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I recently joined this company and they have this tradition wherein newcomers must "perform" in the Year-end/Christmas party. It's going to be a short performance in the stage, most likely in-between breaks. I've talked with my seniors about this and they told me that they did a performance before too, even if they don't want to. The thing is;

  • I'm an introvert
  • I don't like to be in the spotlight where people (specially those who I don't know) watch/stare at me.
  • I don't like doing things that I am not comfortable doing.

What's even worse for me is that the performance must be a 'dance performance'. I can already imagine the cringe-worthy dance that I am forced to do.

I haven't talked with our HR regarding this as I don't know what to say. Also, I've been told by my seniors that they tried asking our HR(to not perform) before but they were told that it is required. I'm planning on taking a sick leave just to avoid performing during the party but it might seems suspicious and rude. How will I confront our HR regarding this? The Christmas party is approaching and this looks like an inescapable scenario for me.

UPDATE: Hi all! I've been browsing through your answers and suggestions and I just want to say that I appreciate all of it. From what I gathered, these two seem to came up a lot;

  1. DON'T.

    I think this is the most straight forward and easiest way for me to solve this situation. I will politely talk to our HR and express how I feel about this and why I don't want to perform. I don't like to do something that I will possibly regret doing someday. I've seen some answers who had been in a similar situation and regret doing a performance. I feel sorry for you guys. This is what exactly I've been trying to avoid. And it made me think of how potentially scary the situation is especially in our time today, the digital age. Embarrassing videos spread quickly nowadays through social medias and other platforms.

  2. OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE.

    This one I think is the plan B for me. Wherein I may not do exactly what they want me to do, but at least I'm showing that I'm willing to participate in the event. And I think this is the best way to go as it will show them that I'm socializing and cooperating in their tradition. A lot suggested interesting and creative ideas. I may have to look into it and do something that is easy and I feel comfortable doing. I'll just make it short and simple and be done with it.

I'll think about this and again, thank you all and have a great day!

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Dec 18 '19 at 12:19
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    Can you clarify one point? You mention talking to HR - are they organizing the party? Who is actually "in charge" of the party and coordinating the performances? I'm asking because you may get helpful answers about addressing the people responsible for the party (versus HR) if it turns out that HR isn't running the party. – dwizum Dec 18 '19 at 13:41
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    Are you sure they aren't pranking you? – Jan-Willem de Boer Dec 18 '19 at 15:28
  • Can you get more details from HR about the real purpose of this? Maybe you can comply with these purpose without dancing, which they will only discover when you perform, especially as I guess they won't answer "oh just humiliating you in front of your colleagues...". An alternative (up to you to confirm whether it is or not) might also be to gather with other newcomers that will have to perform and do it as a band. It would put you less into the light. – Laurent S. Dec 18 '19 at 17:19
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    This appears to be a form of hazing to me (albeit lightly). This would be a deal breaker for me and would likely quit over this and I'm only somewhat of an introvert. It would be interesting to see this on law.stackexchange.com – Reimus Klinsman Dec 18 '19 at 18:14

11 Answers 11

52

How will I confront our HR regarding this?

Don't confront HR. Discuss it with them.

Explain your fears. Explain why you don't want to do this.

They will likely tell you that you really should do it. I agree. I think you should do something quick, just get it over and put it behind you.

But if you refuse, you can't be forced to dance. It won't look good for you, but nobody is going to fire you for not performing.

Going outside your comfort zone on this could be better for your career. But if you feel that you must, make it clear to HR that you won't perform.

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    I upvoted this because that's the only answer talking about the possible positive effects of this with the sentence "Going outside your comfort zone on this would be better for your career." . I think being able to go outside of the comfort zone is also better for your life. – Laurent S. Dec 18 '19 at 16:02
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    This is being coerced out of your comfort zone. This is not deciding to bungee jump, this is allowing some company to decide when to be anxious. – Juan Tonina - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 16:08
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    One problem with this answer: cell phones + viral video craze mentality = possibility that the dance turns into a very public humiliation. Its sad that we have to worry about this sort of thing today. – bob Dec 18 '19 at 16:46
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    I feel horrible for anyone who works in a culture where this answer is correct. – Clay07g Dec 18 '19 at 17:46
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    If they try to push people into doing something they are not comfortable with purely for the entertainment part of company culture, they are not a professional HR department of a company, they're an adolescent student club with bullying entrance rituals. – Frank Hopkins Dec 18 '19 at 17:49
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How do I tell our HR that I don't want to “perform” in our Christmas party?

