In defense of… Group Dancing.

Macarena. Electric Slide. Hustle. Cupid Shuffle. Slide to the left. Slide to the right. Criss cross. Charlie Brown. Everybody clap your hands. Cha-cha real smooth.
If you understood any of the jibberish I just typed, then you know of the phenomenon called “group dancing.” Particularly due to current events, and by personal request, I will be taking it upon myself to defend the dance of choice for both the late King of Pop and average wedding-reception goers alike: synchronized movements done to a beat in a group of three or more. This will be a difficult article for myself to write, as I am not a fan of group dancing (particularly in the last thirty years or so) nor am I a fan of any accepted form of dancing that has grown (or rather, groan) into an art form since Mr. Ford was President. If given a choice between dancing like an absolute goon or dancing the Macarena…I’d choose this guy:


BUT! I have been challenged to defend group dancing, and defend it I shall to the best of my ability. Strap on your platform shoes, get your chicken wings ready to flap, and brush up on your Spanish, because we’re going to jump onto the dance floor with fifty complete strangers and get CRAYYYYZEEEE.
First off, Eric said, adjusting his bowtie and straightening the lapels on his corduroy jacket, the idea of synchronized dancing, or even dance crazes, is nothing new. Different forms of dances, along with different forms of music, have been making the rounds since the Renaissance, when people finally realized that they could have more in their lives that farming pigs, sleeping next to pigs, selling pigs for rich people to eat, and then dying of starvation next to the pigs marked for sale to the Lords and Ladies. Yes, in the Renaissance people came out of the backward Medieval period and realized that they wanted to do one thing: DANCE.
I mean, come on, wouldn’t you?
So, with more people spreading out more of the wealth more favorably, we finally got a middle class of sorts, and the number one thing middle class people like to do is pretend that they are upper class, whether its buying a ridiculous yacht, dining at a ridiculous restaraunt, or dancing some ridiculous dance that everyone says is “cool.” And such dance crazes were born. Of course, back then dances were less fleeting and a little more labor intensive, often involving a long period of study before you could whip out the newest schottische for the Duke of Prussia. As such, dances seemed to stick around longer and have more impact. One dance craze from the olden days you might remember is a little thing called the Waltz. Yes, as much as it stabs at the cold, cynical core of my hear to say it, the stately waltz was once considered in the same category as the Ketchup Dance…but only barely.
Mash the fast forward button a bit and head into the 20th century, where mankind, if you’ll pardon the expression, went completely off its tits. It appeared that all the freedom we’d been enjoying since the Renaissance had gotten us bloated and stupid on our own delusions of grandeur, but the First World War put a fairly grisly kibosh on that…but that’s a story for another day. So, in this world of global war, poison gas, and millions of amputees dotting the world over thanks to Minie shells and Maxim machine guns, what’s a lost young former soldier and his confused wife to do?
Thus the worried, shell-shocked, and nihilistic WWI veterans got their fears out through drinking a ridiculous amount of supposedly illegal liquor and dancing dances that, by many people’s accounts, should have been illegal. The first bona fide crazes of the 20th century dance catalog were the Charleston and the Jitterbug, which both flappers and vamps alike cavorted the night away with while Myrtle got run over by a big yellow car. At around the same time, tango dances became popular, no doubt also for the licentiousness, and still gave a bit of class and work ethic to the popular dances of the time. But still, the seeds were sown. The dances were still challenging (try doing the Charleston some time) but a state of fad was beginning to surround popular dance, and suddenly it wasn’t so much that you were a twenty year master of the waltz, but that you’d spent twenty minutes doing the next big thing.
Moving on, I’ll take another bullet to my Historical heart and say that another of my favorite decades, the 1950s, spawned quite a few ridiculous dances, almost all of which can be documented in the recent movie “Hairspray.” Soon, things like the Twist and the Mashed Potato weren’t options at an ice cream joint or restaraunt, but rather moves to shake your poodle skirt and shimmy your saddle oxfords to. Some made sense, like the Swim (wherein one pretended that he or she was swimming), but others, like the Watusi or the Frug (pronounced Froog) just showed that we were headed down a dangerous slope. As we moved into the 1970s, dancing was starting to become just a spasmodic flailing of limbs rather than a carefully practised sequence…and it would only get worse.
Ahhh, the 80s. Now HERE’s a decade I can rip on. Almost universally, the 80s have bad fashion, bad music, and bad dances. After the aforementioned Hustle, the Bump, and the YMCA, dances which really only consisted of standing in a line and moving a little, died with disco, the 80s brought in a new slew of weird gyrations, only some of which demanded talent. Vogue dancing became popular, though it was was hardly more than posing set to music (perfect for poseurs!), and the Electric Slide, still a favorite for its easy to learn…well…walking around to music. Unfortunately, things got even worse when the whole “walking” aspect was deemed too challenging, giving us dances like “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the unholy Pig-demon of all group dances, the Macarena. I used to say, as a child, that the Macarena was perfect for weddings, because anyone can do it drunk. I was a prescient child.
Now, what was I supposed to do be doing…?
Oh yeah…DEFENDING group dances. Well, here we go.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with group dances. They get people who wouldn’t usually dance to get up and have some fun, so they are ideal for social situations like weddings where everyone’s a little nervous about people they don’t know in the room. When you’re all doing the same dance, no one can laugh at you, right? Also, it has the grace of bringing dancing down to the level of the everyday guy, where earlier dances, as I stated, required quite a bit of work and athletic skill. The repetition of the same moves over and over also allows for quick and easy memorization, to make sure no one feels left out. Group dances are not meant to be about the dancing, they are a social experience. It’s not about how good someone is, it’s about how much fun everyone is having. It’s not about being the best, it’s about being accepted. It’s about being able to do the Chicken dance next to the great-aunt of some obscure cousin at some other obscure cousin’s wedding, and laugh your behind off because it’s fun, something that I tend to forget about in my stuffy, History-based approach to culture. It would be very hypocritical of me to champion retro gaming only a week ago, reminding people that games should be fun, and then turn around and say that dances can’t be. I, personally take a dance seriously, especially one that has specific steps and a name. If I wanna just be a goon, I’ll be a goon. However, I understand that to some people, dancing is a game, and dancing should be fun. So, to that guy who is always whining about how group dances are lame, simplistic, boring, and a greater sign of the downfall of modern society, I will look into the mirror and say…
“Dude, relax. Just go have some fun.”
Until we meet again, I tenderly remain,

One thought on “BY REQUEST!”

  1. So now that you’ve defended it (totally calling my bluff, btw!) ….it means you’re gonna dance with me next time, right? I’ve got my dance card cleared just for you and Casper, and Cupid, and Los del Rio. 😀

    It’s not just about having fun, either. There are regional variants to many of the dances – e.g. did you know the Casper Slide originated in Chicago? That should please your cultural and geographical historian. But that’s not the main point I’m getting to. The more often one does the dance, the more likely it is that one will start adding to it – a slide here, a spin there, an extra movement, a different turn, etc. Part of the fun of doing these dances is seeing what moves another person adds, because while part of the group dance experiences is teaching the newbies, the other part is showing off yo’ sweet moves.

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