Dance Like David Byrne! An Easy-to-Follow Instructional Video Shows You How

This dance is seri­ous. This dance is nec­es­sary. Do you feel that change? — David Byrne

Every­one can dance, though some of us need a push from an enthu­si­as­tic, encour­ag­ing instructor…like singer-song­writer David Byrne.

Move­ment has long been a hall­mark of the for­mer Talk­ing Heads frontman’s per­for­mances, when he was a pal­pa­bly ner­vous 23-year-old sol­dier­ing through one of the band’s first New York City gigs.

Byrne drove the danc­ing in Talk­ing Heads 1984 con­cert film, Stop Mak­ing Sense and has col­lab­o­rat­ed with sev­er­al notable chore­o­g­ra­phers over the course of his long and var­ied career.

In 1981, Twyla Tharp com­mis­sioned him to write the score for her phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing, exper­i­men­tal bal­let, The Cather­ine Wheel.

In 1999, he pro­vid­ed the sound­track for In Spite of Wish­ing and Want­i­ng, a 2‑hour work chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Wim Van­dekey­bus cre­at­ed for the men in his com­pa­ny, Ulti­ma Vez.

His most fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion has been with Big Dance The­ater’s Annie‑B Par­son, who chore­o­graphed Byrne’s 2012 Love this Giant world tour with St. Vin­cent, as well as Here Lies Love, his 2013  immer­sive rock musi­cal about for­mer First Lady of the Philip­pines Imel­da Mar­cos. Most recent­ly, the pair worked togeth­er to adapt Byrne’s Amer­i­can Utopia tour for Broad­way.

In an inter­view with Vul­ture, Par­son recalled ques­tion­ing why some­one with Byrne’s nat­u­ral­ly cool phys­i­cal instincts would seek an out­side par­ty to han­dle the danc­ing:

I was like, Huh, you’re my favorite chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, what are you doing!? Being able to make move­ment for your­self and being a chore­o­g­ra­ph­er are quite dif­fer­ent, and he’s not inter­est­ed in mak­ing move­ment for oth­er peo­ple. He is a dancer. Some of the stuff he does in the show he total­ly made up for him­self.

No ques­tion about it. The man has moves.

Here’s Parson’s favorite:

He does this thing where he slaps his hands while cross­ing the stage in Slip­pery Peo­ple that’s so amus­ing to watch. He goes down on the ground at one point in Once in a Life­time and I asked him what he was doing, and he was like, “Um, I’m going down to the water in the ground.” He’s imag­in­ing things and feel­ing the music. “Loose” wouldn’t be the word because nei­ther of us are loose at all. He’s incred­i­ble as an artist in the way he thinks and acts on things. I’ve always felt that I have a huge amount of free­dom.

Feel the Byrne next time you hit the dance floor by head­ing back up to the top of this post and fol­low­ing along with his instruc­tion­al video for the social­ly dis­tanced par­tic­i­pa­to­ry dance expe­ri­ence he co-host­ed for two weeks in New York City’s Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall.

If only every dance teacher showed up in such a buoy­ant mood (not to men­tion a util­i­ty kilt and Eng­lish sand shoes…)

Shake your hips!

Pup­pet legs!

Hold the traf­fic!

Vibrat­ing arms!

Those lucky enough to score one of the night­ly-assigned danc­ing spots that ensured SOCIAL!  would be, as adver­tised, a social­ly dis­tanced dance club, exe­cut­ed these, and oth­er dance moves, that Byrne’s pre-record­ed voice called for over the pow­er­ful P.A. sys­tem.

The New York­er gave a feel for the pro­ceed­ings:

Some parts were instruc­tions for line dances; oth­ers were more abstract (“Let me see you move like you’re in a new world”) or his­tor­i­cal (“This song is by the first inter­ra­cial band to play Carnegie Hall”); some were idio­syn­crat­ic Byr­nisms (“C’mon, baby, let’s think about your ten­dons”).