Dear HR,

I will not dance in our Christmas party because I don't feel comfortable doing this. Thank you for your understanding.

Best regards,

donotexecuteorder66


If you don't want to do something, you don't have to do something. Nobody will blame you because of this. Just tell(write) your boss and HR(if needed) as soon as possible. Make it clear that you don't want to and you won't do. Of course be polite. If I right understood, you will attend party and.. it is enough already.

PS Thanks to MawgsaysreinstateMonica and mikeazo for email template edit suggestion

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    @Andrei: I will not perform (no explanation that could give an opening to debate). State it as a plain fact, outside the possibility of any discussion. – gnasher729 Dec 18 '19 at 9:48
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    I think this is the best answer. OP is an adult. The authority of their employer does not extend beyond their contract, so if they don't want to do this, they don't have to and nothing and nobody can make them do it. There's no need to persuade HR, or appeal to the boss, or even explain why not. OP can simply say no and that's that. – Ruadhan2300 Dec 18 '19 at 13:59
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    @Ruadhan2300 Agreed, and it's also an excellent opportunity for the poster to learn to assert themselves. Saying no, without discussion, is a genuinely important life skill – Dan Dec 18 '19 at 14:03
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    @LaurentS. this isn't how you learn them, though. You learn these things through choice, not force. – Erik Dec 18 '19 at 16:00
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    @LaurentS.The OP states "I can already imagine the cringe-worthy dance that I am forced to do." This implies that they are worried about their ability to dance. Not everyone knows how to dance, and it is not a useful life skill. You cannot compare this with public speaking. What if the company instead forced all new hires to perform an athletic feat, such as running a mile in front of their colleagues? That would put overweight people on the spot and feel humiliated. Forcing a new hire to embarass themselves by participating in something they have no interest in is akin to hazing. – mai Dec 18 '19 at 16:55
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Don't do it!

I had a similar experience where I did a singing performance. Like Joe's answer suggests, I thought I could put it behind me after. Someone recorded it, shared it, kept sharing it for years, kept bringing it up occasionally years later. And this was before the days of YouTube and prolific smart-phones - now it's even easier to suffer this fate.

There was nothing wild or crazy about it. I just tried to sing a popular song and sounded bad. Apparently that is hilarious to some people.

They actively made fun of me about it for years, playing the recording and laughing at me even when I asked them to stop. I hardly see them anymore, but last time I met one of them because of a party he played the recording and laughed at me before I left.

It never died. Last I knew the recording was still being shared and laughed at, sometimes to people who know me. There was no "putting it behind me". Beware!


Wow, wasn't expecting all this attention. I should probably answer the question explicitly since my answer is highly rated now.

What to do (if you're ok risking your job)

What I would do...

Act natural 1 or 2 times, after that "I will not dance." You don't need any excuse. I would just keep saying "No."

HR: "Do it or lose your job!" Me: "I don't want trouble, but I will not dance." Keep working and refusing until they actually fire you.

If you go to the party it will be very awkward and you will feel a lot of pressure, but you can keep saying "No." Even if No doesn't make sense. "Why not?" "No." "But why?" "Just no." After a few times you can try "Stop asking"

It will be awkward, but not more than the performance or any possible recordings. Be as polite as possible the entire time.

Even if it is legal to fire for this reason in your area, it is without justification. If they try to say you were insubordinate, that is nonsense.

