How to Dance Gothic

By Kai MacTane and Antigone
Illustrations by Antigone

You went out to your local goth club in your black velvet frock coat, your hair teased up bigger and rattier than Edward Scissorhands’, and lace dripping from your wrists and throat. You looked fabulous. But as soon as you got on the dance floor, everyone started laughing — eventually, they had to toss you out of the club for being “deleterious to the proper level of angst.”

You need to learn to dance gothic.

It’s not that hard; just learn these simple moves and soon you can blend in with all the other spooky individuals on the dance floor at your local batcave. After all, for such an individualistic crowd, it’s kind of surprising how goths all seem to use the same moves. Maybe it’s something encoded in the Goth Genes™ rather than just lack of originality...

All difficulties and Goth Ratings are on a scale of one (pathetically easy or ridiculously non-gothic) to five (tragically difficult or stylishly über-gothic).

Washing the Windows

Difficulty: xx
Goth Rating: xx

Put your hands in front of your face or maybe upper torso, elbows bent at about a 45-degree angle. Your palms should face away from your body, and your arms, wrists and fingers should be very loose. Now make swirly motions with your hands — the usual is circles going outwards at the top and back in towards the center of your body at the bottom, but some people just wave their hands around seemingly at random in a vertical plane in front of their faces. For maximum goth effect, the rotation of your circles should be a little out of phase — one hand should reach 12 o’clock in its circle a little bit before the other one.

Washing the WindowsIt helps if you make slight wavy motions with your fingers while you’re doing this one. These motions need to be slow, however — you don’t want it to look like you’re waving bye-bye; you want it to look like your fingers are gently weaving in an almost hypnotic pattern. Don’t move your circles independently — that just winds up looking silly.

Variation: For extra stylishness, you can move the center-points of your two circles simultaneously from one side to the other, letting your hands trail off into some other gesture when they get too far. (This can segue nicely into "Which Way is the Exit?", below.)

Changing the Light Bulb

Difficulty: xxx
Goth Rating: xxx

This one is much like Washing the Windows, but with two differences. Instead of facing your palms away from you, you hold your hands with the palms facing each other, a little closer than shoulder width. Changing the Light BulbThen, instead of moving them in vertical circles, you spiral your hands around each other in a horizontal circle, parallel with the floor. It’s a little trickier, because you have to drop one hand under the other to keep from smacking your forearms together, but you don’t want to make it too obvious — your hands should just spiral lazily around each other with no apparent effort.

In fact, “no apparent effort” is a good phrase to describe all these moves. Goth dancing isn’t really energetic; the idea is to be slow, graceful and languorous.

Sweeping the Floor

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

Sweeping the FloorPut your arms outward and down at about a 45-degree angle from your body, with your hands around the level of your hips and the palms facing the floor with fingers spread. Don’t lock your elbows. Now, make horizontal circles with your hands, parallel to the floor. Unlike Washing the Windows, you want these circles to go in the same direction as each other, not in opposite directions. Take careful note of the direction of the arrows in the illustration. Don’t worry if your hands try to move forward a bit rather than staying out to the sides; that’s standard for this move.

Stuck in My Coffin

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

Lookin’ Like Vlad...In many ways the signature gothic dance move, this one is so simple, even a corpse could do it. You just fold your forearms over each other in an X shape across your chest, like you were a corpse in its coffin. You’ve seen Bela Lugosi do this hundreds of times, just before he sits up and says "Good eeeeeve-ning."

The only real caveat with this one is, since it’s so obviously gothic and so totally butt-easy, you don’t want to rely on it overmuch. Save it for the single moment in any given song where the singer is displaying the maximum amount of angst, and don’t stick in this position for longer than a couple of beats. Otherwise you’ll look like a wannabe.


So far, you’ve gotten a bunch of moves with the hands. “What about my feet?” you may be wondering. “Where are the little footprint diagrams?” The answer is, there are very few of those here. There don’t need to be very many. Goth dancing doesn’t generally rely on fancy footwork, for a variety of reasons:

  1. Many goth women wear long skirts and dresses, flowing gowns, and other Victorianesque garments that practically brush the floor. Any fancy footwork they did on those would be invisible. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if those people even have feet.
  2. Many goths, both male and female, wear extremely pointy shoes, sometimes with a lift to the heels. These things are designed for looks, not traction or comfort. When your heels are wobbling and your toes are pinched, you don’t tend to do much fancy stepping.
  3. Alcohol and yes, drugs, are still a part of the goth subculture. It has occasionally been noted that sometimes the dancers simply stand and sway (the move known as “I Am a Frond of Seaweed”) because that may be all they are capable of at the time.