Reporters for Van­i­ty Fair and the New York Times (who felt reas­sured that Byrne is “him­self an invit­ing­ly imper­fect dancer”) list­ed some of the steps they’d attempt­ed at Byrne’s behest:

Hand-san­i­tiz­ing (“You’ve got too much! Flick it front, flick it behind!”)

Thread­ed through crowds on a New York City side­walk (“Don’t step on that piz­za!”)

Move like a zom­bie

Sub­way surf

Float a la Gaga



Reach for the rafters (“Maybe you’re rais­ing your hand in praise or to feel the light or to represent—or because you have a ques­tion. Is any­body answer­ing your ques­tion? So much uncer­tain­ty these days.”)

Pre­sum­ably, they, like Late Show host Stephen Col­bert, below, also learned to “pol­ish the plates.”

I Dance Like This by David Byrne

I’m work­ing on my danc­ing

This is the best I can do

I’m ten­ta­tive­ly shak­ing

You don’t have to look

Can’t say I’m sor­ry

I can’t say I’m ashamed

Can’t think of tomor­row

When it seems so far away

We dance like this

Because it feels so damn good

If we could dance bet­ter

Well you know that we would

For even more inspi­ra­tion, check out the Insta­gram account Dai­ly David Byrne Dances.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch David Byrne Prac­tice His Dance Moves for Stop Mak­ing Sense in New­ly Released Behind-the-Scenes Footage

Watch a Very Ner­vous, 23-Year-Old David Byrne and Talk­ing Heads Per­form­ing Live in NYC (1976)

David Byrne Launch­es Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful, an Online Mag­a­zine Fea­tur­ing Arti­cles by Byrne, Bri­an Eno & More

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Watch Prince Bust Some Eye-Popping Moves in Rehearsal Footage from 1984

Dance was as much a baked-in part of Prince’s allure, as his sug­ges­tive lyrics and mas­tery of mul­ti­ple instru­ments.

The pub­lic got its first taste of his affin­i­ty for the form at a John Hay ele­men­tary school tal­ent show to which he con­tributed a tap rou­tine, and again at a James Brown con­cert at the Min­neapo­lis Armory, when the 10-year-old  briefly hopped onstage to mash pota­to, an inci­dent he recalled in a 1985 inter­view with MTV.

He received for­mal train­ing at the Min­neso­ta Dance The­atre, as a teenaged par­tic­i­pant in the city’s Urban Arts Pro­gram, and rehearsed obses­sive­ly.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Cat Glover, a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, told Mpls. St. Paul Mag­a­zine:

He would push him­self to the lim­it all the time. He made it look easy, but every­thing that looked easy was three months’ rehearsal. It was nev­er easy.

The above rehearsal footage from the sum­mer of 1984 doesn’t show the sweat, but the chore­og­ra­phy is obvi­ous­ly demand­ing. Prince leaps, squats, pirou­ettes, throws him­self into James Brown splits, and exe­cutes a flur­ry of pre­ci­sion dance moves —  in wicked high heeled boots.

“He ruined his hips on those damn high heels he used to wear” accord­ing to Min­neapo­lis-area chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, John Com­mand, who worked with Prince and the cast of Pur­ple Rain, for near­ly a year before shoot­ing began:

We would do Broad­way stuff, Bob Fos­se, Jer­ry Rob­bins who did West Side Sto­ry. A lot of that is very dif­fi­cult stuff and he loved it.

Glover recalled how Prince would vis­it dance clubs to check par­ty­go­ers’ response to his music:

For one of his songs to get record­ed it had to come with every­thing. If your feet aren’t tap­ping, if your feet aren’t bop­ping, it’s not good enough. If you can’t dance with music then it’s no good.

In 1989, when he opened his Glam Slam night­club, he insist­ed on a res­i­dent dance troupe, and made them a pri­or­i­ty. Its chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, Kat Car­roll remem­bered how dancers were held to the same exact­ing stan­dards Prince set for him­self:

We worked very hard, and he treat­ed us very well and he paid us very well. But he also expect­ed us to be on top of things, just like his musi­cians. We worked long hours, many times dur­ing the week.