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    This is an excellent point. Thirty years ago, "go for it, it'll soon be forgotten" would be safe advice. In the age of record and share funny videos to get a viral hit, there's a decent chance your dance may live a long time and get much more attention than you bargained for, especially if the party is well attended and your dance is viral-video worthy. I would get out of it if I were you. – bob Dec 18 '19 at 16:45
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    Don't forget that there are also people who don't WANT to see other embarrass themselves on stage. It is cringey and just sort of sad. – Catsunami Dec 18 '19 at 17:30
  • Thank you for sharing this; arguably it's the best answer. Sorry for your troubles, but thank you for helpfully sharing it to the rest of us here. (E.g., I'm old enough to possibly overlook this possibility.) – Daniel R. Collins Dec 18 '19 at 18:06
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    @Catsunami, you are absolutely correct. This kind of stuff is cringe-worthy even for the most extroverted salesperson blow-out party. I've had to endure watching my employer's C-Level crew play air-guitar Karaoke at the end of one very successful quarter. It's unpleasant. And it would be far worse if they had made a back-office person with a normal-sized ego do it. OP should just show up, smile, and say there's no way they're going to do it-- for the sake of the audience. – teego1967 Dec 19 '19 at 0:33
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I have actually been in a similar situation.

I worked at a large company, in a small department. Each department within our division were creating short videos that would be presented at an annual management conference.

My department's video involved us all dancing. It was intended to be humorous.

I am very uncomfortable dancing, with the sole exception of dancing with my wife. I'm introverted, have strong social anxiety, and no sense of rhythm.

There was no way I was going to dance. My manager was insistent. My team members all repeatedly assured me that it was not a big deal, that it was supposed to be funny so if I danced badly, everyone would assume it was intentional, etc..

I stood my ground, and said that while I was willing to participate, under no circumstances would I dance.

My manager was angry. My team was disappointed.

We shot the video with me sitting down, not dancing.

No one on my team ever brought up my refusal again. It just wasn't a big deal once it was over.

This was nearly 20 years ago. Last year, one of my coworkers that I am still in touch with shared that same video, now hosted on YouTube. I was very glad I had refused to dance.

In your case, it's a bit different, since this is a live, apparently solo performance. Yet I suggest taking a similar approach: state very firmly that you will not dance, but you are willing to participate as far as you are comfortable. Decide before hand just what you are comfortable with, and I strongly suggest pushing that a bit outside of what you are actually comfortable with.

Can you tolerate being on stage alone, if you don't have to dance? How about in a group? Is there something else you can do, like sing, recite your favorite poem, an excerpt from a story? Re-enact funny scenes from movies?

The key is to offer alternatives to dancing; tell them what you are willing to do. Even if they say "no", you are at least showing that you are willing to compromise.

If you truly are not comfortable getting up on stage at all, and they are unwilling to budge on that, then you should look for another job. While your refusal (and you should still refuse) will create a negative impression, the bigger issue by far is a company culture that refuses to respect personal boundaries in favor of "fitting in". This is a huge flag that there will almost certainly be other, rather severe, downsides to working there. I don't see much distance between "dance for our entertainment" and "you should cancel your family vacation because the company comes first".

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    I have only to add that an internal event, due the presence of cellphones and social networks could make really easy that the performace will escape like in these case huffingtonpost.it/entry/… where the internal video, jumperd from cellphone to cellphone until broadcasted in TV in prime time. – Michele L'Intenditore Dec 18 '19 at 13:54
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    @MicheleL'Intenditore That's why I mentioned my recent appearance on youtube. Fortunately, I didn't go viral. It just wasn't that entertaining. But if an internal event 20 years ago could resurface now, the chances of a performance today going out "in the wild" is exponentially higher. – Beofett Dec 18 '19 at 14:26
  • Similar anecdote: I once did a singing thing that someone recorded and they kept bringing it up even years later, and they were sharing it with others, both with people I knew and with strangers. It was actively used to make fun of me. – Aaron Dec 18 '19 at 14:40
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    @Aaron This on its own is reason to be disinclined to make a fool of yourself. You cannot trust our always-connected world to let embarrassing things die. So more effort must be expended to avoid doing stupid things that you'll regret whenever it gets brought up again. – Ruadhan2300 Dec 18 '19 at 14:44
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What is the point of this "tradition"? You should ask HR that question.

I imagine they will tell you it's some sort of team-building activity. I can't see how imposing humiliation on the reluctant will build any esprit de corps.

