Daddy Don't Dance & Mama Loves To Rock N' Roll
Many moons ago, there existed a custom, an ancient and sacred dating ritual, now sadly dead and forgotten. The custom began with a raw, primal rhythm issuing from spit-shined instruments- guitars with whining strings, pounding drums, and infectious bass pulsations. In different eras some of the details might vary: gleaming horns might have appeared on the stage, a piano, even a violin. The musicians would take up these instruments and their resonance, satiated with a thousand sensations spoken in a language of beats and rhythm rather than words, took over those listening, and movementwould inevitably ensue. Hips swayed unconsciously as patrons ambled in; not even recognizing that the music had called them there.
And a man (or a boy), holding out a sweaty (sometimes trembling) hand might ask some foot-tapping woman (or girl) those long forgotten words of this lost ritual: "Do ya wanna dance?"
Should she accept the offered hand, hips might then grind or twist enthusiastically from side to side; feet might move in complex patterns; skirts might whirl; women might be lifted and spun; all dependent upon the era in which those forgotten words are spoken.
So, the question of the day for this anthropologically social ninja? How could such a rich custom die without so much as a funeral procession, or at least somebody playing Taps, or, in this case, somebody playing Taps while tap dancing? Were we all collectively blinking when it happened? Were we asleep?
The Beatles once said, in seemingly innocent tones, "My heart went BOOM when I crossed that ROOM and I held her hand in MINE. We danced through the NIGHT and held each other TIGHT..."
Is this ringing any bells here? Dancing? The provocative act of two bodies moving in a near sexual manner (with abandon) to the cry of music?!
Yes, I know it has been a great long while since this custom was in vogue but I am sure if you wrack your noodle, you can remember it-unless you're under 30 and then it's entirely possible that the only dancing you've ever seen was on television.
I'm not talking about the choreography in music videos (more about female curves and the art of selling records to horny teens), or pseudo-reality TV shows like ‘Dancing with the Stars' (c-listers sweat like sumo wrestlers, trying to out-dance opposing c-listers).
Sure, we (as a society) have watched plenty of dancing in the last twenty years (or so). There was ‘Saturday Night Fever', celebrating the shameful era of disco, and then ‘Grease', trying to revive the 50's with that sexy hand jive (baby), and who could ever forget ‘Dirty Dancing', presenting a style of dancing that might just have rejuvenated dance if anyone outside of pubescent teen girls ever saw it. Damn! THAT was some serious body grinding! Of course, more recently the infamous J-Lo starred in ‘Shall We Dance?' in yet another attempt to raise a glass to romance and music. We watched all of these films with a sense of nostalgia, with sighs of remembered times when people did such things. But we watched them from deep within the cushions of our overstuffed couches, right?
And just to clarify: When I say "we", I am referring to society and generations of people young and old. Basically, when I say "we"... I mean "YOU".
See, by the time I came along in the late 70's, dance was wheezing its last breath, clutching its hand to its shriveling heart, begging John Travolta to break out the defibrillator. Too bad John was nurturing a burgeoning potbelly by then (though he did kick ass in that Pulp Fiction scene with Uma). He wasn't paying any attention. Neither were "we" (you!). Those of you who were jitterbugging and swinging in the 40's and 50's are probably too arthritic to do anything more than remember the steps, and those of you who were twisting and shouting in the 60's, mash potato-ing to your hearts' content, pointing your disco fingers high in the 70's, are too busy carpooling to give the matter any thought.
So here I am, this accidental anthropologist, a social-friggin'-ninja, working it out in your absence. My premature conclusion is that it's all your fault... And I want some answers! Of course, considering you all were too busy scratching your asses (or sitting on them--or both) to notice the Death of Dance, I'll have to come up with some answers on my own.