Prince kept up with the pro­fes­sion­al dance world, offer­ing to write a piece for Chicago’s Jof­frey Bal­let, and waiv­ing his roy­al­ties when they per­formed to it, a move that lift­ed the com­pa­ny from finan­cial dis­as­ter in the 90s and increased their audi­ence base.

He recruit­ed bal­le­ri­na Misty Copeland to tour with him begin­ning in 2009, six years before she made his­to­ry as the first Black prin­ci­pal dancer in the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­ater, anoth­er com­pa­ny to which he donat­ed gen­er­ous­ly.

He was a fan of avant-garde chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Moses Pendle­ton, founder of MOMIX and co-founder of Pilobo­lus Dance The­ater, but also the dance stylings of Paul “Pee-wee Her­man” Reubens.

As Copeland rem­i­nisced to GQ  short­ly after Prince’s death:

There was one Pee-wee Her­man movie that he was obsessed with. It was sil­ly, like him, and fun­ny, and quirky—watching Pee-wee Her­man dance he just thought was the fun­ni­est thing.


For those won­der­ing about the sound­track to the rehearsal footage at the top of the page, it’s Prince’s orig­i­nal stu­dio ver­sion of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U” record­ed in that same room, that same sum­mer. Six years lat­er, Sinead O’Connor’s cov­er became a glob­al hit.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hear a 19-Year-Old Prince Crush­ing It on Every Instru­ment in an Ear­ly Jam Ses­sion (1977)

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

Watch Prince Play Jazz Piano & Coach His Band Through George Gershwin’s “Sum­mer­time” in a Can­did, Behind-the-Scenes Moment (1990)

Read Prince’s First Inter­view, Print­ed in His High School News­pa­per (1976)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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The History of Disco Visualized on a Circuit Diagram of a Klipschorn Speaker: Features 600 Musicians, DJs, Producers, Clubs & Record Labels

Half a cen­tu­ry after it was birthed in New York’s black, Lati­no and gay under­ground club scene–and near­ly 45 years after the infa­mous Dis­co Demo­li­tion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park–dis­co is final­ly being accord­ed some respect in the annals of music his­to­ry.

Even those who remain imper­vi­ous to dis­co fever seem will­ing to acknowl­edge its cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as evi­denced by a recent exchange on the Trouser Press forum:

It was every­where and could indeed get tire­some. But today I can appre­ci­ate how well put-togeth­er those records by an artist like the Bee Gees were…

Hear­ing tech­no for the first time in the ear­ly 90s, and real­iz­ing it was just dis­co in a new, all-elec­tron­ic pack­age, made me real­ize how good a lot of it was…

I remem­ber see­ing (A Taste of Hon­ey) on The Mid­night Spe­cial. It was the first time I’d seen a band with female mem­bers play­ing instru­ments…

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed the his­to­ry of hip-hop, UK-based design stu­dio Dorothy gives dis­co its due with a blue­print pay­ing trib­ute to the many artists who made the form what it was, from foun­da­tion lay­ers like Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Mar­vin Gaye, and James Brown to such trail­blaz­ing super­stars as Don­na Sum­mer, Glo­ria Gaynor, Sylvester, Chic and the Bee Gees.

The Dis­co Love Blue­print also name checks some of disco’s influ­en­tial pro­duc­ers, DJs, and labels, along with water­shed moments like 1969’s Stonewall Upris­ing and 1977’s Sat­ur­day Night Fever, report­ed­ly film crit­ic Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.

And while the dis­co explo­sion even­tu­al­ly saw young straight sin­gles doing the Bump in Indi­anapo­lis, Phoenix, and Spokane, Dorothy sticks close to the epi­cen­ter by includ­ing such leg­endary New York City clubs as Stu­dio 54, The Gallery, Par­adise Garage, The Saint, and The Loft, a pri­vate dis­cotheque in DJ David Man­cu­so’s Low­er Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

In Bill Brewster’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The His­to­ry of the Disc Jock­ey, Man­cu­so’s audio engi­neer, Alex Ros­ner, recalled the Loft’s clien­tele as being “prob­a­bly about six­ty per­cent black and sev­en­ty per­cent gay:”

There was a mix of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, there was a mix of races, mix of eco­nom­ic groups. A real mix, where the com­mon denom­i­na­tor was music.