I've worked at places where the extroverts try to force others to join in, but I have always managed to say "no" with no downside.

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    I don't think that imposing humiliation is what they aim for but I get where you're going. Although, I think the purpose is to make newcomers participate in company activities such as events like this. I'll try to ask our HR if I get a chance. – donotexecuteorder66 Dec 18 '19 at 6:41
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    Don't ask ... tell – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 8:06
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    @donotexecuteorder66 Dancing in front of wide public is humiliating unless you're a professional dancer. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 12:19
  • @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica > Well many not-professional dancers perform dances in front of an audience in parties all over the world without finding it humiliating or being humiliated by anybody. From where I see it self derision is the cure for a lot of situations otherwise humiliating. – Laurent S. Dec 18 '19 at 15:55
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    @LaurentS. Self derision is not a "cure" in these situations, but rather a motivation - making it an exercise in comedy rather than dancing. And wile someone may be able to make jokes about themselves, they still may not be comfortable making a joke out of themselves. It still boild down to being only OK if the performer is OK with it. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 16:06
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Unless you have been hired as a professional dancer (or something of the like), this is ridiculous. There is no reason to humiliate new hires in a way like that. And no, humiliation has nothing to do with team building.

As somebody has already said in the comments: What would they do if the new hire was physically unable to perform the dance? Or are handicapped people generally not hired by this company? If so, is this legal in your country?

Is it possible that your seniors are just making fun of you? What would be the consequences if you refused? Would you lose you job? Really?

You have two possibilities: 1. Take a sick leave, perhaps for 2-3 days, so that it is not too obvious that you are just trying to avoid the christmas party.

  1. OR politely ask HR if this performance is really mandatory and why (and perhaps about the consequences).

Do not take a sick leave if they tell you it is mandatory. This is too obvious.

To be honest: If they really insist that you have to dance or face serious consequences, this would be a big red flag for me and I would start looking for a new job.

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    Do not take a fake sick leave in any case! – Igor G Dec 18 '19 at 10:33
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    @IgorG OP could honestly take it as a "mental health" sick day. – Aaron Dec 18 '19 at 14:36
  • As someone who has never danced yet in his life and was has repeatedly been told that music has a rithm (not one I can hear though, on my best days it all sounds like a metronome to me with no variation in it at all)... I would be physically sick. I likely would throw up on stage. No need to be fake sick. Just thinking about being forced to perform like this would make me sick. – Hennes Dec 18 '19 at 21:11
  • That seems to be the actual mindset for quite some companies. Do consider something here: besides they being no one to force someone on something s/he are not bound by contract there is the fact that there are many other people that would rather not dance (or do something in particular). Therefore, avoiding it "sets jurisprudence": OP would be honest to itself and would potentially help others in their (real) freedom to choose. – Kiddo Dec 19 '19 at 0:47
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Do it without doing it

One possible solution, snag some "dance" video of internet fame that you find humorous (or think your coworkers will), whether it's I'm a kitty cat and I dance dance dance or baby shark or a video of someone else dancing from last year... whatever you feel is the right video. Load this up on your tablet/laptop (largest screen device you have access to). When it's your turn bring this onto stage, play the video on the device (standing as motionless as possible), and when it's done walk off the stage (maybe take a bow if people clap or laugh). Decide before hand whether you want a neutral expression or to smile, and maintain the same expression through the whole ordeal.

If you do decide to go this route, you'll want to practice ahead of time several times. This will let you make sure the video is downloaded to the device, and make sure you don't accidentally play something embarrassing by accident. If you have any videos that might be considered NSFW or even just inappropriate, I'd remove them from the device before hand. I'd also suggest testing somewhere without wifi beforehand to make sure you really do have the file downloaded.

This will let you participate, still be entertaining, and you've fulfilled the spirit of the requirement if not the letter.

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6

I am also an introvert, but I do my best to fight it, in the workplace, as seemingly going along to get along works better in the long term. Let me caveat this by stating I am at the tail end of being a "baby boomer" (I was born in 1964.) Were I to be 'commanded' to dance, I would 'own it'. All four of the following do not require your legs to do anything, but stand still.

