The Evolution of Dance from 1950 to 2019: A 7-Decade Joy Ride in 6 Minutes

I see Michael Jackson as a dance style, okay? — Ricardo Walker 

Ricardo Walker and his Crew’s The Evolution of Dance, 1950 to 2019 will make you regret every minute spent hugging the wall in middle school.

The breakneck, 6-minute romp led by dancer, choreographer, and Michael Jackson impersonator Ricardo Walker, not only showcases the all-male Brazilian crew’s talent, it makes a strong case for throwing yourself into some serious dance floor silliness.

The Crew, formed by a mutual passion for the King of Pop’s moves, is plenty cool, but their willingness to ham their way through “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” the “Macarena,” and Dirty Dancing’s “Time of My Life” suggest that the joys of dance are available to ordinary mortals such as ourselves.

They cavort in sagging early 90s-style Hammer Pants for “U Can’t Touch This” and don Western wear for Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the most recent number on this musical tour.

Troupe members Gabriel Zaidan and Alexandre “Lelê” Mayrink seem unhampered by vanity, tossing their enviable locks into the 35 costume changes’ goofiest styles.

The Crew took 16 hours to get the video in the can on a day when one of their number felt under the weather, and they had to be out of the studio by 7pm. (Our compliments to the editor!)

While such hits as Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again,” Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and — who could forget? — “Gangnam Style” instantly summon a period, the 90s placement of Tom Jones’ signature tune, “It’s Not Unusual,” is throwing viewers for a loop.

How did that old chestnut wind up between Madonna and Backstreet Boys?

By virtue of its first studio version, released in 1995 as part of the compilation album The Legendary Tom Jones — 30th Anniversary Album, that’s how.

Prior to their virtuoso turn in the Evolution of Dance, 1950 to 2019, the group guided viewers through the Evolution of Michael Jackson’s Dance. (Jackson’s influence is also evident throughout the former, earning him 4 nods.)

For those whose feet have begun to itch, choreographer Walker teaches a Master Class in Michael Jackson’s dance moves for $100.

Songs used in The Evolution of Dance — 1950 to 2019 — by Ricardo Walker’s Crew

00:03​ – 00:13​ – Singin’in the Rain – Gene Kelly

00:13​ – 00:23​ – Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

00:23​ – 00:30​ – Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

00:30​ – 00:35​ – Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker switch to color

00:35​ – 00:45​ – I feel good – James Brown

00:45​ – 00:57​ – I Want You Back – The Jackson Five

00:57​ – 01:09​ – Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

01:09​ – 01:16​ – Dancing Machine – The Jacksons

01:16​ – 01:20​ – Shake your Body – The Jacksons

01:20​ – 01:24​ – You’re the one that I want – John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

01:24​ – 01:31​ – Time of My Life – Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes

01:31​ – 01:46​ – Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

01:46​ – 01:55​ – Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson

01:55​ – 02:03​ – FootLoose –  Kenny Loggins

02:03​ – 02:13​ – Thriller – Michael Jackson

02:13​ – 02:18​ – What a feeling – Irene Cara

02:18​ – 02:22​ – U can’t touch this – MC Hammer

02:22​ – 02:31​ – Black or White – Michael Jackson

02:31​ – 02:42​ – Vogue – Madonna

02:42​ – 02:51​ – It’s not unusual – Tom Jones

02:51​ – 03:02​ – Everybody – Backstreet Boys

03:02​ – 03:13​ – Macarena – Los Del Río

03:13​ – 03:26​ – Crank That – Soulja Boy

03:26​ – 03:33​ – Single Ladies – Beyonce

03:33​ – 03:46​ – Bye Bye Bye – NSYNC

03:46​ – 03:54​ – Ragatanga – Rouge

03:54​ – 04:04​ – Gangnam Style – PSY

04:04​ – 04:15​ – Despacito – Luis Fonsi

04:15​ – 04:25​ – Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson , Bruno Mars

04:25​ – 04:34​ – Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO

04:34​ – 04:43​ – Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake

04:43​ – 04:51​ – Watch Me – Silentó

04:51​ – 05:03​ – Swish Swish – Katy Perry

05:03​ – 05:17​ – In My Feeling – Drake

05:17​ – 05:35​ – Old Town Road – Lil Nas X

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Ingenious Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci Recreated with 3D Animation

We revere Leonardo da Vinci for his industry, but even more so for his imagination. Most of us would envision ourselves, had we lived in the late 15th or early 16th century, being perfectly content with having painted the Mona Lisa. But Leonardo had designs on a host of other domains as well, most of them not strictly artistic. His ventures into science and engineering made him the archetypal polymath “Renaissance man,” but he was also a man before his time: most of the inventions he came up with and documented in his writings couldn’t have been built when he lived.