It has been suggested (by friends who listen to me rant and find me entertaining for whatever reason) that it may have been the Women's Movement that dealt the final blow to the courtship of gyrating hips and whirling skirts. My argument against this is that women are still willing to dance. Sure, we wanted rights and equal pay and equal educational advantages, all that, but did we want to give up dancing for it? Hell no! Women are still turning up to watch whatever dance movie the production companies throw at us. We're the ones watching reruns of ‘Grease' and sending YouTube links of ‘Dirty Dancing' scenes to everybody we (I) know.
No, I'm not blaming women for this one. Well, not entirely. It seems there were many culprits in the involuntary dance-slaughter, really. There's guilt enough to go round.
But you know who I am blaming? Who I'm going to stick the bulk of this one on? Who I'm planting this proverbial "glove" on? Take a guess. It's not John Lithgow in Footloose.
Men, maybe? Why not, we blame them for everything else. But this time, folks, the "glove" fits.
The major difference between the modern male and the male of... say 1967, is that the latter "crossed that room" and said those fabled words, "Wanna dance?"
I've also entertained, at the urging of these same friends, the possibility that the empowerment of women intimidated men and they "lost confidence" in "taking the lead". I have a one-word response to this theory: Bullshit.
I've seen the grainy old images of couples dancing the jitterbug, like my grandparents did, or swing dancing, or salsa, you name it. Watching these images, something about them seems almost foreign to me-not in the visual sense, I've seen dancing, but in terms of the feelings it must have stirred. I watch as barely suppressed sexual energy alights between two bodies and the skirts whirl and the feet tap and bodies collide and I wonder what it must have felt like to dance like this. Viewing the flushed rosy complexions of a hundred nameless couples in a hundred different clips (Youtube, I know), moisture gleaming on their skin, and the act coming together in tantalizing movement only to sway back, taking a great breath before coming together again, synchronizing almost magically-it occurs to me, that it must have felt a lot like... foreplay. Who'd want to give that up?!
I ask myself, "If men lost interest in dancing then I have to wonder why they enjoyed dancing in the first place." And I have to place myself, mentally, in a time and a society I've never known. Growing up, listening to old people talk about courtship, it seems that dancing was a crucial part of it. My grandparents met at a dance hall (the Officer's Club) and my grandfather's words were something to the effect of she had the best set of yams in the place (this is old people lingo for ‘legs'. Don't ask me where the comparison between oddly shaped vegetables and legs came from; I have no idea) and she could dance like nobody's business. He set out to impress her with his moves and... they were married three weeks later. This, of course, was in the 40's when dance was rampant but "casual" and "sex" were two words that hadn't met yet.
Me, I'm the product of the Sexual Revolution. My very existence was the result of "casual sex". I never lived in a world of never-ending blue balls and polite blushing; a world of steamed up backseats and derogatory comments thrown at the girls willing to steam them; comments like "easy" or "fast" or "loose"; comments long gone by the time I came along.
So these concepts are all foreign to me. But it was an old video clip of The Beatles that truly provided me with a window into that other world. I watched in stunned fascination as the four took the stage, looking like good boys. Okay, maybe their hair was a tad longer than was considered ‘the norm' of the day, but there they were wearing matching suits and matching smiles, looking like boys any girl could bring home to Mom. Hell, in my heyday, my own mother would have taken one look at that neat hair and suit and figured I'd brought home a Mormon just to irk her. Of course, in my heyday, I probably would have.
So they come out on stage and the girls in the crowd went wild. The music starts and these girls are literally sobbing, and dancing, (more like flailing really), or else they're trying to shove and kick and claw a path closer to the stage, closer to that music, yanking at their own hair with fists born of pent up sexuality, which was suddenly being forced out into the open. And then John lets out this howl, a voice fierce and feral and uncontained. A wail rose from that audience, drowning out the music itself. The weeping and sobbing became a lunatic din and the women in the audience a pack of predatory beasts. The oh-so-proper Peace Officers lift their batons in the grainy black and white images but they appear stunned, maybe frightened, and impotent to do anything at all but watch as thousands of women go completely insane.
"Well," you might be saying to yourself, "What's that got to do with the death of dancing? People didn't stop dancing because The Beatles made 20 million women wet themselves!"