I would begin by saying that growing up, I really enjoyed Charley Brown comics and TV specials, and I was especially fond of Snoopy's Happy Dance. Close your eyes, tilt your head back with a sly grin, and slowly shake your head no while flailing your arms. Don't worry about moving your feet. Those who remember Snoopy's Happy Dance will get it.

Then, I would state that one of the seminal movies in my younger years was Caddyshack, staring Bill Murray and that this is your interpretation of the gopher dance. Again, stand there, face front, eyes can be closed, and just 'wipe your back off with a towel', without actually using a towel.

Next, say that these last two are for the Millennial's, and you just learned them recently. Do the "Floss" and end with the "Dab". If the first two are too much for you, you can always limit yourself to these two. They are easy to do and a minute or two up front, and you'll have completed your command performance.

You'll be embarrassed, that simply can't be helped. Anything you do that puts you in the spot-light will. But you'll have done your best and the fact that you can name what you are doing, will earn you social 'points'.

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This is more of a supplement to all the "Don't do it" answers:

I strongly suggest considering a "make up move". All the others before you had to complete this initiating dance while they didnt want to and "this new guy gets away with not doing it?!?!?" Regarding what you think, you will be one step behind at that moment.

I doubt you will undo the "reputation damage" completely, but you can soften it. You might make/buy a special cake, or add a significant feature to the party. You could do something you feel more confortable with, something that you might also consider initiating, but is less in the spotlight.

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    If it's a proper stage with wings & curtains: Cue the music, then just moonwalk out of sight – Chronocidal Dec 18 '19 at 16:20
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...implying a duty to loiter for the entire party

Let's flip it, and take it from the perspective of a social butterfly.

First, the fashionable holiday party period is very short - just a couple of weeks. And there are a lot of holiday parties. That means a social butterfly will have a very full schedule this season. And that practically guarantees some sort of schedule conflict for a socially active person.

And a 7pm-10pm event actually being 7pm-10pm? Not for a social butterfly. They'll flit in and flit out. Fair chance thgey can't even use all that time, because they have a well-tuned sense of when to end a conversation to "leave the other person wanting more" rather than "wondering when you'd leave". As such, they can move through a party pretty quickly, doing their social interactions and then moving on. At this point, a social butterfly is unlikely to linger. It's off to another party, or simply to take a "me break" to recharge social batteries.

So pretend to be a butterfly.

a) Officially, you have a prior engagement

You already have a party scheduled for then. Can't really break it.

However, you show up anyway, just to make an appearance, and explain you could squeeze it in.

b) Flit in for 15 minutes, then disappear

So you show up anyway, on the excuse "I can squeeze in a 'quick hello' and be fashionably late for my prior engagement". That makes you seem thougtful, curious, engaging and magnanimous, since you went out of your way to make it fit.

Do just like the butterfly. Show up, make a beeline for the people you have social obligations to interact with, say hello, and do the very opposite of making them wonder when you'd end the conversation.

  • Give the person your undivided attention, 90% listen, make the person feel heard; and don't really talk much yourself. The goal here is to maximize their perception of a quality conversation, in the absolute minimum time.
    • This isn't about you; this is hell for you; it's about fulfilling the social obligation as efficiently as possible.
  • Don't add any subjects to the conversation, because that will be time-inefficient (because you'll ramble) and reduce the perceived quality of the conversation.
  • Long before the well of conversation runs dry and starts to be awkward, excuse yourself using one of a variety of stock methods, and flit to the next person.

Flit flit flit, and out the door. "Oh gosh, look at the time... I really need to get to my prior engagement!"

I would aim for very early, before they get the dance thing organized. Others who arrive "fashionably late" will be told by others that they missed you, but you had to be at another engagement.

Don't talk to HR about that, are you kidding?

"Multiple hull fractures, nine overloaded power conduits, and Ensign Davis spilled soy sauce on his pants."

"He put that in a damage report!?"

"Yes."

"Man, we've got to get better people."

