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I Can't Dance
Zack: Say what?

All the heroes are gearing up for the big sock-hop at the discotheque, but one character wants to stay behind. "What?" cry his friends. "You can't refuse to go! It's the big dance! It's the event of the season! It's being thrown in your honor!"

The reluctant character then grudgingly admits his Terrible Secret: He doesn't know how to dance! No worries, though; a single scene practicing his two-step and he'll be tripping the light fantastic in no time.

Watch the wording here: If a character says he doesn't dance, that usually means he can but he never told you. If he says he won't dance, that means his heart won't let his feet do things that they should do. If he says he can't dance, however, he can be anything from needlessly modest to legitimately terrible. And, of course, watch out for the ones that don't warn you first at all.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Soul Eater, Maka usually says she can't dance. When she dances with Soul or her father, she lets them lead.
  • In Log Horizon, Shiroe cannot dance. He still gets roped into a dance at a ball for diplomatic reasons, but fortunately his partner Henrietta knows how to dance and leads. Later, he and Akatsuki dance privately... but neither of them really know how, and Akatsuki questions whether what they're doing really qualifies as "dancing".
  • In His Coool Seha Girls, Mega Drive is daunted by the task of dancing in Space Channel 5.

Comic Books
  • Happens in an Archie Comics story; Dilton doesn't know how to dance, so he builds a pair of shoes that dance for him, making him a sensation at the school dance. Then lightning strikes, the shoes go whack, and things don't end well.

Film
  • In A Knight's Tale, Will is invited to the champion's ball after his first tournament, but he doesn't want to go because he doesn't know how to dance. He gets training from his blacksmith, the only girl in his entourage, and ends up inventing his own dance (to the tune of Golden Years) later.
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: Miss Pettigrew is trying to stifle her attraction to the charming and engaged Joe Blomfield, so when he asks her to dance, she gives the excuse, "Alas, I can dance nothing but the waltz." Cue the jazz band playing... a waltz.
  • Dante from Clerks II.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana says in an early scene that she "has no time for dancing," and later she reveals that she's never danced before. So Naveen quickly teaches her how... which is impressive given that he was a frog at the time.
  • The introduction of Beta Couple Mac and Jessie in She's All That:
    Jessie: I can't dance.
    Mac: I go to school with 500 chicks.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger. It's even a plot point. Also what makes Steve so adorably dorky.
  • In American Wedding, Jim admits he can't dance in preparation for his wedding. Stifler teaches him to.

Literature

Live-Action TV
  • An episode of Firefly was supposed to use this trope, with Mal unable to keep up with Inara during a formal dance, but the final product didn't have the desired effect. Nathan Fillion and Morena Baccarin spent so much time rehearsing the scene that Nathan competently learned the entire dance and was not able to reproduce his previous clumsy efforts. Eventually, Joss Whedon decided to insert a line in post-production with Mal saying that this was a dance he actually knew, instead of re-shooting the scene and creating a mishap.
  • An episode of Chuck, where the eponymous character must learn to dance in order to get close to the Terrorist of the Week. It was even titled "Chuck Vs. The Tango."
  • In Legend of the Seeker, Cara has to pretend to be a princess to rescue Kahlan. When trying to learn the dance, this trope comes into play. As one recap put it "Cara rather adorably turns what was probably a waltz into krumping."
  • The Doctor in Voyager reveals in one episode that he literally cannot dance, because it's not in his program. Eventually he has it added to him.
  • Angel:
  • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data asks Dr. Crusher to teach him to dance, but neglects to mention that it's for Keiko and O'Brien's wedding, so she starts off teaching him to tap dance (which he of course masters in 2 minutes).
    • When Dr. Crusher starts teaching him a dance more suitable for the occasion, he has a much harder time of it at first because he's too close to her to see what her feet are doing (causing him to repeatedly step on them).
  • Chef Gordon Ramsay stated this once after being invited to dance by a kid on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.
  • Dr. Oz can't dance. He does try, however, very enthusiastically.
  • Subverted in the Sharpe TV series. A lady at a ball asks Sharpe to dance.
    Sharpe: I do not dance.
    Lady: "Do not" or "cannot"?
    Sharpe: Will not.
  • The Seinfeld episode "The Little Kicks" shows that Elaine is a terrible dancer, flailing about and kicking her legs. The thing is, she's completely oblivious to it, and everyone else is too afraid to confront her about it.
  • Obviously, when you have a large group of 50+ people, the odds are pretty good that at least a couple won't be able to dance. This becomes something of a problem for the choreographers of beauty contests like Miss America or Miss Universe, since they usually begin with all the ladies doing some type of choreographed opening number. Dance instructors have to both teach most of the girls to dance, and to subtly and politely take the klutzier girls and shove them in the back rows (although at least some of them will be aware of their lack of ability and be a good sport about it.)
  • It's a Running Gag on Smallville that Clark Kent can't dance. In reality, his actor, Tom Welling, is quite talented.
  • Haven has Nathan Wuornos. He has the excuse that he can't feel his feet.
  • In Zoey 101 Chase is well aware that he is a terrible dancer. So when Zoey's partner for the PCA Dance Contest gets run over, he has Michael and Logan training him for two days straight. We never get to see the result, as he oversleeps from exhaustion.

