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I Can't Dance

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Billy: Well, I'm intrigued by the rhythmic modulation, yet daunted by the coordinating movements of the appendages.
Zack: Say what?
Trini: He can't dance.

All the heroes are gearing up for the big sock-hop at the discotheque, but one character wants to stay behind. "What?" his friends ask incredulously. "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. Usually.

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. Then there's the ones that don't warn you first at all...

Unlike the character fitting its sister trope, this character is either painfully aware or near-wholeheartedly convinced that he legitimately Sucks at Dancing.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Emma: A Victorian Romance, Richard Jones meets his future wife at a ball and she asks him if it is okay to dance when (in her words) she's terrible at it. Thinking she's being overly modest, Richard proceeds, only to get kicked in the shin.
  • In His Coool Seha Girls, Mega Drive is daunted by the task of dancing in Space Channel 5.
  • 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 to, and Akatsuki questions whether what they're doing really qualifies as "dancing".
  • In Soul Eater, Maka usually says she can't dance. When she dances with Soul or her father, she lets them lead.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Cullen's ability to dance - or lack thereof - is a minor Running Gag in Skyhold Academy Yearbook.
  • During the Moon Festival in The Vow, Shen ends up bringing Lianne to an ongoing dance while looking for something to distract her from homesickness. Even though Shen's not very experienced with dancing, he participates to save face. Fortunately, Lianne catches up on Shen's unease and gives him tips on how to dance.
  • Inquisitor Bethany Hawke admits to Varric, in Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium, that she's uneasy about attending the Empress's masquerade ball because of this. She clarifies that Free Marches dancing isn't hard, but she doesn't know the appropriate step for an Orlesian soiree. Cue Lessons in Sophistication for the remainder of the chapter.
  • In Ships Ahoy!, before Square Dance Night starts, O'Donahue admits to Oprah that he has no idea how to square-dance. She assures him that he'll be fine and that there are agents who are probably worse than him at dancing, but it doesn't help — what follows is an Epic Fail montage of him running into everyone else, missing cues, and being so bad at calling out the moves involved with square dancing that he develops stage fright and runs off when Old Missie permits him to step down. The dance then changes into a waltz, but O'Donahue doesn't fare much better at it and becomes so embarrassed that he hides in a corner for the rest of the night.
  • Shadows over Meridian: In Chapter 23, though Tyrian doesn't say this, he's uncharacteristically nervous when Rosetta asks him to dance with her since he never thought any girl would do that. She advises him to relax, and he gets over his nervousness as he starts impressing her with his agile tricks and even ends up engaging in a dance duel with a Ninja Khan.