One can’t men­tion the music at The Loft with­out giv­ing props to the inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient sound sys­tem Ros­ner devised for Mancuso’s 1,850-square-foot space, using a McIn­tosh ampli­fi­er, an AR ampli­fi­er, Vega bass bot­tom speak­ers, and two Klip­schorn Corn­wall loud­speak­ers, whose cir­cuit dia­gram inspired the Dis­co Love Blue­print­’s lay­out.

As com­pos­er and pro­duc­er Matt Som­mers told The Vinyl Fac­to­ry, those speak­ers sur­round­ed dancers with the sort of high vol­ume, undis­tort­ed sound they could lose them­selves in:

…the Man­cu­so par­ties were unique because what he did was take it to a whole oth­er lev­el and cre­at­ed that envel­op­ment expe­ri­ence where you could real­ly get lost and I think that’s what peo­ple love about that, because you can just let your trou­bles go and enjoy it.

Get Dorothy’s Dis­co Love Blue­print, fea­tur­ing 600 musi­cians, DJs, pro­duc­ers, clubs and record labels here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The His­to­ry of Jazz Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Phono­graph: Fea­tures 1,000+ Musi­cians, Artists, Song­writ­ers and Pro­duc­ers

The His­to­ry of Rock Mapped Out on the Cir­cuit Board of a Gui­tar Ampli­fi­er: 1400 Musi­cians, Song­writ­ers & Pro­duc­ers

Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch David Byrne Practice His Dance Moves for Stop Making Sense in Newly Released Behind-the-Scenes Footage

A new 4K restora­tion of Stop Mak­ing Sense debuted last month at the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, then opened in the­aters around the world. The pro­mo­tion­al push for this cul­tur­al event start­ed ear­ly (as fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), and has involved the release of rarely-seen sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als cho­sen to delight Talk­ing Heads fans. Take the short video above, a com­pi­la­tion of video clips in which David Byrne rehears­es his dance moves in advance of the band’s 1983 Speak­ing in Tongues tour, four of whose shows would be com­bined, with the help of many col­lab­o­ra­tors includ­ing direc­tor Jonathan Demme, into a seam­less, still-beloved musi­cal-cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ence.

In a film full of mem­o­rable ele­ments, from the Pablo Fer­ro titles to the lamp to the big suit, Byrne’s dis­tinc­tive way of car­ry­ing him­self stands out. “His wide-eyed stare, jerky move­ments and onstage cool remind­ed many com­men­ta­tors of Antho­ny Perkins, star of Hitchcock’s movie Psy­cho,” Col­in Larkin writes of ear­li­er Heads shows in The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Pop­u­lar Music.

This elab­o­rate awk­ward­ness, so thor­ough­ly delib­er­ate-look­ing that it comes around the oth­er side to suavi­ty, may seem like a nat­ur­al expres­sion of his artis­tic per­son­al­i­ty. But as revealed by the video he shot of him­self try­ing out dif­fer­ent chore­o­graph­ic ideas — and even more so by the full 25-minute ver­sion, which fea­tures not just numer­ous VHS glitch­es but also the band’s back­up singers — it took tri­al and error to devel­op.

“The film’s peak moments come through Byrne’s sim­ple phys­i­cal pres­ence,” Roger Ebert wrote of Stop Mak­ing Sense upon its ini­tial release in 1984. “He jogs in place with his side­men; he runs around the stage; he seems so hap­py to be alive and mak­ing music,” and even “serves as a reminder of how sour and weary and strung-out many rock bands have become.” Though, when rock bands may be less strung-out but are cer­tain­ly no less weary, his restored per­for­mance is remind­ing count­less Heads enthu­si­asts why they got into the band in the first place — and no doubt giv­ing hereto­fore unini­ti­at­ed new gen­er­a­tions a few para­noical­ly exu­ber­ant, rigid­ly unin­hib­it­ed, and smooth­ly un-smooth moves to try out on the dance floor them­selves.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Brief His­to­ry of Talk­ing Heads: How the Band Went from Scrap­py CBGB’s Punks to New Wave Super­stars

