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October 06, 2003

Black Men Don't Dance

This morning I happened to be playing one of my favorite albums of the 90s, Prince's 'Diamonds and Pearls'. The song that captured my attention was 'The Jughead'. It's a great funky dance song, moreover it is a song about a dance. It's got some James Brownian horn hits in it that would make it great for a live concert, so I visualized it. Unlike 'Hot Pants' however, 'The Jughead' never inspired people to dance it. Tony, the rapper from the NPG, describes what the Jughead might look like and I found myself trying it this morning. I caught myself in the mirror and stopped immediately.

A couple years after the Jughead was released I was living in Boston, the coldest city in the world. I found myself lamenting the lack of love duets from the world of R&B. Aside from 'Somewhere Out There' with James Ingram at the time, the whole Ashford & Simpson era had disappeared. People wanted to be Usher OR Mary J. Blige, but the two would never meet on wax. Sadly, love duets are gone from popular black music. I don't listen to KJLH much so I could be wrong, but I don't think I'm wrong.

So as I stopped dancing this morning I think that the same has happened once again. Black men don't dance.

I'm not about to research this. I'm just intuiting. But my sense is that black men in my generation know the Point, the Camelwalk, the Funky Broadway. More importantly we know Pop Locking, the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch. Some of us can Butterfly and a few of us are not above the Bankhead Bounce. Most importantly we know how to slow dance, we know how to Get Flat and we know the Cha Cha. I'm not going to dignify the Cha Cha Slide or the Electric Slide with much more than honorable mention, but anything is better than what seems to be happening in hiphop right now which is the feminization and elitism of dance. The boyz in the hood don't know how to dance and it doesn't seem important to them that they learn much more than humping on the nearest clapping booty. What's up with that?

You all go to the clubs. You watch MTV. You tell me.

My theory is this. Ever since Hammer, rappers have not danced. In fact, everybody has been miming Run DMC since 'Walk This Way'. Clue: It was a song, not a command. Rappers have made it point not to dance, and with the possible exception of Jamiroquai there haven't been any with any decent moves whatsoever. Again, I could be wrong but I doubt it. Dancing is women's work in videos, that is unless you're Usher or Justin Timberlake.

So what is the common black man of this generation to do, hump the floor like Bobby Brown? I don't know. I don't know where the social pressure on young black men to know how to dance might be coming from. Sure you can go to the club and move your body to the beat. Anybody and everybody does that - hell line dancers at Gilley's do that, with some precision I might add. I hope that the black frats are holding up their end on college campuses in the stepshow tradition, but I believe that mainstream hiphop is dropping the ball.

I'd like to be proven wrong, of course.

Posted by mbowen at October 6, 2003 01:59 PM

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I remember the first time i went to an undergrad party and saw black women largely dancing with each other. i tripped OUT. was about 97 or so. so while i think you're going to the wrong place looking for dancing (you don't DANCE to hiphop)--go to a stepping club in chicago, or a house music spot ANYWHERE--this is a dynamic that bears further study.

Posted by: Lester Spence at October 6, 2003 10:20 PM

Stepping is also catching on in Milwaukee (or at least becoming visible; I don't know the history). Of course many of the Chicago expats I know up here are black.

I saw some high school boys bustin' moves at the bus stop this morning. The moves were indeed busted. I wasn't that stiff and jerky when I dared dancing to live rock in the bars in the '80s.

Posted by: triticale at October 9, 2003 06:57 PM