Shut Up & Dance: Lessons on Mindfulness from a Pop Song


Photo credit:Dancing in the Street 4” by Petr Dosek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a psychologist and pop culture lover, I love it when a piece of pop culture – say, a popular song – allows me to explain a psychological concept.

The song Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is a song that most of us are familiar with, since it was released over the radio waves in 2014.

The first time I heard Shut Up and Dance, I thought it was about a person getting bossed around on the dance floor by his partner. After a few more listens, I realized: this is actually a song about a person who lacks mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a concept that’s pretty huge in the psychology world today. But a lot of people have misconceptions about it.

Before I dive into the song and discuss how it illustrates the power of mindfulness, I will give a few examples of what mindfulness is not:

Mindfulness is not…

  • telling yourself things are fine when they’re not (like that ever works!)
  • getting rid of your thoughts
  • getting rid of your feelings
  • zoning out
  • relaxation training

What is mindfulness? In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with whatever is happening right now, with gentleness, compassion and non-judgment. It’s about noticing and observing (note that I didn’t say “liking” or “approving of”) whatever is happening, as it is occurring.

Now, if you don’t know the song I’m talking about, you can have a listen right here. But you don’t have to listen to the song, because I’m going to post some of the lyrics below.

So why do I say Shut Up and Dance is a song about mindfulness?

It’s told from the point of view of a man who’s dancing with a woman he’s really drawn to, but instead of enjoying the dance, he’s wondering things like “Where is this relationship going?” “Is this the person I’m meant to be with for the rest of my life?” “Is she being completely vulnerable and honest with me?”:

“Oh don’t you dare look back.
Just keep your eyes on me.”
I said, “You’re holding back, “
She said, “Shut up and dance with me!”
This woman is my destiny
She said, “Ooh-ooh-hoo,
Shut up and dance with me.”

The woman, as illustrated in the lyrics above, is the much more mindful of the two: she’s focused on the moment, on enjoying the dance as it unfolds, and she’s trying to pull her partner into the present moment, literally by telling him to shut up and dance with her.

Unfortunately, her partner can’t stop thinking about their dance in “big picture” terms, telling himself the “story” of their relationship and the significant role this dance played in its inception as if it’s already happened:

We were victims of the night,
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light
Oh, we were bound to get together,
Bound to get together.

He’s looking backwards, he’s looking forwards, but he’s not focusing on the one thing he needs to be focusing on, which is the present moment. This is what his dance partner wants and needs from him.

So how can we apply the message of Shut Up and Dance to our own lives? Well, if you’re human, you will no doubt be able to relate the the struggle of staying in the present moment. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in our thoughts about the future, past or anything.

It helps to first recognize that mindfulness is a practice, and that it that takes practice. In fact, many people adapt a “mindfulness practice” that extends throughout the course of their entire lives. This practice may or may not include mindfulness meditation.

My experiences, both personal and professional, have led me to believe that cultivating and practicing mindfulness can be a life-changing force in a person’s life. Whether mindfulness helps us stay present for moments of joy, or moments of pain, it is a powerful tool that can help us manage whatever we’re facing.

As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So why not take a small step by practicing a brief mindfulness meditation today? Here’s one I created called Eight Minutes to Calm.

Eight Minutes to Calm: My Free Guided Audio Meditation Delivered to Your Inbox Today!

To mindful living! – Dr. Gina Davis

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19 thoughts on “Shut Up & Dance: Lessons on Mindfulness from a Pop Song

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