David Byrne Plays Sev­en Char­ac­ters & Inter­views Him­self in Fun­ny Pro­mo for Stop Mak­ing Sense

How Jonathan Demme Put Human­i­ty Into His Films: From The Silence of the Lambs to Stop Mak­ing Sense

David Byrne Explains How the “Big Suit” He Wore in Stop Mak­ing Sense Was Inspired by Japan­ese Kabu­ki The­atre

How Talk­ing Heads and Bri­an Eno Wrote “Once in a Life­time”: Cut­ting Edge, Strange & Utter­ly Bril­liant

Talk­ing Heads Live in Rome, 1980: The Con­cert Film You Haven’t Seen

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.

The Untold Story of Disco and Its Black, Latino & LGBTQ Roots

As a white Mid­west­ern child of the ‘70s, I received two mes­sages loud and clear: dis­co was a breath­tak­ing­ly glam­orous, sexy urban scene, and “dis­co sucks.”

Cul­tur­al­ly, the lat­ter pre­vailed.

It was the opin­ion voiced most loud­ly by the pop­u­lar boys.

Dis­senters pushed back at their own per­il.

I didn’t know what YMCA was about, and I’m not con­vinced the ski jack­et­ed, puka-neck­laced alpha males at my school did either.

(My father, who sang along joy­ful­ly when­ev­er it came on the car radio, def­i­nite­ly did.)

Disco’s been dead for a long time now.

In the four plus decades since dis­grun­tled Chica­go radio DJ Steve Dahl com­man­deered a base­ball sta­di­um for a Dis­co Demo­li­tion Night where fans tossed around homo­pho­bic and racist epi­thets while destroy­ing records, there’s been notable social progress.

This progress is the lens that makes Noah Lefevre’s Poly­phon­ic video essay The Untold His­to­ry of Dis­co, and oth­er inves­ti­ga­tions into the racial and sex­u­al under­pin­nings of dis­co pos­si­ble.

I cer­tain­ly nev­er heard of Stonewall as a kid, but many con­tem­po­rary view­ers, com­ing of age in a coun­try that is, on the whole, much more LGBTQ-friend­ly than the world of their par­ents and grand­par­ents, are famil­iar with it as a gay rights mile­stone.

Lefevre ties the birth of dis­co to the 1969 Stonewall Upris­ing, and a sub­cul­ture born of neces­si­ty, where­in gay men impro­vised under­ground dance clubs where they could cut freely loose with same sex part­ners.

Instead of live dance music, these venues boast­ed DJs, crate dig­gers open to any groove that would keep the par­ty going on the dance floor: psy­che­del­ic, clas­sic soul, pro­gres­sive soul, jazz fusion, Latin Amer­i­can dance music, African pop…

(Thus the name dis­cotheque)

A dis­co sound began to coa­lesce around exist­ing hits as the O‑jays’ Love Train and Isaac Hayes’ Theme from Shaft.

You can hear it in Jim­my Nolen’s chick­en scratch lead gui­tar for James Brown and ses­sion drum­mer Earl Young’s open high hat and four-to-the-floor beat on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost.

In the begin­ning, crowds were pri­mar­i­ly Black, Lati­no and gay at New York City dis­cos like The Loft, which start­ed out as a rent par­ty, and The Sanc­tu­ary, housed in a decon­se­crat­ed mid­town Ger­man Bap­tist church. Map­plethor­pe mod­el Leigh Lee recalled The Sanctuary’s cachet to the Vil­lage Voice’s Peter Braun­stein:

It was sup­posed to be a secret, but I don’t know how secret it could have been when fag­gots and les­bians can come out of a church from mid­night till sun­rise.

As dis­cotheque DJs began dri­ving the record charts, main­stream pro­duc­ers took note, open­ing the gates for such mon­ster hits as the Bar­ry White-helmed Love Unlim­it­ed Orchestra’s Love’s Theme, Don­na Summer’s Love to Love Ya, and Chic’s Le Freak.

