The Underground Dance Movement

The Underground Dance Movement In almost every culture throughout history, there has been dance. Prayer dances, celebratory dances, social dances. In many cases, we can see the cultural progression through the progression of dance. In the United States alone, weve seen the transitions from the European-grown ballet to tap, then to modern dance. What is not so well catalogued, however, is the underground progressive dance movement. Starting in the late sixties, the so-called Underground or counter-culture has built its own species of dance. Our subject today is the three most dominant styles of this new wave, popping, or the Electric Boogie, hip hop/break dancing, also known as old school dance, and the trance/house or new school dance. The television show Soul Train was really one of the keys to the spread of these radical new styles.

It was especially instrumental in spreading the Electric Boogaloo, or Boogie. The Electric Boogie developed in the mid-sixties by a family of black men living in Fresno, California, through influences like James Brown and strangely enough, TV shows like Lost In Space. It was a mutant child of sorts, of what is called The Robot dance, Popping, and Miming. The Robot is a dance that our generation has grown up recognizing, the angled body parts, sliding feet, and rigid motions all creating the illusion of a human robot. Popping, however is an unfamiliar term to many of you. Popping can be described as energy passed through the body, popping and snapping elbows, wrists, necks, hips and just about all the body joints along the way.

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The final ingredient to the mix, however, to control and smooth out the stop-and-go of a popping robot, was the influence of mime. The miming is what gives the Electric Boogie its voice, by making it possible to tell stories and create illusions with the body. This new dance was the forerunner to break dancing, and indeed many of the so-called power moves in break dancing incorporate some . . .

electrical features. Break dancing was also influenced by the great James Brown. The original model for breaking was called Good Foot from Browns record of the same name, and based on his unique dancing style. At that point, it was just foot work, rather than the full body moves we see today. Good Foot was the first freestyle dance that incorporated moves involving drops and spins. Breaking today consists of extended footwork, spinning/power moves, and strategically spaced freezes.

There is controversy between b-boys and b-girls (the b coming from the word break) over emphasis; some put emphasis on power moves and their combination and the others show their style and individuality by footwork and freeze. It is also called hip hop dancing because in the 1980s, when movies like BeatStreet and Breaking became popular and when the style was really developing, the preferred music used to dance was hip hop for its revolutionary experimentation with beat mixing. It is called break dancing or breaking because the dancers move to the breaking part of the beat. The traditional four-count measure was broken down into about four different coinciding rhythms, giving the dancers more options for improvisation. However, dancing to break-beats is not limited to break dancing, but is utilized throughout progressive dance.

The Electric Boogie uses it, as does the most common style of dance, trance/house dance. House and Trance are two of the most popular genres of techno; these two are more closely related to each other than any of the other genres, jungle, speed garage, or hardcore, and the dancing styles are closely related as well. It has been noted by Ejoe Wilson, a reknowned house dancer, that while in hip hop, you control your body to the beat, in house dance, music controls your body. It is more free style than hip hop and its emphasis on footwork. House clubs are unique of clubs because of the vibe that they carry.

One of the most important aspects of house dancing is the style. Style is everything when it comes to house dancing, because there are no set moves to master, no steps to learn. It is club dancing, which is to say, anything that makes you feel good, that gets you into a groove with the music is acceptable and welcome. House/trance dancing is usually a gateway for those learning how to dance. Once they discover that they can move their bodies in a way that satisfies the beat, they begin to experiment with other more technical forms of dancing, like break dancing, and the Electric Boogie. Something unique of these dance forms, I think, is that they are accessible.

Whereas ballerinas train most of their lives, almost anyone can do these dances. It takes time and practice, but Ive found, in myself as well as others, that its only a matter of loosening your reins and letting your body take over for the length of a song. And thats what dance is, no matter how we break it down by its characteristic steps and moves, its the outward expression of those emotions within us that are unexpressable. For the kids in the mid-sixties, the Electric Boogie was an expression of their need to do something, to create something their own. What they didnt know is that they were creating an entirely new culture, a counter-culture which would produce an answer – a tangible answer – to the ballets of the elite, and through break dancing, popping and just plain house dancing, many have found the expression of their own lives.


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