The Election Brings Dance to the Streets for a Collective Roar

As soon as I landed on the sidewalk in Brooklyn after running across the Williamsburg Bridge on Saturday morning, I knew what had happened. But it wasn’t because of what I instantly heard: a symphony of honks and cheers. It was because of what I saw. Dancing. Everyone was dancing.

In celebration of the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr., New York City — and so many other cities across the country — found its groove. From that shimmering, unseasonably warm morning until well after dark, cars became boomboxes. Line dances sprouted up from nowhere. There were duets between strangers. Drivers, catching a bystander’s eye, turned up the music to encourage a moment of free-spirited improvisation. (It was a window down kind of day.)

The past few years have been exhausting. And when you factor in the past eight months of coronavirus lockdown, protests in the street and the election, many Americans are tightly wound. It felt right that collective stress, sleepless nights, frustration and fear would spill out of bodies and into the streets. And that it was genuine said something, too. This wasn’t a performative response, but a gut reaction — a way to express churning emotions, most conspicuously joy, when words alone couldn’t do the trick.

Of course, in a country so divided, only some people were dancing in the streets. But on both sides of the aisle, dancing kept popping up during this election, in strange yet illuminating ways. Kamala Harris’s dancing turned into a meme, celebrated by supporters but ridiculed by critics. That was strange, too — she’s such an unaffected, effortless dancer. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, the former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, called Ms. Harris “giddy” on the campaign trail.

“She’s dancing with drum lines and beginning rallies with ‘Wassup, Florida!,’” Ms. Noonan wrote, adding: “She’s going for a Happy Warrior vibe, but she’s coming across as insubstantial, frivolous. When she started to dance in the rain onstage, in Jacksonville, Fla., to Mary J. Blige’s ‘Work That,’ it was embarrassing.”

Ms. Harris, please, never stop dancing.

Like everyone, I watched President Trump’s awkward dance moves — they went viral and inspired a TikTok challenge. But when he rocked back and forth to the Village People’s “YMCA,” fists clenched and lips firmly sealed, the emotion it inspired was dismay. I usually love a dad dance, good or bad. There’s something unbelievably tender about watching a person give dancing a whirl when it doesn’t come naturally. It’s brave.

But Mr. Trump’s frat-house moves remind us of how uncomfortable he seems to be in his body. Awkward is one thing; his rigid dancing had no spirit. It didn’t bring him to life in a new way.

Over the weekend, fragments of Kevin Bacon’s speech from “Footloose” (1984) started to play in a loop in my brain. Pleading to hold a dance in a small town that forbids it, he addresses the question of why, throughout time, people have danced: “They danced in prayer or so that their crops would be plentiful or so their hunt would be good. And they danced to stay physically fit and show their community spirit. And they danced to celebrate. And that, that is the dancing that we’re talking about.”

It’s not frivolous. Last weekend, the explosion of dance — which overtook social media, making it seem like it was happening everywhere — was a celebration of community. But for those of us in the dance world it emphasized another point: While the pandemic will continue to prevent public performances for what now looks to be another year or so, dance is still alive in the world. It’s making headlines, as much for what it looks like as what it feels like. Dancing is not just about moving your body, but reclaiming it — and with that, your faith in the world.