-- The Orville, "Into The Fold"

This is just not the kind of thing to take to HR. It is patently absurd (and potentially illegal) to make an HR issue out of office party behavior. The person who initiates that will be at great disadvantage, because they will look petty, self-centered and very much not a team player. Make that be the other person.

Wow, if your management did make it an HR/disciplinary issue, that's pretty much an automatic win if they fire you and dispute your unemployment claim. No court on earth is going to see that as reasonable. Maybe if it was an official team-building exercise, but a party is not that. It's a party.

That said, there's nothing weird or inappropriate about staff pressuring other staff to participate in silly stuff like karaoke, talent shows or other being an idiot in front of the company staff. Because honestly, if they didn't pressure people, nobody would do it. But weaseling out of it is equally fair game.

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-4

I agree with Joe that this is something you probably can, but shouldn't, refuse. And yeah, it's one of those things that I as an introvert would also rather avoid. But it's probably better not to dodge it.

It's a bit like fraternity hazing. Not quite as juvenile, but kinda reminds you. You don't get to be the cool kid by trying to weasel out of it. It can be a bit embarrassing, but everyone else has also been through it and it's okay to be a bit embarrassed.

I do think that if this sort of thing is required of newcomers who aren't that high on the totem pole yet, that it would be a good gesture if someone established at the company also has to do such a dance act, to sort of share the awkwardness. (And I'm not talking about the manager who happens to be a seriously good dancer, showing off. I'm talking someone regular who shows that they're human too, and that it's all in good fun, and they're not afraid to look funny at a party.)

Also, if you decide to do this, do make sure you practice. Ask if there's someone at the company who's good at this who's willing to help you practice. That person will also be able to help you mentally prepare for it. The point of practice isn't to suddenly become a star dancer, but to feel mentally ready for it.

It's probably going to be awkward. But not maliciously awkward. Everyone else who's had to go through it will laugh a bit but ultimately sympathize with you. Try to enjoy it, even if it's not something you'd volunteer for normally. It'll help you become part of the gang.

EDIT

This answer is getting a lot of downvotes, but almost as many upvotes. I guess I struck a nerve, and that the answer needs improvement.

Let me start by saying that I don't think this office policy is a good policy. I would hate to have to do such a dance act myself. I'm also an introvert, in a world that sometimes seems built for the pleasure of extroverts. And I've always been nervous around these "put the newcomer on stage" things.

But I also try to be pragmatic. I could take a principled stand and refuse to perform, but I'd probably get a reputation as a sourpuss. Maybe it'd cause some change in the company, but the chance of that doesn't seem very large, because as a newcomer I don't have a lot of sway yet. I think that if I tried to fight this head on, it'd just give my career in the company a bad start.

The OP reports that seniors have also asked HR to not have to perform but that HR required it. I suspect that HR has an attitude of "oh, it's just a dance, it's fun, don't be a childish whiner". As a newcomer, you don't have the social power to challenge this. But the OP's colleagues who are by now seniors have more power now than they had when they joined and they had to dance. If you want to effectively challenge this policy, you need help from people with more status in the company.

That's why I said that what should happen is that the OP's manager (or a senior colleague) gets involved. It's easy to point and laugh at the insecure newcomer. Not so easy and risk-free to do that if the newcomer is dancing together with someone with some status in the company. A good manager would recognize this situation and use their social power to protect their junior. In this case, by going on stage and shaming HR.

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    People actually upvoted this???!! – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 18 '19 at 8:06
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    "but everyone else has also been through it" - aka 'the cycle of abuse' – AakashM Dec 18 '19 at 8:59
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    "it's okay to be a bit embarrassed" no, actually it's not. What else would be okay on that level? Is it okay if the men use the women's bathroom? Or just the yard? I mean come one, just a little embarrassing, right? No harm no foul? All fun and games? Maybe just for Christmas? It's never okay to be forced to be embarrassed by the company. – nvoigt Dec 18 '19 at 9:00
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    Christmas is the season of good will. There can’t possibly be a more inappropriate time for this. – gnasher729 Dec 18 '19 at 9:50
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    Fraternity hazing is probably not the comparison you want to make. Last I checked, it's illegal in the vast majority of US States – alroc Dec 18 '19 at 13:07

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