Wednesday May 24, 2006

Distinctive Dances

For a member of the MTV generation like me, YouTube is like nostalgia crack.  (Hey, remember that one video, with the guy, and the thing!  Yeah, that one ruled!)  I've recently been conducting an informal research project, and I'm ready with some preliminary results.  I therefore present to you: distinctive music video dances of the 1980's.

I've got four videos, but more than four dances.  Let's start with the Brits.  First up is "Mad World" by Tears for Fears:

It's worth watching the whole thing, but you can see the dance I'm talking in two places.  The first is at about 1:45.  Roland Orzabal Curt Smith has been singing while looking out of a window, but the camera pulls back to reveal Curt Smith Roland Orzabal (the other member of TFF) doing a strangely mechanical dance in the garden.  We get to see it in more detail at about 2:15.  It's hard to describe, but it seems to consist mostly of Smith Orzabal swinging his arms through the air in short, jerky arcs, occasionally bopping himself on the head for variety.  It needs a name—I suggest "The Semaphore Bop".

Second, let's have a look at "True Faith" by New Order:

This time, the dancing occurs all through the video, but it's not the members of New Order dancing—they mostly appear in concert footage.  Instead, the video contains performances by dancers dressed in what appear to be barrels, turtle shells, and other oddities.  These aren't the kinds of dances you're likely to see in a club.  Personal favorites: Slap Your Partner (0:07), the High Backwards Jog (0:43), Rotating While Signing (2:18), and the classic Stationary Torso Bounce (2:34).  Wikipedia says the video was directed by Philippe Decouflé, so he's presumably responsible for the choreography.

Next, let's cross the Atlantic and North America and take a look at "Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me" by Oingo Boingo:

Lead singer Danny Elfman (yes, that Danny Elfman) starts things off by windmilling his arms wildly on a fake beach—look for the guy in the white suit at about 0:05.  It's only a taste of what's to come later.  At about 1:46, Elfman performs hs dance: hopping from foot to foot, spinning around, swinging his arms, really feeling the music, all the while making his way down a strangely-lit gray hallway with singing women's faces embedded in the walls.  If that's not a metaphor for life in the 80's, I don't know what is.

Finally, I present to you what must be the video that contains the most memorable, most distinctive series of dances of the whole decade: "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads:

This video contains enough dances to fill five ordinary videos.  They're all performed to perfection by singer and very odd fellow David Byrne, and many of them were apparently inspired by the films of indigenous dancers that periodically play behind him.  Right off the bat, it starts with Surfacing and Diving (0:00), then moves on to Soothing the Earth (0:32), the Multiple Chicken Head-Bob (0:42), Straightening and Abasing (0:49), and Getting Shot in Alternating Shoulders (1:00).  For my money, the most memorable and distinctive dance is Dicing the Radius (1:08, then in closeup at 3:03)—try it next time you're out at a club!  Byrne's not done, though, continuing with Shaking and Testifying (1:47), Snatching at an Idea (1:54), and Covering Then Rising (2:22 in the background, 2:31 in the foreground).  It's not clear which of these were actually intended to be separate dance steps and which were just part of Byrne's general shaking and twitching—just between you and me, I think he might have been coked out of his gourd—but they're all memorable.

The Eighties, ladies and gentlemen.  What were we thinking?

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Silly real bands with their "budgets" and their "choreography." Bah!

Posted by: includedmiddle at May 24, 2006 12:38:35 PM

Great post Tensor. "Nostalgia crack" is exactly what YouTube is for me. I had long lamented the fact that those old videos had disappeared into seeming oblivion. (And Danny Elfman was the lead singer of Oingo Boingo? Learn something new every day.)

I recently inaugurated Video Deconstruction Fridays at my blog (sorry for the shameless plug), where I post a cheesy 80s video and then a few of us put our grad-school chops to work analysing it. And we mock the clothes. Good fun.

Posted by: dagger aleph at May 24, 2006 12:47:43 PM

Come on, you know it's not fair to judge historical figures by modern standards. They were living in a difficult era. The excesses of disco were still in recent memory, so it was forbidden for white people to display grace or rhythm in their dancing. It took the sacrifice of Saint Michael, making the Delenn/Valen-like transformation into someone neither white nor black, to free white people to be funky again.

Of course, we stumbled many times on that long road to redemption.

Posted by: Big Ben at May 25, 2006 5:41:10 AM

More goofy white guy dancing:

Hyperactive- Thomas Dolby
Down Under - Men at Work
Safety Dance - Men Without Hats
One Step Beyond - Madness
Monster in My Pants - Fred Schneider

Posted by: cranched at May 25, 2006 6:30:33 PM

You've reversed the names of the members of Tears for Fears. Curt is singing at the window. Roland is the one who does the "soy bomb" dancing.

Posted by: Sandra at Jun 4, 2006 5:38:07 AM

Aaaah, priceless. I was at the Ministry concert this weekend [reliving my unspent youth] and the baby metal girls were doing the Semaphore Bop, but with a little more fluidity and a lot less rhythm. Ha ha! If they only knew that their xhardxcorex dance moves stemmed from an 80's new wave act that disbanded before they were even born :D

Posted by: escheva at Jun 7, 2006 11:22:34 AM