Hillary Clinton did something again. What did she do? A pop quiz: Was she a) chased out of Malawi by bees? b) not chased out of Malawi by bees? Question 2: Did she a) not wear makeup? b) wear funny glasses? c) look cool while texting? d) suppress a cough? e) drink beer and dance in Cartagena? f) do all of the above, or most of it? or g): dance at a dinner in South Africa? (Hint, hint):
Answers: f and g.
Yes, Hillary Clinton, our United States Secretary of State, danced in South Africa and appeared to have fun while doing so. We love it when Hillary Clinton dances. It's a great little news item, a powerful woman doing something "normal" and even a bit silly. It shows her "softer" or more "fun-loving" side as some people say—a side that's been coming out with apparently growing frequency in the past few months, what with some of the other things I mentioned above (not the bees, though; that's just odd). She seems casual, comfortable, at home with who she is. All this is a good thing.
But I have a pop quiz of my own about what we're thinking when we watch Hillary dance. Are we truly impressed? Are we sort of mocking her? And, haven't we seen this before? I think there are a couple of reasons why the "forbidden dance" of Hillary is so continuously enticing, even as we see it repeated.
We like to see important people being "normal." We crave the little bits of information that come down about Barack Obama being a regular dad-type, playing basketball with the guys or wearing Mom jeans, and we love to know about any alleged vices. There's a bit of a reality-TV-era fascination with seeing our superstars, celebrities, and politicians on a personal level. We want to know what these people do when they're not busy being leaders of the free world! So it is with Hillary; we want her personality, and in little scenes like this she appears to give us what we want. There's nothing wrong with wanting to contextualize our politicians in a "normal person" sort of way—they are real people, too. So when Hillary gets up on the dance floor and "busts a move" in an appealingly mom-ish fashion, we're thrilled.
It seems to reflect a change. Hillary was back in the old days considered the stiff, stodgy, pantsuit-wearing standing-by-her-man second to her more famous husband, Bill. But she appears to have come into her own far beyond that; she's the star and Bill's in the background, or not on the dance floor, in this case, at all. It seems a sign of progress, this.
Still, we're a little bit confused about how to categorize our powerful women. We all need to see smart women who do big, important things and also have senses of humor, who can have fun. It's a progressive step for women that we don't have to be grim old battle-axes in frumpy business suits to get things done. The thing I like most about this clip of Hillary dancing is that she seems genuinely happy and like she's having a good time, which is great. At the same time, I think our continuous shock and amazement over her ability to have fun seems to belie a deeper truth: That we need to keep reminding ourselves of what "a powerful woman who has fun" looks like—and that, yes, she exists.
It's just more amusing than the serious stuff. This, I fear, is actually kind of a problem. A 50-second clip of Hillary Clinton dancing is far more interesting to a lot of people—and certainly has more viral potential—than is a discussion about her actual job or what she's accomplished. Before dancing at that dinner in South Africa, for instance, she was part of a press conference at which she and South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (who hosted the dinner at which she danced) discussed relief programs. She also attended a summit to talk about expanding growth in the region, and visited Nelson Mandela. She's on a seven-nation tour of Africa at the moment, doing, you know, diplomacy stuff. But what we're talking about is the way she raises the roof.
So, fine, send around the video, but it would be nice, even helpful, if we could talk about some of those other things, too. The combination of what Clinton does both at work and extracurricularly (and, keep in mind, she's actually dancing at a "work function") is what makes her, overall, a powerful and inspirational entity. It's not just one or the other.
As for those who say that this "softer side of Hillary" is a whole new thing, she's been dancing for years. That might explain how her moves are so very smooth.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.