If someone ever got around to creating a dance to go along with the Black National Anthem, it would definitely be a soul line dance.
Think about it: “Lift every voice and sing…” sway to the right. “till earth and heav’n ring…” sway to the left. “…Let us march on till victory is won.” Let me see you bust a victory slide… Actually, an official Black National Anthem Slide is not a bad idea. Somebody needs to get on that – stat!
So last Friday, I was co-hosting an outdoor movie night for the community. Because we are black folks working in a mostly black neighborhood, needless to say that our event didn’t start on time. But as we scrambled about, rushing to set up the projector and screen to the annoyance of an awaiting movie watching crowd, one of the co-hosts, who also works part-time as a DJ, decided that some music would be a great distraction from our obvious lack of time management. He put on the Wobble.
Instantly, the skies got darkened, filling with flashes of lightening and roars of thunder. A horde of black folks appeared from out of nowhere. They came from around bushes and crawled out of sewer drains. Negros flowed out of their houses, still in house clothes and head scarves, dragging behind them frying pans and telephone cords and television remote controls and whatever other semblance of activities they were engaged in at the moment. A random guy driving past our event, heard the music, tucked and then jumped out of his moving vehicle, rolling perfectly into the line formation. And a little infant boy, possibly around six weeks old, leaped out of his stroller and miraculously hobbled across the pavement. By the time that the V.I.C got to “Hey Big girl, make him back it up…,” we were surrounded by a swarm of four, maybe five, rows of foot shuffling, hand snapping, Cha-Cha sliding, zoned-out black folks. It was the stuff of nightmares – or at least Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Okay I am exaggerating a bit (a lot) but folks really did liven up – and they forget about our tardiness, which is the most important part of this story.
Seriously though, no event, wedding, or function with at least 75 percent of black folks in attendance is complete without the Cha Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle (original or remix) or the grandfather of all soul line dances, the Electric Slide. Heck, no black film could truly call itself an official black film without the inclusion of at least one of those line dances. I don’ care if the film is a tragic slave narrative, in which the main character dies after being whipped to death by Massa. You better believe that the surviving slaves in the film would be memorializing their fallen comrade, in a perfect 22-count line formation to some horrible dance music, deep within the woods behind Massa’ house.
But what has always befuddled – as well as amused – me about our love of soul step is that technically it is completely adverse to everything we have come to believe about dancing in the black community. First, it’s in a line, which means that there is no bumping and grinding on a partner. Second, it is the same old five or six repetitive moves for the entire 3 to 7 minutes of the song, which means no letting your body move in free-flowing unabashed motion. And lastly, the music pretty much sucks. Honestly every song sounds like a soulful version of the Hokie Pokie. In theory, line dancing should be the laughing stock of black movement. But for some reason, we all love it!
And no one is immune. Not the prissy cute girl who sort of, kind of, does the steps, but not too much because she doesn’t want to risk sweating out her perfectly coiled hair. Not the guy with the two left-feet, who always goes right even as the call and response instructs him to go left. And definitely not the ever entertaining show-offs, who takes line dancing to the extremes, incorporating extra slides, intricate footwork, arm isolations and even back flips like they are auditioning for America’s Best Dance Crew.
While it is widely believed that soul line dancing is a derivative of country western line dancing done with cowboy hats and boots, no one can claim ownership, especially not white folks, to the origins considering that all cultures including Africans have historically done dances in line formations. But more modernly there are some that believe that line dancing is the evolution of popular swing dance routines from as early as the 1920s including The Shim Sham Shimmy, a tap and jazz step routine, which was allegedly started as a warm-up exercise for Lindy Hop dancers at the legendary Savoy Club. Traces of line dancing can also be found in The Stroll, which got its roots in the Black community but only became popularized after it appeared on American Bandstand, the popular TV dance party that began in 1954. By the time the 70s arrived, the line formation dance had evolved into The Bus Stop, later christened The Hustle, which was popularized during the 1970s dance classic Saturday Night Fever. And towards the end of the 70s came The Electric Slide, which was created by choreographer Ric Silver (who coincidentally holds copyright claim to the creation of the dance although anecdotal evidence suggests that he just added extra steps to a dance already being done in the Jamaican club scene) set to the Marcia Griffiths’ song “Electric Boogie ushered in the four wall line, 22-count dance routine into the mainstream.
Wherever it has derived from, it is fully and securely part of the African American experience now. In fact, if you go on YouTube you can see that black folks are keeping the tradition alive by exercising their creative mojo in a variety of self-created stepping routines from the Soul Food to the Sanctified Slide to to more contemporary offerings like the Booty Work and the Feeling Single. And quite frankly, what’s not to love about soul line dancing? It’s the ultimate form of communal bonding where everyone in the family, no matter how old or how young can get into the groove once the song comes on.
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