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From George W. Bush to Donald Trump: A brief history of presidents dancing

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush dance with members of the KanKouran West African Dance Company in 2007 in the Rose Garden. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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On Tuesday, a video surfaced of former president George W. Bush being that fun uncle everyone wants at their wedding, tearing up the dance floor at the nuptials of his nephew over the weekend.

Dubya gamely bobbed and gyrated along to the 1980s hit “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” as the bride pirouetted around in front of him. It proves a thesis more than a decade in the making: The guy reeeeally loves to get his groove on. Bush 43 has often broken out some dance moves in front of the cameras, employing many of the hallmarks of the Dad School of Dance, which include enthusiastic arm motions and wiggling hips — all set off by a goofy grin that seems to say “well, here goes.”

Bush’s “Saturday Night Fever” tendencies also came out in 2016 at, of all places, a memorial to slain police officers in Dallas. He and his wife, Laura, had joined President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the somber event, and in a particularly meaningful moment of solidarity, the former president joined hands with both his wife and Michelle Obama during a rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Which sounds quite solemn, but Bush quickly turned things jaunty, swinging his arms and sort of sway-marching in what was described as a “jig” that “turned heads.”

And he famously couldn’t control his happy feet in 2007, when he welcomed the KanKouran West African Dance Company to the Rose Garden. He posed for a picture with the troupe that quickly turned into an impromptu performance. “In no time, it was Bush who was enthusiastically choreographing the moves,” the Associated Press reported at the time. “Flashing a big grin, Bush pounded on the drums to set the rhythm and led the women and men of the group in a little dance.” Then there was that time he tried a little Astaire-esque soft-shoe in front of the White House press corps in 2008 as he killed time waiting to be joined by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “I’m just going to tap-dance away the day,” he joked.

His moves might be hammy — as when he exaggeratedly pantomimed checking his watch seconds into one of his 2001 inaugural dances — but, hey, at least he’s got enthusiasm.

Contrast that with President Trump, who looked like a guy who’d rather be somewhere else (at a rally, maybe? Watching “Fox and Friends”?) during the traditional swaying-with-the-first-lady at his own 2017 inaugural ball. And Trump grimaced and bounced his way through a traditional sword dance during a trip to Saudi Arabia last year, one of the few times we’ve seen Trump do anything that could reasonably be described as rug-cutting.

Obama seemed to enjoy dancing, too, though his dance-floor M.O. is to play it cool, he revealed in an interview earlier this year with David Letterman. He told the talk-show host about a 2015 private concert at the White House where the pop star Prince performed — Prince, Obama said, pulled Obama’s younger daughter Sasha onstage to dance with him. Sasha, in turn, brought her father with her, which surprised the former POTUS, since the teen had a history of mocking his “dad moves.”

Obama said his trick for not embarrassing himself in such situations is to “stay in the pocket.” Dads (and maybe ex-presidents?) who get too enthusiastic offer a cautionary example, he said: “They’re trying stuff that they can’t really pull off, and you know they start doing karate kicks and all kinds of stuff.”

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