Instructions for Bear Dancing
Bear dance parties and beer busts are some of the best parties that you're ever going to attend. But they can be confronting to the uninitiated. Some simple rules for bear dancing will help you fit in straight away and get off to a great start.
Rule 1: Under no circumstances are you to move your feet
VicBears, an Australian bear organisation defines ‘Bear’ as “a gay man with a ‘masculine, down-to-earth attitude’ – not as a particular body type or ‘look’”. What better way to demonstrate your down-to-earthedness, than dancing while keeping both feet firmly rooted in the ground? Shuffling your weight between your feet is, of course, acceptable. Dance parties are the long haul flights of social interaction and if you didn't move your legs around you’d be very sore by the end of the party and probably likely to get deep vein thrombosis or something worse. There’s also no doubt that shifting your weight between your feet is essential if you've gone for the tradesman, lumberjack or construction worker look with your party outfit including work boots, because, let’s face it, they might look authentic but they weren't designed for arabesques. Perhaps the nirvana of bear dancing is, in the words of Madonna, to be “standing still in time”.
The shuffle - Dos and Don'ts
Variation: A turn about the room
Now that you've mastered Rule 1, can I persuade you add in a variation and to attempt, from time to time, a clockwise shuffle completing a full rotation over a minute or so? Like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet you too can find yourself assured “it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude” to “take a turn about the room”. A military operation rather than a slow pirouette, this controlled rotation is all about reconnaissance. A quick scan for a Mr Darcy or Bingely? But let me remind you whilst turning, Rule 1 still applies.
Rule 2: Under no circumstances are you to raise your hands above your shoulders.
We’ve all heard everyone from Taio Cruz to Kylie Minogue imploring us to raise our hands up. Like Usher, I too sometimes throw my hands up in the air and say, "ay-yo" (however not like a Telly Tubbie). But these activities are not appropriate while bear dancing. Bear dancing is all about defensible space. Paws are to be closed like fists, and marched in a cross between shadow boxing and chest beating. Think drumming and marching. Jazz hands are right out! Besides, with the average bear paw way heavier than the average hand, rotator cuff muscles simply can’t cope with all that extra altitude. Keep it below the shoulder. Unlike John Travolta, bears don’t need a raised index finger to make their point on the dance floor.
See any hands in the air? No, I don't think so.
Variation: Jail-breaking / jack-hammering
For the experienced bear dancer, lower your fists to your thighs and lean back. Like your arms are thick, hairy jail bars. Now tilt your shoulders in turn like your chest is trying unsuccessfully to wriggle through the bars and escape. Or like you’re a hot construction worker holding a wobbly jackhammer. Congratulations, you've mastered the variation known as jail-breaking or jack-hammering It’s all about keeping that chest hair and ample musculature under control. This is perhaps also why so many bears choose to wear a leather harness while dancing. When you've that much hair, letting your hair down takes on a whole new meaning. Under control means stayin' alive.
Rule 3: Bear necessities are bare necessities
Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto ‘Less is more’ to describe his minimalist aesthetic of enlisting every design element to serve multiple visual and functional purposes. With many bears tending towards the ‘more’ rather than the ‘less’ this is absolutely applicable to bear dancing. Like any masterwork of architecture, you've probably built your body as a shrine to... the gym? ...tattoos? ...beer and chocolate? You've invested a lot of time and effort growing muscles under your belly not to mention under the hair on your back. This is an opportunity to show off your hard work, whilst at the same time dealing with the increasingly unbearable heat on the crowded dance-floor. But don’t jump the gun. Wait for the magical flash-mob moment about two hours in when, without warning, it’s suddenly ‘shirts-off!’ and join in the wave of literal ‘less-is-more’.
Shirts off! Bears at a Sydney dance party.
Congratulations. Keep these three simple rules in mind and you'll fit in like a seasoned professional at your next bear dance party.