A glit­ter-bedecked nude man rode a white horse into Bian­ca Jagger’s birth­day par­ty at Stu­dio 54 on the stroke of mid­night, while hin­ter­land squares did The Hus­tle at their local Hol­i­day Inns. 

By the time celebs like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stew­art start­ing horn­ing in on the act, dis­co had already reached its tip­ping point.

Lit­tle twerps like me, whose moth­ers wouldn’t let them see the R‑rated Sat­ur­day Night Fever bought Bee Gees 45s from our local Peach­es and sang along to Glo­ria Gaynor’s I Will Sur­vive, as did some of our dads…

(An unex­pect­ed plea­sure of Lefevre’s video is see­ing all those famil­iar record labels spin­ning just the way they did on our pre­cious stere­os — Atlantic! Casablan­ca! Poly­dor! RSO!  Some­body pass me a Dr. Pep­per and a yel­low plas­tic insert!)

Radio DJ Rick Dees’ nov­el­ty hit with Dis­co Duck seemed so harm­less at the time, but it was sure­ly music to the main­stream “dis­co sucks” crowd’s ears. (Good luck to any punk who betrayed a fond­ness for Dis­co Duck )

Disco’s reign was brief — Lefevre notes that its end coin­cides with the begin­ning of the AIDS cri­sis — but its impact has been greater than many assume at first blush.

Disco’s empha­sis on turnta­bles and long play ver­sions influ­enced hip hop and elec­tron­ic dance music.

Near­ly half a cen­tu­ry after dis­co­ma­nia seized the land, its deep con­nec­tion to Black, Lati­no and LGBTQ his­to­ry must not be tossed aside light­ly.

Watch more of Noah Lefevre’s Poly­phon­ic video essays here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Dis­co Demo­li­tion Night: Scenes from the Night Dis­co Died (or Did It?) at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, 1979

Two Decades of Fire Island DJ Sets Get Unearthed, Dig­i­tized & Put Online: Stream 232 Mix­tapes Online (1979–1999)

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Her Indi­ana ties result­ed in an invi­ta­tion to Rick “Dis­co Duck” Dees’ 1977 wed­ding. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Anita Berber, the Cabaret Star Who Scandalized Weimar-Era Berlin

Ani­ta Berber, the taboo-bust­ing, sex­u­al­ly omniv­o­rous, fash­ion for­ward, fre­quent­ly naked star of the Weimar Repub­lic cabaret scene, tops our list of per­form­ers we real­ly wish we’d been able to see live.

While Berber act­ed in 27 films, includ­ing Pros­ti­tu­tion, direc­tor Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gam­bler, and Dif­fer­ent from the Oth­ers, which film crit­ic Den­nis Har­vey describes as “the first movie to por­tray homo­sex­u­al char­ac­ters beyond the usu­al innu­en­do and ridicule,” we have a strong hunch that none of these appear­ances can com­pete with the sheer audac­i­ty of her stage work.

Audi­ences at Berlin’s White Mouse cabaret (some wear­ing black or white masks to con­ceal their iden­ti­ties) were tit­il­lat­ed by her Expres­sion­is­tic nude solo chore­og­ra­phy, as well as the troupe of six teenaged dancers under her com­mand.

As biog­ra­ph­er Mel Gor­don writes in The Sev­en Addic­tions and Five Pro­fes­sions of Ani­ta Berber: Weimar Berlin’s Priest­ess of Deprav­i­ty, Berber, often described as a “strip­per”, dis­played the pas­sion of a seri­ous artist, “respond(ing) to the audience’s heck­ling with show-stop­ping obscen­i­ties and inde­cent provo­ca­tions:”

Berber had been known to spit brandy on them or stand naked on their tables, dous­ing her­self in wine whilst simul­ta­ne­ous­ly uri­nat­ing… It was not long before the entire cabaret one night sank into a groundswell of shout­ing, screams and laugh­ter.  Ani­ta jumped off the stage in fum­ing rage, grabbed the near­est cham­pagne bot­tle and smashed it over a businessman’s head.

