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Illustration by Catherine Chan

There’s a strange expectation at social gatherings, one that seems almost universally acknowledged yet rarely questioned: when the music plays, everyone must dance. This unspoken rule of parties often puts me in a difficult situation. As the room fills with beats and everyone stands up to the music, I find myself lingering on the sidelines, clutching a drink a little too tightly, and struggling with a growing sense of discomfort. It’s not a disdain for the music or the energy; it’s more about the act of dancing itself. On one hand, there is the desire to fit in, to not ruin the mood or come across as unco-operative. On the other hand, there is a deep discomfort with dancing. For me, dancing in a room full of people feels similar to wearing shoes that are too tight – uncomfortable, awkward and distinctly not me.

To make matters worse, my repeated refusals seem to only encourage more persistent efforts. It is as though my boundaries are seen not as legitimate personal preferences, but as challenges to be overcome. I often find myself having to defend my choice not to dance. It’s a justification I shouldn’t have to make.

I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have urged me on, saying, “Just let loose!” or “Don’t be shy, it’s fun!” But their well-intentioned urges miss the mark. It’s not shyness that roots me to my spot near the wall. My idea of a good time is simply a little different. I’d rather talk about the fiction books I’ve read, debate anime plot lines or listen to the music and watch people enjoy themselves.

At times, I’ve thought about the reaction if I were to force my interests on others at parties with a similar intensity. What if I insisted someone at a party join me in a three-hour discussion on a novel I recently enjoyed, or the character development in an anime show? Would they appreciate being coerced into that? Probably not.

This misunderstanding often results in evenings where I try to blend into the background as another friend makes an attempt to draw me into the dancing crowd. It becomes a different kind of dance – me dodging and weaving through the crowd, trying to balance politeness with personal comfort, and ends with me leaving the party feeling drained and misunderstood.

Many people equate not dancing with being too scared or anxious, and think they are helping us to loosen up. Yet I can’t imagine introverts will suddenly lose all inhibitions once you force them into a crowded dance floor against their will.

The issue, however, is not about whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. It’s about respecting individual preferences and understanding that enjoyment comes in different forms for different people. Not everyone at a party wants to dance, and that’s perfectly all right. There’s no universal template for having a good time. For some, happiness lies in dancing with people. For others, like me, it doesn’t.

I’ve realized that my discomfort at parties goes beyond not wanting to dance. It speaks to larger societal norms and the pressure to conform to a specific idea of what it means to be social. In a world that often values extroversion and outward displays of enjoyment, those of us who find happiness in quieter activities can feel marginalized, our ways of having fun deemed less valid.

So, the next time you’re at a party and notice your friend not dancing, consider the possibility that they’re enjoying themselves just as much as everyone else, only in their own way. Perhaps even try and engage them in a conversation, and you might find yourself learning about some interesting views.

As for me, I’ll continue to find my corner at parties, taking part in discussions that excite me and respecting those who find their happiness on the dance floor. After all, the beauty of social gatherings lies in their ability to bring a diverse group of people together, making room for every type of joy and expression. In this understanding and acceptance, we can all find our rhythm, our way to be truly social and most importantly, to be true to ourselves.

Nikita Chugh lives in Oakville, Ont.

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