Let’s face it, dance has been an integral part of our lives since caveman days. Hand clapping and foot stomping around a fire to the clunking of logs evolved into what we have today – good, bad and embarrassing.
Who amongst the older folk can honestly look back on The Twist as a serious dance form? Home movies from that era will create thigh-slapping hysteria among the grandchildren, and your standing as a respected elder, gone forever. You’ll always be remembered as a gyrating geriatric grinding out imaginary cigarettes. Oddly enough, do the same moves without music and with a hoola-hoop, and you’d be deemed cool, dude.
Body contact in dance has varied over time. During the reign of Bach, Beethoven and the Boys, glamorous balls were staged, where minimal physical contact was encouraged.
Males and females in ridiculous clothing launched off from opposite sides of the hall and sort of twirled their way toward the middle. Here they’d briefly link arms with another twirler, and through centrifugal force be flung off blindly in search of another vacant twirler to latch on to. This mindless spinning – sometimes on tiptoe – would continue until the orchestra thankfully took a smoke break and the dancers could avoid fainting from nausea and dizziness.
Break dancing also has no contact – personal or otherwise – with anything but the pavement. No chance of promiscuity or intimacy here. Although the music – with its derogatory profanities – extols the virtues of bitch-slapping, gang banging and rampant anarchy, nobody gets killed during the performances. Snapped tendons, dislocated hips and cracked necks are common, but as any ballerina with ingrown toenails will confirm, all dancers suffer pain. But the show must go on. Is twerking painful, one wonders, and where does it hurt?
Rock ’n roll introduced a whole new set of moves. Apart from slow dancing, which is really just strolling around together, the fast songs required one to stand away from your partner and shudder in tempo. Hips, elbows, knees and hair were flung in all directions at once while shuddering. The tempo of the music could be ignored at will. Flailing around solo was common and created opportunities to engage with fellow flappers, although the music volume reduced communication to monosyllabic shouts and gestures. Pointless really.
The Argentineans had other ideas. They invented the Tango, which is really the closest you can get to consensual intimacy on the dance floor without being arrested. The objective of the dance, apparently, is to ascertain what underwear – if any – the partner is wearing with a view to the swift removal thereof – if lucky – at a later stage. Ballroom is only a more refined version of the Tango without the intertwining legs, suggestive poses or underwear investigation.
Morris dancing – more like high-speed pilates with bells and sticks – bears scant mention, but musical pole-dancing was forwarded as a competitive sport at the next Olympic Games, and was overwhelmingly endorsed by the all-male committee.
Talking of music in dance, Stevie Wonder once said he loved going to the ballet. Rossini claimed that opera would be wonderful without the singers, and a London Times critic wrote, “Opera is a loosely connected series of songs designed to make a full evening’s entertainment out of the overture”. Shades of Pink Floyd?
A few years ago (I was four), Mom and Granny took us grandkids to the ballet. Being too young, I don’t remember much about it, but one thing stuck out for me, so on the way home I had a question.
“Why, Mom,” I asked, “do the boy ballerinas have lumps in the front and the girl ballerinas don’t?”
Before Mom could conjure up a suitable answer, my sister – with all the wisdom of a six-year-old – interjected.
“Don’t you know, silly? The girl ballerinas need a place to put their foot when they get lifted up.”