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In praise of the awkward slow dance

The first boy I ever slow danced with was called Thomas. We were 10, maybe 11. It was in our primary school hall at the Year 6 disco where the teachers and students had hung up streamers and someone had hired a smoke machine that made us all cough incessantly. The theme was ‘Under The Sea’, but I come from a family that resents family dress, so I was dressed as a lifeguard because we had a uniform lying around, and while not technically part of the theme, my mum was convinced it was close enough.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous about anything in my entire life as I was about that slow dance. I had practiced with my friends, as if there was more to the entire thing than me placing my hands on someone’s shoulders and him placing his on my hips. But I had never had a boy touch my hips before. Or at least not in a romantic way.

Thomas and I were kinda a thing. Or at least, we were as much as a ‘thing’ as you could be when you were 10 and you’d never even kissed. He would drop handmade Valentine’s Day cards in my bag every year from Year 3 to 6 and when I got a pet mouse, I named it after him. Don’t say I’m not a romantic.

Lots of people are vehement haters of the awkward slow dance, and I understand where they’re coming from. I mean, it *is* incredibly awkward. In the movies it looks so romantic.

Someone asks you to dance:

And it might be a little awkward for, like, a second:

But then, suddenly your life looks like this:

In reality, it starts off with you standing weirdly far away each other, just kinda bopping for the music, waiting for one of you to make the first move or for the universe to open up and swallow you:

And when someone finally does make the first move, you still end up standing as far away from each other as the length of your arms will allow, wondering if you’re meant to talk to each other or stay silent and just, well, sway.

Also, are you meant to actually move your feet, or is swaying enough? And where are you meant to look? In their eyes? That’s so freaking intense! Who in their right mind wants to make eye contact with someone for THREE ENTIRE MINUTES? That’s 180 seconds. AND THAT’S IF IT’S A SHORT SONG. That is literally the best case scenario. If you’re dancing to anything recorded after 2000, it’s definitely closer to four minutes.

Meanwhile, some of your friends are slow-dancing too and the second you
catch each other’s eye you desperately struggle to not erupt in fits of giggles, while others are loitering to the side, staring. Your teachers are there and call you ‘adorable’.


There’s something really special about an awkward slow dance. You’re becoming aware of other people in a way you never have before. You’re noticing you find someone attractive. The butterflies in your belly are beginning to unfurl from their cocoons, one by one.

Awkward slow dances are a rite of passage that has been passed down through the generations ever since Ig and Og danced together around the caves.

They belong to that delightful point of life before people start grinding up against each other like they’re a cheese grater and you’re a particularly delicious block of cheddar (it’s ok, this ends after a few years and you can go back to the slow dancing, mainly round your own kitchen).

There’s enough time for smooth moves and well rehearsed pick up lines and dancing like you’re cool. And there’s time for the type of slow dancing where you lean your head against the person you love and feel like the world is yours for the taking.

But until then, there’s always time for an awkward slow dance. I’ll lead.


Image: 13 Reasons Why

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