By The Landlord
"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching."
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul and the body."
"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance."
The choreographer Martha Graham, the record-breaking early 20th-century black baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, and, yes, even Confucious have all come to the Song Bar disco this week. Who else might turn up? Well, whoever it is, let's all get on down! But who said what? That doesn't matter, because we are all dancing together. Or are we? Do we just express ourselves as individuals? Are we Morrisseys swiveling on one foot in our own world, or Texan square dancers, or indeed North Korean performers, feeling as one? That is one of many questions to consider in what motivates us to dance in this week's topic.
So then, who here hasn't suggested dance songs, or compiled playlists to dance to, songs about dancing, or ones that represent particular dance styles? Everybody dance now. Let's dance. Dance to the music. Shake, shake, shake - shake your booty. This is an age-old craft. But this week let's really get moving to the very core of something in music and ourselves – what is it in any given song that makes limbs twitch, heads nod, feet tap, shoulders shake and hearts thump? Is it really just rhythm, lyrics or something deeper?
Dance music is really the first music, perhaps, since our ancestors leaped and screamed around camp fires and banged sticks and bones on rocks. So the term is not limited, but certainly includes the genre of the later 80s and early 90s that spawned the utterly misguided Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that tried to outlaw events with a series of 'repetitive beats'. Yet what is repetitive to some is variety to others depending on your chemical state, after all. But this week's topic is much wider than that. And you don't necessarily need beats to create dance music, or do you?
One of the greatest dancers in the 20th century was Fred Astaire. He was my mum's absolute hero (it was later, to my slight surprise, Bryan Robson). Here he is in action, Fred that is, not Bryan, displaying extraordinary rhythmic ability, literally playing the drums with his feet, but does this make you want to dance, or just be Fred Astaire?
The likes of Cole Porter (and more) of that era were true icons of songwriting genius, and long before that, church composers such as Monteverdi created works elevated beauty, but you're never going to dance to it. Or are you? In Porter's case, especially if you're Fred and Ginger, certainly. So beats aren't always necessary to inspire dancing.
Over the years I have been to two 'come as your childhood hero' birthday parties. There were all kinds of costumes, ironic or otherwise, with arrivals dressed variously as Jacques Cousteau, the pope, George Best, Kenny Dalglish (both lovely movers) and some wildcards, among themNoel Edmonds, and Hong Kong Phooey, but, retrospectively, and fortunately, pre-Operation Yewtree, no one came as the original double-deckmeister Jimmy Savile. Two lovely female friends, perhaps inevitably, came as Kate Bush. Spotting each other with mutual rivalry and admiration, and suddenly hearing Wuthering Heights mischievously set up on the decks, they then began a quite extraordinary and entertaining Bush-off to this non-beats song. Each Kate swirled around the other in a mirrored gyrating windmill-armed routine, all hair, lips, finery, and wide-eyed gesturing - a spontaneous modern dance-ballet mime extravaganza.
So to inspire you further, let's get a taste of some truly slick dance styles. Keep a glass of iced water to hand, folks. Some of these are hot:
Back in the early days now, with the Lindy Hop:
... which to me is an example of truly high-octane, skill and joy. But this is pure showbiz. What fuels dancing is also political and social. But what music or lyrical elements in your song nominations make us want to dance? Motown, one of the greatest of all genres, generally combines a simple four-beat bar but overlayered are supreme melodies, and lyrics about sadness yet sung in an joyful style – the perfect pop combination.
The early-70s northern soul craze was inspired by the Detroit sound. It displayed a particularly northern, and vigorously bouncy form of self-expression on those early dancefloors, aworking-class release of frustration saved up for the weekend. What is it really saying? I'm fucked off with the factory, so now I'm going to enjoy myself.
Dancing's truest forms come from not only the clubs, but the street. Gang styles, such as the Crip Walk, created in 1970s South Central Los Angeles, was fuelled by bitter rival gang with the Bloods. That gang, by reaction, created the swaggering Blood bounce. Such physical expressions, such as he C-walk later gave rise to the Kilwalkee walk and later the clown walk, and later clown dancing and krumping. This is playful fighting and display. Let's enjoy a more recent example, of clown competitiveness, featuring the amazing full-body shake:
So what is dance really expressing? It is far more than reacting to a beat. It might be saying, "This is who I am," or "Fuck you, this is my gang", or "I hate my job", or "I want you", or anything else. Lyrics, melody, sounds, musical styles, from township jive to zouk, Barry White to Skrillex, ballet to boogie and ballroom, they all come into play here, but why and what comes into play in particular? Let's show detail and cite examples where they work best.
Dancing of course is also an expression of survival. Lizards do a form of dance in the desert to keep their feet cool. Many animals dance as a mating routine, or as a way to ward off rivals. But perhaps best of all are birds of paradise. Here's a bit of David Attenborough for you, of course, Who could resist this dancer?
So then, put forward your suggestions of songs that trigger our dance instinct in comments below, and say a bit about why. This week's playlist guru, compiling from your selection is the magnificent magicman, who has taken on many a record-breaking topic in the past. Results are up next Wednesday 23 February. Nominations close on Monday 1pm UK time unless otherwise extended. So come on everybody, let's get on down ...
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