Music
  • The Genesis song "I Can't Dance". Bonus points for the fact the name of the album from which it came was We Can't Dance.
    I can't dance! I can't talk,
    The only thing about me is the way that I walk.
  • "Your Mama Don't Dance" by Loggins & Messina.
  • My Chemical Romance: "You can't swim, you can't dance, and you don't know karate. Face it, you're never gonna make it."
  • LL Cool J's "You Can't Dance" is a hilarious Take That, making a good case that some people just shouldn't try.
  • Kate Miller Heidke gave us Can't Shake It.
    Tried movin' my body to the latest hit,
    Someone called the nurse, thought I was havin' a fit,
    I execute the moonwalk like I stepped in shit, I can't take it!
  • Frank Zappa's send up of 70s pickup/disco culture "Dancing Fool"
  • "I Can't Dance" by Tom T. Hall (and later Gram Parsons).

Professional Wrestling
  • Subverted on Monday Night Raw when United States Champion Daniel Bryan finally gave in to Eve Torres, Gail Kim and The Bella Twins, who had been demanding he dance, despite his protests. Outside of an ill advised split, he did pretty well for someone so against it.
  • Sara Del Rey protested that she couldn't dance when Courtney Rush tried to coax her into a dance off on SHIMMER Volume 44. Rush would later boast to showing the world that Del Rey could indeed dance, though given Rush herself is not a very rhythmic specimen, the statement should be taken with a grain of salt.

Theatre
  • Willard's big secret in both the movie and musical version of Footloose is that he "can't dance". In the musical, he actually quotes the title verbatim:
    Willard: I can't do this! I can't dance!
Cue the shrieking from Rusty and the other kids. He eventually learns over the course of "Let's Hear It for the Boy".

Video Games
  • Squall in Final Fantasy VIII protests that he can't dance. So he gets forcibly dragged onto the dance floor, and trips all over himself a lot until Rinoa finally gets him to loosen up, after which he makes a liar of himself by nailing the remainder of the waltz perfectly. Later on, Squall admits to Rinoa that SeeDs are trained in a number of social skills to help with subterfuge, one of which is dancing in case of the need to approach a target or contact at a formal party.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Commander Shepard may be an epic badass, but he/she just sucks at dancing. Watch.
    • One of the prompts to dance in a club is "Dance?" as if the game itself is iffy on calling the flailing Shepard does on the floor "dancing."
    • Both Jack and Garrus will poke fun at Shepard's dancing in Mass Effect 3.
    Garrus: We should record this and broadcast it to the Reapers. They will either run away, meltdown, or fall in love.
    • In the Citadel DLC of the third game, Female Shepard can get roped into a dance with Garrus if he's her LI. While hesitant at first, she manages to pull it off.
    • In the same DLC, you can try to goad Joker into dancing with EDI by saying that, if he doesn't you will. He proceeds to laugh uncontrollably at Shepard for half a minute before calmly saying, "Seriously, don't go there."
    • Ashley also claims Shepard's dancing is related to drunkenness. Shepard takes it as a particularly low blow.
  • When Elizabeth tries to coax Booker into dancing with her during Bioshock Infinite, he rebuffs her with a gruff "I don't dance." Subverted with Comstock in "Burial At Sea".
  • Saints Row IV: The Dance Party Ending reveals a shocking twist: Johnny Gat can't dance for shit

