Monday, November 06, 2006

In The Dock: Songs with associated dance moves

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: songs with associated dance moves

The case for the prosecution (Alison)

‘The Birdie Song’, ‘The Hokey-Cokey’, ‘Musicman’, ‘The Locomotion’, the entire Black Lace back catalogue. You almost certainly know the songs and you could probably give a competent performance of the dances. Indeed, you might even have some fond memories of a wedding or Butlins holiday where everyone got up and joined in. But believe me, it’s the rose (or rosé) tinted glasses at work.

At the outset of my prosecution I would like to clearly state that I am making reference to songs with associated, pre-formatted dances as opposed to songs which spontaneously inspire literal dance moves. The latter, known as interpretive dance, where the meaning of a song is interpreted through the medium of movement, is clearly brilliant; you need only look at Pan’s People for proof.

When songs with associated dances are played at events (usually those supported by a mobile disco DJ called Dave), people feel they have the right to force you to get up and join in. Indeed, it is even considered acceptable for a conga line to forcibly take hostages on its journey through the room(s). If you decline people assume that you are shy of your dancing prowess and offer encouragement: "But everyone can dance to this". But the fact that everyone can do it does not make doing it a good idea. If you refuse to participate you are labelled "miserable" and looks of disapproval are cast from the people who "know how to have fun".

I agree that dancing is fun, just not that kind of dancing. For me, dancing is about appreciating the music and there is a distinct lack of things to appreciate about the catalogue of songs with associated dances. Typically they are insipid soulless pop tunes, churned out for the masses, dances being bolted on for additional market appeal. The lyrics are superficial or even ridiculous, emphasis being placed on cramming in as many actions as possible (think Black Lace’s ‘Superman’). Dancing should also be about expressing your individuality and freedom (cf Ren’s impassioned speech in 'Footloose'), but there is nothing creative or unique about 100 people "pushing pineapple", and "grinding coffee" together.

I hate the fact that these songs make it acceptable to flout polite society’s tacit rules on bodily contact. I do not want some beer-laden old man to grab my hips, while I am led across the room by the arse of another beer-laden old man. Likewise, I do not want to see newly acquainted couples gyrating against one another while they recreate a 'Dirty Dancing' scene to the Lambada. In terms of specific moves, I should draw attention to the seemingly obligatory ballop* thrusting manoeuvre. Indeed, it is "the pelvic thrust that really drives [me] insane". The sight of your own parents and grandparents simulating sex on the dance floor is incredibly distressing and something I’m sure scars many people for life.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking I’m being unreasonable; songs with associated dances are for kids. If this were true I would not forward any objections, let CBeebies’ Boogie Babies show them on repeat. But the fact is that gown-ups, who should know better, dance to these things. If it has been a while since you frequented your local discothèque, you may be under the false impression that the popularity of these songs died with the 80s and they should be cherished for their ability to conjure memories of a specific era. Think again! The soundtrack to my University life is sandwiched between Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ and Steps’ ‘Tragedy’. And I would bet you any money that the floors of student union bars have been marked since then by the feet of 2-for-1-alcopop-fuelled students doing ‘The Macarena’, ‘The Fastfood Song’ and ‘The Cha Cha Slide’.

I urge the jury to find in favour of the prosecution on this matter and if not, please at least leave me in the corner to drink my vodka and coke in peace the next time they play ‘YMCA’.

* "Ballop": this term refers to the triangulated region between the upper thighs and lower belly. It could be replaced with the word "groin", but then I wouldn’t have the chance to use my favourite word.

The case for the defence (Dead Kenny)

There's you. And there's me. And there's... DANCING! But further still, I submit to you, wise old judge and jury, if it wasn't for dancing there probably wouldn't be me or you in the first place. And then there'd be a dirty great black hole where the majestic Los Campesinos! track resides on MySpace, and that's an alternative present none of us surely want to contemplate.

Confused? You would have been slightly had you found yourself in a provincial nightclub at 2am in the mid-90s faced with the prospect of busting the moves associated with Whigfield's 'bottom-tastic' discopop classic 'Saturday Night'. But the great thing was the only way to suss out the score was to closely monitor the wiggly bum shaking of the hot girl / guy / alien in front of you, while a similarly clueless chump / chumpette / spacechimp behind you did the same to you. Sex was had, and future generations were born.