    Films Animated 

    Films Live-Action 

  • Gerald of the Elephant & Piggie books can't dance, because it's something elephants can't do — he even has a Great Big Book of Everything that says so.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry says this after learning that, as Hogwarts co-Champion, he not only has to get a date for the Yule Ball, he's expected to help open it (i.e., dancing in front of the whole school with only the other, older Champions and their dates out on the floor with him). Professor McGonagall is naturally hearing none of it.
  • Joanne Walker of The Walker Papers insists she can't dance, but when her friends get her to go out clubbing, she has a good time anyway.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel:
  • Austin & Ally: Ally is fully aware that she is a bad dancer, but she doesn't care that people don't like her dancing. She even makes a dancing video called "The Ally Way", which ironically becomes very popular.
  • 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".
  • The Doctor Oz Show: Dr. Oz can't dance. He does try, however, very enthusiastically.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Doctor Dances": When Rose asks the Doctor to dance, she initially assumes he can't, and he's a bit irritated, but can't remember how to do it, probably because it's been a while. By the end of the episode, he remembers how to dance again.
    • "The Girl in the Fireplace": When Reinette invites the Doctor to a ball, he's insistent that he can't go because she's supposed to dance with the king at that ball. She persuades him to come anyway.
  • 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.
  • Frasier: Niles accepts an invitation to a charity ball only to realise his date is going to want to dance at some point. This is a problem as his ex-wife Maris never wanted to dance in public, so he never had to learn how. Daphne steps in to teach him which Niles greatly enjoys. When his date cancels Daphne offers to go with him instead
  • Friends: Chandler insists that he doesn't dance at weddings because he knows he's no good at it. He demonstrates with some incredibly awkward "dance moves" that involve shaking his hands and lifting his feet in an uncoordinated way. When he and Monica get married he tries to surprise her by taking dance lessons, but at the reception his shoes are so slippery he's forced to go back to his old moves.
  • Glee: Finn is well aware that he can't dance, and considering the show is about show choirs, it becomes an issue since he can't keep up with choreography. In the episode "Born This Way", the students' assignment is to print out their greatest insecurity on a t-shirt and embrace it. Finn's reads "CAN'T DANCE".
  • Good Luck Charlie: Teddy is shown to be a terrible dancer in one episode involving a Talent Contest. She makes exploding moves and makes such bad movements that Spencer faked an injury to avoid entering the talent show with Emmett. She dances with Emmett instead and ends up injuring everyone onstage.
  • Haven has Nathan Wuornos. He has the excuse that he can't feel his feet. He was able to slow dance with Audrey Parker because her Anti-Magic allows him to feel her.
  • Chef Gordon Ramsay stated this once after being invited to dance by a kid on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.
  • 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."
  • Also a Running Gag for a time in Murdoch Mysteries. Inspector Brackenereid gives Murdoch two tickets to a dance and when Murdoch is initially reluctant to take them, his boss makes a crack about dancing not being against Murdoch's religion. Murdoch takes lessons so he can escort Dr. Ogden, and she attends the same school to improve her own skills. Both of them need the help: Murdoch steps on her feet and has to remind her not to lead. In a later episode, when Higgins says Murdoch will waltz in and have the information for which the constables are wearily searching fingerprint cards, Crabtree retorts that Murdoch doesn't waltz: "Believe me, I've seen him try."
  • In an episode of Parenthood Max Braverman is attending a middle school dance to appease his mom Kristina but confesses he isn't sure how to dance, leading Kristina to show him how and them sharing a special moment. It is particularly special because Max has Asperger's, so he doesn't usually like to touch people, and his mom is cherishing a very rare moment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It's a Running Gag on Smallville that Clark Kent can't dance. In reality, his actor, Tom Welling, is quite talented.
  • Starman: In "One for the Road", the alien title character, Paul (played by Robert Hays), is a chaperone at a school dance. At first he refrains from dancing when invited by one of the teachers because he doesn't know how, but when dragged onto the dance floor he soon picks it up (as he tends to do with skills and languages). As he gets into it, he briefly adopts the "Staying Alive" Dance Pose Hays famously parodied in Airplane!.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • The Doctor reveals "Lifesigns" that he literally cannot dance, because it's not in his program. He gets has dance at the end of the episode, having added the necessary subroutines.
    • Also Seven of Nine, when she goes on her first date. He asks her for a dance, and she's insecure for a moment as she has never had dancing lessons. Then her competitive nature gets the better of her, she goes to the dance floor with her date... and winds up accidentally breaking the poor guy's arm.
  • 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).
  • In the second season finale of Stranger Things, after nearly a year's separation, Mike and Eleven finally get to go to the Snow Ball... only for both to admit that, since they're both 13-year olds (and Eleven spent the first 12 years of her life as a human experiment), neither of them know how to dance. Mike suggests they figure it out together.
  • Titans (2018). Cliff Steele laments that no one would want to dance with him now he's in a robot body. Rachel says she would, and then proceeds to do the Robot.
    Cliff: She can stay.
  • 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.

  • The trope-naming Genesis song "I Can't Dance". Bonus points for the fact that 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
    I can't dance, I can't sing
    I'm just standing here sellin' everything
  • "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"
    The beat goes on, and I'm so wrong...
  • "I Can't Dance" by Tom T. Hall (and later Gram Parsons).
  • Played with on "I Don't Dance" by Lee Brice:
    I don't dance, but here I am
    Spinning you 'round and 'round in circles
    It ain't my style, but I don't care
    I'd do anything with you anywhere
    Guess you got me in the palm of your hand
    'Cause I don't dance
  • The song "I can't dance " by Bonaparte.
    I can read, I can write, I can shout, I can fight, I can kiss, I can bite, I can do it if I like, but everyone says I can't dance!
  • Franck Crumit's "Stumbling"
    I can't dance, took a chance, And right then we started
    Stumbling all around, stumbling all around, Stumbling all around, so funny
    Stumbling here and there, stumbling everywhere, And I must declare
    I stepped right on her toes, and when she bumped my nose, I fell, and when I rose, I felt ashamed!
  • Music video clip variant: This is how group member Sara Dallin described the collective style of Bananarama ("shonky," or amazingly uncoordinated).
  • Played With in Shenandoah's "If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)." Bubba learns to dance from an instructional video tape, and the singer, who was embarrassed to get on the dance floor because of this trope, figures if Bubba isn't afraid to try, he shouldn't be either.
    Yeah, now Bubba can scoot, Bubba can slide
    Bubba can two-step, Bubba can glide
    I never though he had the nerve, he never said a word
    Well, everybody in the place stand back and give me some room
    'Cause if Bubba can dance I can too

    Mythology & Religion 
  • In The Achilleid, Achilles has to dance alongside the daughters of Lycomedes to keep up his disguise, but he resents having to do something girly so much that he fumbles into all the girls and ruins the dance.

