Dancing with the political stars: A deep analysis of the candidates' usually terrible dance moves

In which I sift through minutes of archive footage to determine who's the corniest candidate: Bernie or Trump?

Published March 21, 2016 8:08PM (EDT)

 Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Jim Young/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Jim Young/Photo montage by Salon)

Contrary to popular belief, white-guy-dancing isn't flailing with reckless abandon.

The white-guy-dancer approaches the dance floor already sweating through his tuxedo vest, having been coerced by a more willing party who's made him feel lame for sitting during "Cotton-Eye Joe." He's seen "Hitch" and so thinks he knows how to discreetly feel the rhythm. He shifts his weight between feet, late on the beat — never early. His soggy spaghetti arms stagnate in a gray-area of engagement. He doesn't know whether to clap or snap, so he alternates sporadically. Whatever the inverse of smizing is, he's doing that. He's looking behind him a lot, for some reason.

In trying as hard as possible to be incognito, the white-guy-dancer garners more attention than the fun-drunk b-boy who can also do fedora tricks. And he's not entirely unaware of this fact. He switches from Sierra Nevadas to Tito's, which makes him a "better dancer," but also white-guy-drunk. He starts a fight with a department store mannequin that ends in tears and splinters.

White-guy-dancing is nothing to be pitied.

That is, unless you're a presidential candidate, in which case you're forced to sing and dance with surprising frequency — from the trail to the Oval Office and beyond. So all major politicians should really be pretty good at it by now.

Barack Obama emerged in 2008 the clear winner of the presidential talent show, judged by Ellen Degeneres and the Internet.

As a youthful, dark-haired senator, he grooved effortlessly with Ellen:

Then, as president, he went viral with a brief, soulful rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together":

And though she lost to the suave senator in 2008, Hillary Clinton, not being a guy, approaches the art form with an uninformed enthusiasm that, if not smooth, plays relatable with voters:

But how about the other candidates? How do they fare?

George W. Bush was far and away the whitest president since his father. Bush, however, campaigned in a pre-Ellen media landscape. There's a good bit of G.W.B. awkwardness on the Internet, but very little involves the good old boy dancing. What does exist is this, a rare strain of white-guy-dancing that involves overeagerness (i.e. disrupting the rhythm of an African drummer to slap the animal skin like it's a dashboard and "In the Air Tonight" is playing):

Another instance of sky-high enthusiasm matching ineptitude can be examined in Bernie Sanders' appearance on "Ellen":

And though it may seem Sanders was obligated to be a good sport (you know what you're getting yourself into when you visit Ellen), Bernie doesn't hesitate to "get into the groove" while listening to his 1987 folk album, "We Shall Overcome":

Nobody asks him to dance. He just does it. He forgets the first rule of white-guy-dancing: panicky reluctance. The establishment isn't going to like that.

Meanwhile, the GOP's populist equivalent, Donald Trump, has demonstrated the qualities of the "good sport" strain of white-guy-dancer. Remember that really horrible episode of SNL he hosted in November? Where he kinda danced in the last minute of a "Hotline Bling" parody?:

And then there's this indescribable clip that (suspiciously) also features Ellen Degeneres:

Clearly Trump can be a "good sport" when his media image is on the line. But ambush Trump, catch him without his clown makeup, and watch him face-plant trying to jump into the "good sport" role without a running start.

Such a moment was captured on video Sunday, when Trump took the stage at Mar-a-Lago to receive an award from the Palm Beach County Republican Party. After accepting his plaque and promptly leaving the stage, the Donald was ushered back onstage for a weird Trump-themed rendition of "Stand By Me" performed by Beau Davidson, who Wikipedia tells me is marginally famous.

Cringeworthy as the entire scene is, it's a textbook example of white-guy-dancing. Trump is at first reluctant, keeping his distance from Davidson even while on the same stage as him.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 2.10.19 PM

Davidson waves him over, but Trump overshoots. He should have stopped at the podium, but it's too late now. All eyes are on him to react:

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Instead, he points to various people in the audience to deflect attention, something we're not used to Trump doing:

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This is him looking at the staffer whose time with the campaign will expire with the end of this painfully long parody song:

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And if you're doubting that the two-minute rendition is really that long, DT's face near the end of the song tells the whole story:

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This is the face of discomfort, obligation, white-guy agony. Trump's political brand is his off-the-cuff quick wit and media savviness. Yet here we have video documentation of his inner-white-guy — robotically swaying, grinning and grimacing, losing interest halfway through (assuming he had any to begin with) — an awkward, unsure man-boy.

The reason I know he's doing something wrong is because he's doing exactly what I would do in that situation. Shows you money can't buy rhythm.

Donald, you're corny.

By Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

MORE FROM Brendan Gauthier

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elections 2016 Ellen Degeneres Hillary Clinton White-guy-dancing