Over the past six centuries, however technological developments have turned more and more of Leonardo’s machines possible — or at least conceivable to the non-visionary. Take, for instance, the bridge only put successfully to the test when MIT researchers 3D-printed it in 2019.

Alas, however advanced our materials in the 21st century, they have yet to prove equal to the ornithopter, a rig meant to bestow upon man the power of flight by giving him a pair of birdlike wings. But you can see it in action in the short video at the top of this post, the first in a series called “Da Vinci Reborn.”

Produced by the 3D software-maker Dassault Systèmes, these videos reveal the inner workings of Leonardo’s inventions, built and unbuilt. Apart from his fanciful ornithopter, they realistically render his odometer, self-centering drill, aerial screw, and self-supporting bridge (which, as we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture, you can actually build yourself). It’s one thing to see these machines diagrammed and hear them explained, but quite another to witness them put into computer-generated action.

Even as these videos help us understand how Leonardo’s ingenious creations worked, they remind us that Leonardo himself had to invent them without the benefit of computer-aided design — with little more, in fact, than pen, paper, and the Renaissance-era tools at hand. For him, when the self-centering drill bored straight through a log or the aerial screw took to the air, they did so only in his imagination. It was only there that he could test, refine, and reassemble the mechanisms that together constituted many of the inventions that still impress us today.

It must be something like stepping into Leonardo’s mind, then, to experience the Dassault-designed Da Vinci Castle playground, which virtually places these inventions and others on the lawn in front of the Château du Clos Lucé. It was there that the great Renaissance man came to the end of his life in 1619, having entered the service of King Francis I’s service after the French monarch recaptured Milan four years earlier. Leonardo himself would surely appreciate this geographical touch — and even more so, the fact that humanity is still bringing such high technology to bear on the project of understanding his work.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear the First Song Recorded on the Yazh, a 2,000 Year-Old Indian Instrument

In ancient Hindu mythology, the Yali appears as a chimera, part lion, part horse, part elephant. It was carved into stone pillars to guard temples, and its form adorned an instrument called the yazh, whose sound “once filled the halls and temples of southern India,” Livia Gershon writes at Smithsonian. “Over time, however, the Tamil musical tradition all but vanished,” along with the royalty who filled those ancient halls.

“A distant cousin of the harp,” notes Atlas Obscura, the yazh was said to make “the sweetest sound,” but it’s a sound no one has heard until now. By studying ancient literary references, luthier Tharun Sekar was able to recreate the instrument, taking “some liberties with the design,” Gershon writes, like “replacing jackfruit with red cedar,” a lighter wood, and replacing the traditional Yali with a peacock.

References to the yazh go back around 2,000 years in Tamil literature from the time known as the Sangam, the earliest period of South Indian history, typically dated between 600 BCE to 300 CE., when the yazh had its heyday. Carved from a single block of wood and strung with either 7 or 14 strings, each modern yazh takes Sekar about six months to complete. He’s been building them in his Chennai workshop since 2019.

Sekar tells Atlas Obscura how he chose the yazh as the first instrument for his company Uru, which specializes in redesigning folk instruments: “Today, while there are replicas of the yazh available in museums, they are neither original nor playable. I wasn’t also able to find any recorded sound samples or videos of the instrument. So, this created a curiosity in me.”

Now, there is both a song and video, “the world’s first,” Sekar tells DT Next, in the form of “Azhagi,” above. A collaboration between Sekar, rapper Syan Saheer, and singer Sivasubramanian, who wrote the song about “a girl with superpowers from the Sangam era,” Sekar says. “We thought the context was very much relatable to yazh.” The only instrument in the song is the yazh, and Sekar hopes the video will begin to popularize the instrument. He’s already started receiving orders from interested musicians from around the world.

Learn more how Sekar creates a yazh in his workshop, and how he learned to recreate sounds no one could record 2,000 years ago, in his interview at Atlas Obscura.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 4,000-Year-Old Student ‘Writing Board’ from Ancient Egypt (with Teacher’s Corrections in Red)

Americans raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books tend to associate slates with one room schoolhouses and rote exercises involving reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Had we been reared along the banks of the Nile, would our minds go to ancient gessoed boards like the 4000-year-old Middle Kingdom example above?

Like our familiar tablet-sized blackboards, this paper — or should we say papyrus? — saver was designed to be used again and again, with whitewash serving as a form of eraser.