And you'd be right.
But I have to wonder if this wasn't the beginning of the true sexual revolution; this moment in time when something that had been repressed for hundreds of years on a public scale was suddenly set free: Female sexuality on the loose, terrorizing the streets. It was still a few years before the days of Vietnam and LSD, before women's lib, civil rights, and eventually "free love". It didn't happen overnight. But it seems to me that these were the moments when something infinite began to boil beneath the surface of all those knee-length skirts.
I suppose without the Women's Liberation Movement there never could have been a Sexual Revolution. I suppose that in our desire to have equal rights, we also began to see the possibility of possessing that same sexual freedom. One form of liberation could not exist without the other.
My point? Ah well, to write it out in its entirety would require charts and graphs, statistical information, Power Point presentations outlining styles of music, dance, and female sexuaity extending back a hundred years... but the shorter answer? Dance was a form of sexual expression in times when outright sexual expression was a public no-no. In sum, men danced to physically impress women, to entice women. They did it for the same reason that they do anything and everything... to get laid. Granted, in more prudish eras (the 50's, for instance) this was a fairly long-term plan, involving other courtship gestures sometimes including promise rings and letterman jackets, but in the end, yes, they danced for sex.
And so did women, in a way. Those "darker" times when girls didn't act on impulse, when women were the more careful and thoughtful branch of the species, suppressing their own primal instincts behind artful smiles; this was woman's way of expressing her desires as well.
I once read somewhere (sorry to whomever I am failing to give credit here) that surveys of women taken in the late 1800's showed that women believed themselves incapable of sexual pleasure. This idea at first blew me away. Was it possible that we knew so little about our own bodies? That sex was truly joyless for the ladies of the days of corsets and horse-drawn carriages? That we actually believed we didn't have the ability to climax?
In the end, I can't believe it. What I do believe though is that women were very cunning in ages past. I believe women wanted men to believe they were being granted a favor when woman consented to make love to them. It was a way for women to maintain an internal stronghold in a world that granted them no rights and few freedoms. If a husband believed his wife detested the act he most cherished, wouldn't he be more likely to go out of his way for her, to work harder to please and impress her, both in the bedroom and in hopes of getting her into the bedroom?
This makes sense to me, and to some degree things continued this way, sexually, until the Sexual Revolution. I mean, I don't think women entirely denied their sexuality as they had done in the last century but its necessity was certainly downplayed by womankind.
Then came that fissure. The Beatles with their screeching voices, Elvis and his pelvis, music that no longer masqueraded as something wholesome. The boys onstage could no longer be described as "swell" or "dreamy". They evoked only the word "sexy" from the hungry lips of women everywhere. Music that sent an electric volt straight from the ears to the genitals and when it did, it changed not just one society butmost societies. It changed women everywhere.
Practical? Prudent? Wholesome?
WhatEVER! Women were sexual beings, every bit as sexual as men, had always been, but the act of keeping that smothered, repressing it, suddenly seemed wholly unnecessary in this brave new world. Bras burned and panties weren't far behind.
Dancing was still fine and well. In fact, the heat of the thing grew to the point of combustion. But the decline was coming, off meandering on a not too distant horizon.
Laziness killed dance. Men collectively realizing that there was little need to "impress" women anymore. They needn't strut their stuff on the dance floor or elsewhere (except maybe in the bedroom itself). Sex wasn't a taboo anymore; they didn't need to "convince" women to partake of it. And so, over the course of decades, our dance floors gathered dust while our bedsprings broke through and stabbed us in the back.
The answer to today's great mystery, without the charts and graphs and Power Point presentations? Women's Liberation and the Sexual Revolution both played roles in the Death of Dance, and the laziness of men in general nudged the knife into some vital organs, to be sure... but in the end?
Daddy don't dance because... Mama loves to rock n' roll. Ironically, music helped kill dance.I blame The Beatles for the whole damned mess.
Last Updated on Feb212012