Every few years – or every few weeks it seems – a new dance craze takes over the airways and your dancing shoes. After a few weeks or months, these songs often become the bane of our audible existence. They often arrive without warning and are accompanied by toe-tapping and head-scratching. These are the songs that sound annoying on the radio, but become irresistible when heard at an elevated volume on a packed dance floor. From the Tango to the Harlem Shake, they are inescapable and continue to be an important part of our musical landscape. What makes them so popular? Why do some of them hang on – or play on – beyond their natural lifespan?
I often find myself stuck in the middle of a dance craze. On one hand, they are important to a disc jockey or a radio host because of the immediacy and impact they can provide an event. On the other hand, I’m aware that it’ll be nothing more than an irritant by the third week; one of the few songs I dread playing, even though a part of me still enjoys the reaction it’ll receive.
Dance crazes aren’t a recent discovery, either. They have been littering the airways for hundreds of years and have taken on different attitudes as they’ve progressed. Most people, and many of our clients at Cutting Edge Entertainment, have a “no-line-dance” rule. As always, we honor the requests of our clients and relish an opportunity to rock a party without a traditional “hook”. In my humble opinion, people will dance if they are in a good mood and ready for fun regardless if everyone else is following along. I will be the first, however, to admit that line-dances and dance-crazes will continue to have a place during an event. These songs can be used to open a dance floor and “break the ice”, or they can be strategically placed to garner more guests to the floor. Psychologically, these songs allow a timid guest to blend into the crowd while allowing a seasoned party-goer to recapture a fun memory.
Recently, a sudden surge of dance crazes has taken over the airwaves and –socially speaking – the internet. Billboard magazine recently ran a cover starring DJ Baauer; the mind behind the “Harlem Shake”. This record-breaking hit went from an artist’s miscellaneous file to #1 on the Hot 100. By way of luck, timing and a few fan videos, this song became “the next big thing”. As the most recent entry into the “dance craze” collection, the Harlem Shake is only a stepping stone to the next craze.
Dance crazes are nothing new, but they find a way to hang around. The first that come to mind are the “Electric Slide” and the “Macarena”, two songs that are often balked at during an event. A dance craze doesn’t need a “dance” to become a phenomenon, only a single movement that can be copied and recycled. Before the 20th-century we had the Tango and the Waltz, followed by the Jitterbug (1920’s) and the Charleston. These dances often required a partner moving in rhythm with you, but that all changed in the 1940s with the Hokey Pokey. However, the Hokey Pokey still required a grouping of people.
Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” (1950s) may have been one of the first dance crazes that did not require a partner. Many of the dances that followed were a blend of single-move dances that changed based on the song, e.g. The Swim, The Pony and The Monkey (1960s). The 70’s (The Hustle, Electric Slide, YMCA) brought line dancing and disco, which led to the break-dancing craze of the 1980s (The Robot, The Running Man, The Locomotion). The 1980’s ushered in the choreography-copycats (I’m guilty of this!) who wanted to emulate Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and learn the dance to Thriller.
The crazes will follow the times. In the 90’s we framed our faces like Madonna’s Vogue and shook our legs like MC Hammer. Trends continued into a new generation with the Cupid Shuffle, Cha Cha Slide, and of course, Gangnam Style.
Times will change, as will the sounds that accompany them. In the hip-hop generation we will discover new musical accidents (e.g. the Dougie) that will overrun the airwaves and dance floors. No matter how much you cringe when the name is mentioned, we’ll still find you “riding the pony” or making your own “Harlem Shake” video. It’s inevitable.