‘dad-dancing’: meaning and origin

The British-English noun dad-dancing denotes an awkward, unfashionable or unrestrained style of dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged or older men.
—Cf. also
dad-joke.

The earliest occurrence of the noun dad-dancing that I have found is from an article about a nightclub for mature clubbers in Edinburgh, by Geraldine Murray, published in Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland) of 20th October 1996:
—as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED – 3rd edition, March 2016):

Overall, the emphasis is more on socialising than wearing a hole on the dance floor. This is fortunate judging by the amount of unco-ordinated dad-dancing that some of the men display.

In Scotland on Sunday coined ‘dad dancing’ now in OED, published in The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland) of 16th June 2013, Emma Cowing quoted Geraldine Murray, the author of the above-mentioned article, as explaining:

“It was just a phrase that was going round at the time and it seemed appropriate to use it. It was that idea of that awful thing that happens to a man when he becomes a parent and therefore becomes totally incapable of doing anything other than awkward shuffling about on the dance floor.
“The fact that this endearingly clumsy phenomenon not only still exists but has grown so much since I first used it is impressive really—it stands as a bastion to being terribly awkward.”

The following is another extract from Emma Cowing’s article:

In 2009, research was published that suggested dad dancing was in fact an evolutionary quirk that meant ageing males would repel the attention of young women, leaving the field clear for men at their sexual peak.
“The message their dancing sends out is ‘Stay away, I’m not fertile’,” said Dr Peter Lovatt, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who compared the dancing styles and confidence levels of nearly 14,000 people.
His research showed that men between the ages of 35 and 60 typically attempted complex moves with limited co-ordination.
“It would seem completely unsurprising to me that since middle-aged men have passed their natural reproductive age, and probably have a family already, evolution would act to ensure they are no longer attractive to 18-year-old girls,” Dr Lovatt said. “It’s like an apple that is going brown—you want a fresh green one instead.”

The second-earliest occurrence of the noun dad-dancing that I have found is from Let’s groove tonight, by Glenn Waldron, published in The Independent (London, England) of 23rd December 2000:

The average teenager will have three recurring bad dreams. The first is being naked in school assembly. The second is being naked at the school disco. And the third? Well, the third is watching your parents dance at the school disco. Sounds trivial? Not a bit. As any awkward adolescent worth their acne knows, this nightmare is the worst one of all. Bad dad-dancing is just too much for anyone to take.

The noun dad-dancing occurs in the radio previews published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of 22nd December 2001:

After The Ball—The Story Of The Office Christmas Party (9.30 pm, R2) reveals that drunken snogs with someone you normally can’t bear the sight of, hokey-cokeys around the water cooler and photocopying your bum cheeks all have their roots in ancient history, sort of. Johnny Vaughn traces the office party’s roots to Roman and Pagan times, when a feast in the heart of winter rewarded workers for their year of hard toil. More recently, a wartime office bash for a British brewery got so out of hand, several staff members lost their jobs for conduct unbecoming. Santa hats and foam reindeer antlers from the market, bad “Dad” dancing and the sight of drunken confessionals all inevitably followed.

The noun dad-dancing seems to have a positive connotation in the review of Brixton Stories, a play by the Nigerian novelist, playwright and filmmaker Biyi Bandele (born 1967)—review by Ben Dowell, published in The Stage (London, England) of 25th October 2001:

Most compelling is the sweet road movie segment once Ossie wakes to embark on a journey through Brixton with his daughter Nehushta.
His slow motion Dad Dancing is brilliant but even some of these scenes take flight all too carelessly. And that is a shame, because Bandele’s story about second chances, the magic of life and the creative and artistic gift of turning a nightmare into a dream works on so many levels.