As Egyptologist William C. Hayes, former Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum wrote in The Scepter of Egypt: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom, the writing board at the top of the page:

…bears parts of two model letters of the very formal and ultra-poite variety addressed to a superior official. The writers consistently refer to themselves as “this servant” and to their addressees as “the Master (may he live, prosper, and be well.)” The longer letter was composed and written by a young man named Iny-su, son of Sekhsekh, who calls himself a “Servant of the Estate” and who, probably in jest, has used the name of his own brother, Peh-ny-su, as that of the distinguished addressee. Following a long-winded preamble, in which the gods of Thebes and adjacent towns are invoked in behalf of the recipient, we get down to the text of the letter and find that it concerns the delivery of various parts of a ship, probably a sacred barque. In spite of its formality and fine phraseology, the letter is riddled with misspellings and other mistakes which have been corrected in red ink, probably by the master scribe in charge of the class.

Iny-su would also have been expected to memorize the text he had copied out, a practice that carried forward to our one-room-schoolhouses, where children droned their way through texts from McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers.

Another ancient Egyptian writing board in the Met’s collection finds an apprentice scribe fumbling with imperfectly formed, unevenly spaced hieroglyphs.

Fetch the whitewash and say it with me, class — practice makes perfect.

The first tablet inspired some lively discussion and more than a few punchlines on Reddit, where commenter The-Lord-Moccasin mused:

I remember reading somewhere that Egyptian students were taught to write by transcribing stories of the awful lives of the average peasants, to motivate and make them appreciate their education. Like “the farmer toils all day in the burning field, and prays he doesn’t feed the lions; the fisherman sits in fear on his boat as the crocodile lurks below.”

Always thought it sounded effective as hell.

We can’t verify it, but we second that emotion.

Note: The red markings on the image up top indicate where spelling mistakes were corrected by a teacher.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Preciously Rare Footage of Paul McCartney Recording “Blackbird” at Abbey Road Studios (1968)

Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” competes with Lennon’s “Julia” as the most tender song on the Beatles’ White Album and maybe in the band’s entire catalogue. Inspired by a Bach piece that McCartney and George Harrison learned to play when they were young, its finger-picked acoustic guitar has the sound of a folk lullaby. But the song’s shifting time signatures and delicate melody make it something of a tricky one: recording sessions at Abbey Road involved a series of 32 takes, most of them false starts and only 11 complete. The version we hear on the album is the final take, finished while Lennon worked on “Revolution 9” in the studio next door.

You can see 1:33 of that session in the footage above, captured on 16mm by a film crew from Apple Records directed by Tony Bramwell, part of a 10-minute promo that also included footage of McCartney recording “Helter Skelter” and “various other scenes from inside the studio, in the Apple Boutique, Apple Tailoring, McCartney’s garden and other locations,” the Beatles Bible notes. It’s an ephemeral document of time passing peaceably during the grueling 5-month White Album sessions, which for all their legendary tension and rancor, included many moments like these.

The three-day ordeal that was the recording of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (after which engineer Geoff Emerick quit) provides stark contrast, and maybe confirmation that the Beatles were at their best when they worked separately in 1968. The brief film above also confirms a more technical recording concern: the ticking we hear in the studio track is not a metronome, but Paul’s feet alternately tapping on the wood studio floor to measure out the bars of the complex song, which shifts between 3/4, 4/4, and 2/4 time. “Part of its structure is a particular harmonic thing between the melody and the bass line which intrigued me,” he remembered, and we see him striving to get it right.

After the Beatles, McCartney made “Blackbird” a regular part of his set, playing it at nearly every concert from 1975 on. It wasn’t only the beauty of the song that has moved him all these years, but its inspiration, the Civil Rights movement, which “all of us cared passionately about,” he said. “Blackbird” is “symbolic, so you could apply it to your particular problem,” but the song’s intended message, he said, was “from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’”

Below you can watch McCartney talk about the story behind “Blackbird” in a 2005 production called Chaos & Creation at Abbey Road.

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch a Master Japanese Printmaker at Work: Two Unintentionally Relaxing ASMR Videos

Today we can appreciate Japanese woodblock prints from sizable online archives whenever we like, and even download them for ourselves. Before the internet, how many chances would we have had even to encounter such works of art in the course of life? Very few of us, certainly, would ever have beheld a Japanese printmaker at work, but here in the age of streaming video, we all can. In the Smithsonian video above, printmaker Keiji Shinohara demonstrates a suite of traditional techniques (and more specialized ones in a follow-up below) for creating ukiyo-e, the “pictures of the floating world” whose style originally developed to capture Japanese life and landscapes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

“So uh,” asks one commenter below this video of Shinohara at work, “anyone else come from unintentional ASMR?” That abbreviation, which stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” labels a genre of Youtube video that exploded in popularity in recent years.

