Travis Laurence Naught takes a humorous approach to the history of dance-offs and dance circles, and where dancing has evolved to today. Consider yourself served.
Movement is key to a healthy life. There are so many ways that a person moves: internally, externally, metaphorically. For example, see the disco fiend shaking it on Studio 54’s dance floor, mid-1970s, after eating cookies with too much fiber in them? (Wink wink.) They figured no one would notice if they passed a little gas. They closed their eyes, let the dirty air steam past their cheeks, and continued to gyrate along to the funky grooves being spun.
Naturally, the smell was recognized.
People began discoing away from the epicenter to escape the burning sulfur scent in favor of the crowd’s less invasive body odors. One person remained, seemingly unaffected, spinning and bopping and moving uninhibited, as if challenging everyone else to be so free. That person avoided social pariah status by not showing embarrassment when they realized what had happened. Instead, they put on a show that finished with the dance floor favorite move of casting a line and dragged another to the center of the ring while they faded back into the crowd. The odor, which never lasts as long as it feels like when it is attacking nearby nostrils, had dissipated. A competitive spirit took hold. The dance off challenge was born.
Actual research into the history of competitive dance circles shows that my humorous, likely fiction, take on things might not be too far off. If a person types “dance circles,” “individual dance circle,” or “dance challenge circle” into Google, it brings up a plethora of links to dance maneuvers that barely mention the previously described situation. Ancient Egyptian slave masters did not use dance battles to decide who to throw to the lions. Apparently, the actual Duke of Earl had very little to do with moving to music. There was no Olympic sport where the competitors stood in the round, clapping rhythm.
When it is mentioned, there are references to college parties. Sure, a bunch of booze hounds jockeying to prove themselves as the best sexual option among their contemporaries are likely to show off in front of each other. Leave it to the younger generation to accidentally stay healthy. And while the goal of getting laid is a noble reason for stepping on the floor, there is a more basic adrenaline that can be found by besting someone with dance moves.
Everyone knows the dangers inherent of getting served, and feels a certain pressure breathing down their necks when a beat starts, floorspace expanding around them. This is not the time to turn Rabbit in the opening scenes of 8 Mile, run into the bathroom, evacuate nerves into the waiting porcelain. No place for that type of movement now! This is the time to shine. Hopefully you have been paying attention to the pros who grace the stage on Dancing with the Stars. At the very least, tell me you’ve seen an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, right? Maybe you’ll rise to the challenge and do a little breakdance routine: drop to the floor, run in circles while lying perpendicular to the audience, as if being spun on an axis. Folks’ll go nuts!
Everyone knows the dangers inherent of getting served, and feels a certain pressure breathing down their necks when a beat starts, floorspace expanding around them.
Clearly, I’ve never won one of these dance challenges. Better advice than mine can be found everywhere about what to do if you find yourself spotlighted on the floor. Basics include classic moves such as The Twist, The Robot, The Sprinkler, or just going ape shit and making some stuff up. The key as I see it, however, is always movement.
New York City continues to be a leading force in American pop culture. The New York Times published an article in April 2018 about mastery in the ring that is not about boxing. Folks are coming together to come up with the next wave of individual dance moves. They are giant personas in a budding/continuing/cyclical society of rhythm advancement. Unlike the exercise craze that is Zumba, these folks come together to challenge each other’s bodies mechanics rather than play a game of follow the leader.
Improv in comedy has a long, storied history. Improv dance arguably goes back to the beginning of history. Communication hasn’t always been verbal. Humans have always watched one another to figure out motives and direction. It is good that we are still practicing this technique. Better yet, even that it is being celebrated today. There are so many electronic distractions available. The last thing we need is to evolve another step toward the way civilization is portrayed in WALL-E.
Some of those distractions have attempted to capitalize on human beings’ love for rhythmic movements. Dance Dance Revolution was an early successful attempt, but I venture a guess that its biggest success was in reminding people how good it feels to use their bodies to interact. As if people needed reminding that it feels good to interact with others’ bodies. (Ahem.)
About the only positive that playing a video game might hold over the grit of being surrounded by peers, thrumming away to the music, losing control, forgetting social politeness, allowing themselves to be free and fart and continue on without fear of negative consequence: video games do not stink. That being said, I urge you all to throw caution into the risk of a momentary foul wind for the sake of social movement. Hit the floor. Let your endorphins run wild.
Worst case scenario? There’s fresh air waiting for you outside.