Webcomics
  • In Ears for Elves, this and You Said You Couldn't Dance are played with:
    • Tanna protests that she doesn't dance when Luero tries (and succeeds) to drag her into the dancing at the Taurėcuiva Festival, but she's actually rather good.
      Tanna: Dance!? I don't dance!
      Luero: I believe you mean you won't dance. And you're about to be proven wrong.
      Tanna: Okay fine, it's not that I can't dance- I mean of course I learned how. I just haven't danced in a while.
    • Inverted Trope: Unlike Luero, even though he told her to follow his lead. A few minutes after her reluctant entry to the dance floor:
      Tanna: Oh gods! You're terrible!!

Web Original

Western Animation
  • In one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, the prom is coming up and Buster doesn't know how to dance, so he watches some Bugs Bunny cartoons to learn how.
  • An episode of ChalkZone revolves around the fact that Rudy can't dance and he's going to be dancing with Penny the next night at the school dance. So he takes lessons in Chalkzone. When he finaly learns, he finds out that Penny has trouble herself!
  • In one episode of The Flintstones, Fred and Barney decided to take ballroom dance lessons so that they could surprise Wilma and Betty by taking them dancing. In order to keep their wives from finding out, they join the Bedrock Volunteer Fire Department(which is a scam run by the men of Bedrock to allow them to get away from their wives; since all buildings in Bedrock are made of stone, they can't catch fire).
  • In the Veggie Tales Silly Songs with Larry segment "Barbara Manatee", Barbara's boyfriend Bill reveals this after she asks him to take her to the ball. As this is a Soap Opera parody (emphasis on the "opera" part), this is taken as a huge shock and she plans to leave him over it.
  • A topic of a classic 50's Goofy Cartoon.
  • The Simpsons had this happen to Lisa when she tried taking tap dancing lessons and turned out to be absolutely terrible (though not through any fault of her own: her lessons consist solely of the words "tappa tappa tappa" which all of the other students manage to turn into instant dancing ability). Knowing that Homer and Marge are hoping to see her in the big recital, Lisa puts on a pair of self-tapping dancing shoes that Professor Frink invented. She does pretty well to start, but when her teacher goes into the big solo, Lisa's shoes force her to follow suit. Then the crowd began applauding, as Lisa's shoes began to go completely haywire and she couldn't stop. Homer finally saves the day by tripping Lisa and knocking her off her feet.
  • This was the plot of the pilot episode for Doug, where Roger goes up to Doug before a costume dance the same day and tells him that he (Doug) can't dance.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle is a hilariously terrible dancer as seen in "Sweet and Elite". Though oddly, she's a perfectly capable dancer during the Musical Numbers.
  • In "Franklin and the Firefly Festival" from Franklin and Friends, Bear didn't want to be a part of the firefly festival because he didn't think he could dance and said as much, but his love his food causes him to do a Happy Dance on his own.
  • Hilariously subverted in a Garfield and Friends TV special when Garfield's owner Jon heads out to the dance floor. Jon does an epic dance...but unfortunately he's doing disco in the mid-1990s and gets ridiculed by everybody else in the club.
    Jon: Boy, you learn a dance, and then zango! 14 years later they change it!
    Garfield: Go figure.
  • Sofia the First says this flat out in one episode.

Real Life
  • A popular story about Abraham Lincoln is that he met his future wife, Mary Todd, at a dance, and introduced himself with the line "Madame, I am about to give you the worst dance of your life."
  • Despite being one of the most dazzling horsemen of his time, Joachim Murat was no cavalier note . During balls, he stood on the side, holding his wife's fan and gloves while she danced.


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