Attempts have been made to define the underlying phenomenon scientifically, but suffice it to say that ASMR involves a set of distinctively pleasurable sounds that happens to coincide with those made by the tools of printmakers and other highly analog craftsmen. When ASMR enthusiasts discovered Youtube art conservator Julian Baumgartner, previously featured here on Open Culture, he created special sonically enhanced versions of his videos just for them.

In the case of Shinohara, the Best Unintentional ASMR channel has done it for him. Its version of his videos greatly emphasize the sounds of brushes rubbed against paper, inks spread onto wood, and droplets of water falling into the rinsing bowl. Of course, the original king of unintentional ASMR in art is universally acknowledged to be Bob Ross, host of The Joy of Painting, whose soft-spoken industriousness seems now to inhabit the person of David Bull, an English-Canadian ukiyo-e printmaker living in Tokyo. In a sense, Bull is the Western counterpart to the Osaka-born Shinohara, who after a decade’s apprenticeship in Kyoto crossed the Pacific Ocean in the other direction to make his home in the United States. But however traditional their art, they both belong, now to the floating world of the internet. You can listen to non-ASMR versions of the videos above here and here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Indie Animation in a Corporate World: A Conversation with Animator Benjamin Goldman on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #88

In the perennial conflict between art and our corporate entertainment machine, animation seems designed to be mechanized, given how labor-intensive it is, and yes, most of our animation comes aimed at children (or naughty adults) from a few behemoths (like, say, Disney).

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Benjamin Goldman to discuss doing animation on your own, with only faint hope of “the cavalry” (e.g. Netfilx money or the Pixar fleet of animators) coming to help you realize (and distribute and generate revenue from) your vision. As an adult viewer, what are we looking for from this medium?

We talk about what exactly constitutes “indie,” shorts vs. features, how the image relates to the narration, realism or its avoidance, and more. Watch Benjamin’s film with Daniel Gamburg, “Eight Nights.”

Some of our other examples include Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body and Skhizein, World of Tomorrow, If Anything Happens I Love You, The Opposites Game, Windup, Fritz the Cat, Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, and Image Union.

Hear a few lists and comments about this independent animation:

Follow Benjamin on Instagram @bgpictures. Here’s something he did for a major film studio that you might recognize, from the film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events:

Hear more of this podcast at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The Story of Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Troubled (and Even Deadly) Sci-Fi Masterpiece

Andrei Tarkovsky is a popular filmmaker. This will come as a surprise to those who know the Soviet master mostly by his reputation as a maker of movies so poetic, serious, and deliberate of pace that they alter their viewers’ relationship to time itself. Yet Stalker, which ranks among his very most poetic, serious, and deliberate works, was, as of the recording of the video essay above by Youtuber CinemaTyler, the most streamed movie on the Criterion Channel. Not only that, but the essay itself, Stalker (1979): The Sci-Fi Masterpiece That Killed Its Director,” has as of this writing racked up more than 1.6 million views.

As CinemaTyler’s most-seen episode, this Stalker exegesis outranks in popularity his analyses of classics like Blade RunnerNorth by Northwest, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It has also drawn more viewers than his many videos on the work of Stanley Kubrick, from The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey to Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange. But for an auteur enthusiast of his kind, one can hardly begin discussing Kubrick without bringing up Tarkovsky, and vice versa. Some points of comparison are more obvious than others: CinemaTyler mentions Tarkovsky’s low opinion of 2001, which played a part in shaping the starkly different look and feel of his own first science-fiction picture Solaris.

There’s also a reference to “Kubrick/Tarkovsky,” a video essay previously featured here on Open Culture that catalogs the subtler visual resonances between their films. “Kubrick is one side of the brain,” as CinemaTyler puts it, “and Tarkovsky the other.” As much as they have in common on a deeper level, on the surface Kubrick and Tarkovsky’s oeuvres both oppose and complement each other. While Kubrick worked only in genres, Tarkovsky mostly eschewed them: Stalker, which came out seven years after Solaris, pulls sci-fi almost unrecognizably far into his own aesthetic territory.

This thrust Tarkovsky and his collaborators into their most arduous filmmaking effort yet: they had to execute complicated setups in real industrial wastelands, make several changes of cinematographer, and even shoot the entire movie twice after problems with the initial film stock. CinemaTyler recounts these difficulties and others, not ignoring the widely held suspicion that these poisonous locations ultimately caused the deaths of several of its creators, including Tarkovsky himself. Kubrick’s shoots were also notoriously difficult, of course, but none demanded quite the sacrifice Stalker did — and arguably, none produced quite an inexplicably compelling a cinematic experience.

You can pick up a copy of Stalker on Blu-ray.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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