But there are a few goth foot maneuvers, which can be a very important and valuable addition to your gothic dancing. However, if you’re the “two left feet” type, or your own feet hurt, you can just move your feet in random patterns in time with the beat, and everything will be fine.

With Catlike Tread

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

FootprintsStand with one foot pointing directly forward and the other behind it, angled out at about 45 degrees, as in the illustration to the left. A little more than half of your weight should be on your rear foot. Now lift up onto the balls of your feet. In time with the music, lift your front foot and daintily place it a bit farther away from your body — you’ll need to bend your rear knee quite a bit while straightening the front leg.

More FootstepsOn the next beat, lean forward, transferring your weight to your front foot. Then move the rear foot past the front one, pivoting 45 degrees on the ball of your foot as you do so. This should put you in the exact mirror of the position you were in a moment ago. As you can see in the illustration at right, the foot-pivot happens simultaneously with moving your other foot.

“Wow, I could just walk all the way across the floor like this!” you think to yourself. Don’t do it. Take two steps total, maybe three, then reverse it and go backwards. Real goths never use this move to make any real progress; they just go back and forth with it.

This is a good one to practice at home before you try it out on a public dance floor in front of dozens of goths who will mock you mercilessly if you accidentally fall on your face when you mess up. On the other hand, public mocking is great for racking up angst points. xxx

My Artificial Hip Joint

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

Stand with your weight on one foot, with the other foot out in front of you. The stance should be somewhat similar to just after move 1 in "With Catlike Tread" (above), but your left foot should be pointing directly forward instead of out at an angle, and you needn’t be up on the balls of your feet. However, you shouldn’t have any weight on your right foot; you’re about to lift and move it.

Lift your right foot just a tiny bit off the floor, then glide it around and out in a circle, keeping the knee straight and moving your leg from the hip.

Testing the Scratching Post

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

This one builds on Changing the Light Bulb, above. Start from the same position, with your hands facing each other in front of your face. Then, instead of swirling them around each other in a horizontal circle, you swirl them in vertical circles around each other. Your hands should be moving away from you at the top of the circle and toward you at the bottom. As you make these circles, slide your hands higher and higher, then when you can’t go any higher, start bringing them back down toward your chest... but don’t reverse the direction of the circles you’re making.

"Which Way is the Exit?"

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: x

Spinning GothPut your arms out to both sides, like you’re being crucified or something. As you do, swirl around once or twice, but remember to do it slowly, not quick like a little kid trying to get dizzy. If you do it right, this one can have some of the feel of time wheeling onward, the spin of the earth around the sun, and so on. It can also come in handy in case some weirdo DJ puts on Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round, Baby”. (“Right ’round like a record, baby, right ’round, ’round, ’round.” Oh, yeah.)

Variations: This is one the most personalizable of all the moves here. You don’t even need to put both arms out; you can keep one in front of your body (ready to do some other move), or put it behind your back, or you can put it up to your forehead to show how angst-ridden you truly are.

"Ow! I Cut My Wrists!"

Difficulty: x
Goth Rating: xxxx

Start with "Stuck in My Coffin", above. Move your hands together until your thumbs touch. Now slowly drop your hands forward and down away from your body, keeping your elbows up against your waist. You can let one hand sort of slide across the other as you do this, in a sort of asymmetrical showing-off of the scars on the inside of your wrists.

Like “Which Way is the Exit?”, above, this is a great one for displaying how angst-ridden you truly are. However, keep in mind that neither of these will really look quite right unless you actually are filled with angst (or at least can fake it reasonably well).

Of course, simply knowing these moves isn’t all there is to dancing gothic-style. While you’re practicing the moves at home, you’ll probably also want to practice stringing them together, so you don’t look like you’re doing one move in complete isolation, then doing another with no connection to it.

One other benefit of learning these moves — and their names — is that you can have hours of fun being a gothic dance critic, rating your friends (and social rivals) on how well they perform, say, “Sweeping the Floor”. And consider the scathing put-downs:

Morticia: “I think Simon’s dancing is just wonderful, don’t you?”
Vlad: “He changes the lightbulb far too often, and he just can’t seem to figure out how to sweep the floor properly.”

Kai MacTane has been webmastering the for six years now. People often compliment his dancing. Antigone personally prefers to dance punk, but she draws good stick figures.