    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.

  • 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.
  • In Mass Effect, Commander Shepard is an epic badass that is Famed in Story, but he/she just sucks at dancing. Watch. It became a meme after the first game and as such got a lot of in-game references and jokes in the sequels.
    • During Samara's loyalty quest in Mass Effect 2, Shepard has the option of flirting with a dancing Asari at the club Afterlife. If you do not have a high enough Paragon/Renegade score for the Persuade/Intimidate options, or deliberately chose not to select them, Shepard dances poorly and the Asari rejects your flirtations. If you do select the Persuade/Intimidate options, Shepard very smoothly pulls off a dance routine and impresses the Asari.
    • While meeting Garrus atop the presidium in Mass Effect 3, the two engage in friendly banter and bragging:
    Garrus: I'm not saying you can't handle a gun, but some of us know how to make it dance.
    Shepard: There are a few people who've seen me in action, Garrus. They seemed impressed.
    Garrus: Yeah, but I've actually seen you dance, Shepard. No comment.
    • When Shepard tries to get Jack to relax and dance on her shore leave, Jack flat-out states that everybody knows Shepard cannot dance.
    • The Citadel DLC, the final DLC released for Mass Effect 3, contains numerous references and conversations regarding Shepard dancing.
      • When Shepard begins dancing with a group of squadmates from the Normandy:
      Garrus: We should record this and broadcast it to the Reapers. They'll either run away, melt down, or fall in love.
      • Shepard can try to goad Joker into dancing with EDI by saying that if he doesn't, you will. Joker proceeds to laugh uncontrollably at Shepard for half a minute before calmly saying, "Seriously, don't go there."
      • Ashley claims Shepard's dancing is related to drunkenness. Shepard takes it as a particularly low blow.
      • The DLC does, however, also contain an instance of Shepard unexpectedly rocking at dancing. If FemShep is romancing Garrus, he can pull her onto the dance floor for a tango. If the interrupts are hit in time, the two perform a dramatic and passionate tango that gets applause from the other people present.
  • 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.
  • Being an ex-Templar who had been training with the order since his early teens, Cullen keeps telling people this at the imperial ball in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It doesn't stop them from asking; he's actually somewhat mobbed by interested courtiers. He gets into a little trouble if he's romanced since he accidentally rejects the question coming from his Inquisitorial ladylove, but he apologizes quickly, explaining that he never learned how to dance. At the end of the quest, he'll ask her, saying that "For you, I'll try."

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY has Neptune Vasilias, for whom this is his shame and why he never invites the girls he hits on to go dancing. In a later scene he actually is seen dancing in the background... and it's true, he really can't dance.

  • 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 Taurëcuiva 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 finally learns, he finds out that Penny has trouble herself!
  • Ed of Ed, Edd n Eddy protests that he can't dance when Rolf invitee him to participate in dancing to a folk song from the old country, until he finds out the "dance" simply consists of two people smacking the hell out of each other and yelling "That's my horse!", which Ed can do just fine.
  • 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 VeggieTales 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.
  • In the Amphibia episode "Hop Pop and Lock", to impress his crush Sylvia, Hop Pop challenges his old rival Monroe to a dance-off, despite being dangerously clumsy and uncoordinated to the point that his random chaotic gyrations are considered horrifying. Anne is able to train him to at least be competent on the dance floor, but it turns out that Monroe is simply a far better dancer, forcing Hop Pop to resort to "freestyle"... as in his own bizarre dance routine. Fortunately, that turns out to be exactly what Sylvia is into...
  • A topic of a classic '50s Goofy Cartoon.
  • Parodied in Family Guy, where Peter fondly remembers how a beloved teacher taught him to dance "just in time" for prom. In flashback, we see that his "lesson" was an elaborate song-and-dance number during which Peter clearly already dances like a pro.
  • 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 "Garfield Gets a Life" 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.
  • On Sabrina: The Animated Series, Sabrina first laughs off Harvey saying this ("It's middle school! Just bite your lower lip and spaz around!"), until he claims that it's a "health hazard"—he used to take ballet until he knocked over the wall-sized mirror and his instructor had to get stitches. Since then, he's convinced that he can't dance around anyone else without hurting them.
  • One episode of The Berenstain Bears cartoon has Brother Bear trying to get out of the annual Bear Country Jamboree by admitting to his parents that he can't dance. Mama Bear helps him learn how to dance by telling him to imagine the dance moves as sports moves since Brother is an excellent athlete.

    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.


Video Example(s):


Commander Shepard

By now, Shepard has become legendary for their inability to dance, as the Citadel DLC demonstrates.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / ICantDance

Media sources: