Travis Laurence Naught

You got served: A revisionist history of the dance-off

The dance-off has a particularly bloody history. While it’d be foolish to ban it, I say we learn from it.

 

 

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 fibre 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 recognised.

People began discoing away from the epicenter to escape the burning sulphur scent in favour of the crowd’s less-invasive body odours. 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 realised what had happened. Instead, they put on a show that finished with the dance floor favourite move of casting a line, and dragged another to the centre of the ring while they faded back into the crowd. The odour, 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 manoeuvres 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.

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. This is not the time to turn Rabbit in the opening scenes of 8 Mile, running into the bathroom and evacuating 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!

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, that it is even being celebrated today. There are so many electronic distractions available. The last thing we need is to evolve another step toward the way civilisation is portrayed in WALL-E.

Some of those distractions have attempted to capitalise 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 to 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.

 

Travis Laurence Naught

Travis Laurence Naught is an author who happens to be a quadriplegic wheelchair user. Individual poems, stories, and various other material by Travis have been published online (Section 8 Magazine, Empty Sink Publishing, Damfino Press, and others) and in print (Gold Man Review, Lost Coast Review, Empirical Magazine, and more). His first book of poetry, The Virgin Journals (ASD Publishing, 2012), is currently out of print, but copies can still be found. Check out naughtapoet.blogspot.com for more information and original writing by Travis.

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