Now I know what you might be thinking, that yes, dancing is all well and funky, but why do we need songs with associated dance moves rather than just let our bodies naturally interact with those crazy beats? I over-rule your objection on the grounds that you've clearly never been to a club where people are allowed to dance on a free-form basis, or been to a rave when not completely out of your skull on drugs. 99% of people can't dance, dancing is seen as a good indicator of your suitability in the sack, and therefore without carefully guided instruction in these matters the Human Race is likely to be exctinct by 2025. Ladies and gentlemen, the future of civilisation is in your hands, I beseech that you do not come to your decision lightly.

If you were being honest, learned friends, you've had a lot more fun doing the bunny's ear hand moves to 'The Birdie Song' with the secretary from Accounts than you ever did sitting in your bedsit feeling grumpy while listening to some mumbling Scottish indie. Sweeping your hand horizontally across the horizon of your mind's eye to John Travolta's 'Greased Lightning' got you much more attention from the opposite / same / alien sex than shouting loudly at the bar about how you were way too cool to shake some action. Doing the Timewarp was one of the great blasts of your life. Michael Jackson's moonwalk was ace for... well, a couple of minutes, anyway. Even songs with associated dance moves whose dance moves never caught on were still great records - Madonna's 'Vogue' or Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head', for instance.

Dancing to songs with associated dance moves is one of those rare moments on a dancefloor where you quickly pick up exactly what you're supposed to be doing, and where any initial nervousness just gives you further opportunity for interaction with members of the opposite / same / alien sex. Which means you're left to relax, have fun and be yourself within the comfortable boundaries of a recognised structure. In fact, writing a song that doesn't lend itself to associated dance moves is just plain selfish and unsociable when you think about it. Heavy metal bands did cheat a little, mind, by having a one-dance-move-fits-all approach to their cock-rock nonsense, although getting down on your knees and shaking your greasy locks into those of your similarly wrong-haired layabouts was dancing in only the loosest sense, to be sure.

So, in summary, the only people who could possibly object to songs with associated dance moves are those people who are too lazy to dance and are upset that such songs / routines rob them of the excuse that they don't know how to dance. And those people who are too lazy to dance are almost certainly too lazy to fuck. So who cares what they think anyway?

So dismiss these trumped-up charges with immediate effect, don't forget to point to the stars and mind those steps on your way out of the courtroom.

* * * * *

Thanks to Alison and Dead Kenny. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent? YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...


Blogger Ian said...

Dead Kenny may be entertaining and charming, but he's also talking absolute nonsense. The whole phenomenon brings to mind a good little rant in the last Terry Pratchett I read on the distinction between "fun" and actual enjoyment (which Alison ably touches on as well). The prosecution also makes the valid point that what's at stake here isn't so much dancing (even stupid dancing) but the right for those of us who wish to be left alone to be left bloody alone! Any liberal society must be on the side of that, shurely? They have this one in the bag, in spite of the valient effort of the counsel for the defence.

5:03 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Good though Alison's argument was, I'd be hugely hypocritical if I didn't side with the defence.

My YMCA in Fresher's week at Nottingham Uni in 1999 was an absolute triumph, and I'll throw water on the ballop and shout "look they've wet themselves" at anyone who claims otherwise.

3:46 pm  
Blogger LB said...

I liked Alison's argument, but I am going to side with Dead Kenny's defence also.

I'm a pop music person, and part of the appeal of that genre is the sometimes nonsensical yet catchy records that hit the charts. If you are going to profess to love pop, you have to take the rough with the smooth and for every awful associated dance move ("The Fast Food Song") there is a genius one ("Blame it On The Boogie").

Plus, without them I wouldn't have the always fantastic pleasure of watching middle aged people at Christmas parties with no idea of the moves trying to claim that it's "fun to stay at MACY"s....

4:06 pm  
Blogger mike said...

A very evenly matched set of arguments here, with points on both sides which I agree and disagree with.

For me, Alison's strongest argument is the coercion factor - but we part company when she starts talking disparagingly of music being "churned out for the masses".

As someone who has cheerfully done all the moves, in public, to The Birdie Song, YMCA, Saturday Night and the Macarena, I am instinctively drawn to Dead Kenny's side... because I have successfully made the journey from "aaargh, don't hassle me, God that's so EMBARRASSING" indie outsider, to enthusiastic "whoo-hoo, now hop three times!" joiner-inner. However, I don't like the idea of dance routines providing some sort of comfort crutch for the hopelessly left-footed. Plus, I can't f**king STAND the Timewarp.

So maybe it comes down to the song and the dance in question, and the context, and the company, and the mood I'm in.

In which case, I'm going to abstain this week.

4:29 pm  
Blogger James MacLaren said...

No chance of an abstention from me. Last week I dithered, and ultimately forgot to vote - for which I felt decidedly stupid.

