Every time she dances on stage, Lorde is breaking both pop star convention and social rules. More than that, seeing her carry on regardless gives hope to the people like me who have never figured out how to contain our feelings about music within conventional dance moves.

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Undoubtedly, people will go on making fun of Lorde for the way she moves, but she does have the #1 album in America right now, and she is in no way letting it hold her performances back. Perhaps if we allow her to continue doing her thing in peace, other young music stars would feel more comfortable about letting their freak flag fly. And just imagine how much more fun that would be for both performers and audiences.

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