This week, however, it is a no brainer. I have got to admit that I knew my answer even before I read the arguments. Music with associated dance moves have to go. Alison put the argument well, and sadly, despite much gusto, Dead Kenny did not cause me to falter. Ultimately, aside from being associated with some of the worst music ever made (not entirely - there are odd exceptions), the number of evenings that I have suffered such ...phenomena with a false smile lurching across my face, and a dagger in my heart are too numerous to mention. It is a gut reaction, perhaps, maybe even an elitist one. But they conjure more horror than a man my age has any right to have experienced. Hang 'em.....

Thank you,


5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not so much the dance moves (as there's nothing wrong with dancing), but they always accompany such tacky songs. As a novelty item (and with plenty of alcohol) they might just be considered acceptable. But once is enough. If you hear ‘Tragedy’, ‘The Locomotion’ or (shoot me now) ‘The Macarena’ week in, week out (as I did at my student union) it gets a bit monotonous and smacks of a lack of imagination on the DJs behalf. So I'm siding with Alison on this one.

Come the revolution....

6:20 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Alison has it spot on - it's that whole compulsion / coercion thing that I particularly hate with songs with associated dances. There is something very wrong about having to be forced to enjoy oneself.

Kenny's main argument doesn't hold water either - perhaps it's true of dancing in general, but to suggest that the likes of 'Macarena' and 'The Locomotion' are essential in the propagation and continuation of the human race is rather far-fetched. When did you last see someone doing the Timewarp at an office party and think "Phwoarr"?! Dancing can potentially make someone (more) sexually attractive - but not if it's merely an identikit copycat move enshrined in wedding reception disco law...

Of course, at various times I could have been found dancing to songs with associated dance moves - that doesn't make it right, and I hang my head in shame. I'm with the prosecution.

(Ken: The vogue may not have caught on as a result of Madonna's song, but the truth was it was the other way around - the song celebrated the dance, which was big in the underground gay scene at the time and which she subsequently picked up on. In other words, it's a dance with an associated song, really.)

12:51 am  
Blogger Phill said...

Four letters YMCA

I support Kenny and his defence!

12:45 pm  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Ben, I bow to your greater knowledge of the underground gay scene...

...but it's still a song with an associated dance move, whether the dance move preceded it or not, surely?

This is the kind of splitting hairs one has to expect from kitchen-dwelling partygoers I guess!

7:04 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Come now Kenneth - just because I've sided with the opposition, there's no need for sour grapes...

7:26 pm  
Blogger James MacLaren said...

Surely everyone knows where the cool people dwell at parties...?

7:28 pm  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Erm, by the open windows?

10:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What of songs with numerous-associated-dance-moves-taken-from-elsewhere? Anything that leads to Wilson Pickett's 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' being excised from the repertoir will not make me a happy bunny.

The thought occurs that Alison's objection is more to 'arseholes' than 'songs with dances.' And Kenwood is just being silly. I'd throw this one out of court if I was preciding, there's insufficient evidence.

10:03 am  
Blogger Del said...

I'm no great fan of the dance move, and Alison puts forward an admirably argued case. But I'm afraid that I must side with the defence, as during my misspent youth, I used to ask girls I fancied to show me how to do these stupid dances as a way to break the ice and start chatting them up. Pretty effective, too, I might add.

11:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm ... Russ L beat me to it (it wasn't hard). I think the prosecution is against arseholes and crap DJ's. And if you ignore the arseholes and the crap DJ's you're left with a product that some like and some don't.

Eventhough I'm not a fan of them, the songs are harmless. It's down to you where you listen to them, if your strong enough to resist being coerced and whether you dance in the same place as dirty old men.

I'm (rather un-nervingly) voting in defence of songs with associated dance moves.

7:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dead Kenny had me involuntarily reprising long-forgotten moves from The Birdie Song a couple of times, but that cheap jibe at 'mumbling Scottish indie' lost me, as I am scheduled later in the series to launch a passionate defence of 'mumbling Scottish indie', or as I prefer to call them, Belle and Sebastian.

In the end I think Alison makes a quite quite unanswerable case for the defence, and reminds me of a very embarrassing that flirtation with 'Saturday Night' at a mid-1990s school disco (I was one of the teachers and not really supposed to be on the dance floor at all with all those sixth-form girls, I don't think). I vote for the defence!

11:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn I mean for the prosecution, don't I? Strike my previous plea from the record. You wouldn't think this was all my idea, would you...

11:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quick run in to vote for the defence, assuming I'm not too late.

10:24 am  
Blogger Igor Polk said...

Why don't you try Argentine Tango for that perfect dance you are looking for.

1:12 am  

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