Her col­lab­o­ra­tions with her sec­ond hus­band, dancer Sebas­t­ian Droste, car­ried Berber into increas­ing­ly trans­gres­sive ter­ri­to­ry, both onstage and off.

Accord­ing to trans­la­tor Mer­rill Cole, in the intro­duc­tion to the 2012 reis­sue of Dances of Vice, Hor­ror and Ecsta­sy, a book of Expres­sion­ist poems, essays, pho­tographs, and stage designs which Droste and Berber co-authored, “even the bio­graph­i­cal details seduce:”

…a bisex­u­al some­times-pros­ti­tute and a shady fig­ure from the male homo­sex­u­al under­world, unit­ed in addic­tion to cocaine and dis­dain for bour­geois respectabil­i­ty, both high­ly tal­ent­ed, Expres­sion­ist-trained dancers, both beau­ti­ful exhi­bi­tion­ists, set out to pro­vide the Baby­lon on the Spree with the ulti­mate expe­ri­ence of deprav­i­ty, using an art form they had helped to invent for this pur­pose. Their brief mar­riage and artis­tic inter­ac­tion end­ed when Droste became des­per­ate for drugs and abscond­ed with Berber’s jew­el col­lec­tion.

This, and the descrip­tion of Berber’s pen­chant for “haunt(ing) Weimar Berlin’s hotel lob­bies, night­clubs and casi­nos, radi­ant­ly naked except for an ele­gant sable wrap, a pet mon­key hang­ing from her neck, and a sil­ver brooch packed with cocaine,” do a far more evoca­tive job of res­ur­rect­ing Berber, the Weimar sen­sa­tion, than any wordy, blow-by-blow attempt to recre­ate her shock­ing per­for­mances, though we can’t fault author Karl Toepfer, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of The­ater Arts at San Jose State Uni­ver­si­ty, for try­ing.

In Empire of Ecsta­sy: Nudi­ty and Move­ment in Ger­man Body Cul­ture, 1910–1935, Toepfer draws heav­i­ly on Czech chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Joe Jenčík’s eye­wit­ness obser­va­tions, to recon­struct Berber’s most noto­ri­ous dance, Cocaine, begin­ning with the “omi­nous scenery by Har­ry Täu­ber fea­tur­ing a tall lamp on a low, cloth-cov­ered table:”

This lamp was an expres­sion­ist sculp­ture with an ambigu­ous form that one could read as a sign of the phal­lus, an abstrac­tion of the female dancer’s body, or a mon­u­men­tal image of a syringe, for a long, shiny nee­dle pro­trud­ed from the top of it…It is not clear how nude Berber was when she per­formed the dance. Jenčík, writ­ing in 1929, flat­ly stat­ed that she was nude, but the famous Vien­nese pho­tog­ra­ph­er Madame D’O­ra (Dora Kalmus) took a pic­ture enti­tled “Kokain” in which Berber appears in a long black dress that expos­es her breasts and whose lac­ing, up the front, reveals her flesh to below her navel.

In any case, accord­ing to Jenčík, she dis­played “a sim­ple tech­nique of nat­ur­al steps and unforced pos­es.” But though the tech­nique was sim­ple, the dance itself, one of Berber’s most suc­cess­ful cre­ations, was appar­ent­ly quite com­plex. Ris­ing from an ini­tial con­di­tion of paral­y­sis on the floor (or pos­si­bly from the table, as indi­cat­ed by Täu­ber’s sceno­graph­ic notes), she adopt­ed a pri­mal move­ment involv­ing a slow, sculp­tured turn­ing of her body, a kind of slow-motion effect. The turn­ing rep­re­sent­ed the unrav­el­ing of a “knot of flesh.” But as the body uncoiled, it con­vulsed into “sep­a­rate parts,” pro­duc­ing a vari­ety of rhythms with­in itself. Berber used all parts of her body to con­struct a “trag­ic” con­flict between the healthy body and the poi­soned body: she made dis­tinct rhythms out of the move­ment of her mus­cles; she used “unex­pect­ed counter-move­ments” of her head to cre­ate an anguished sense of bal­ance; her “porce­lain-col­ored arms” made hyp­not­ic, pen­du­lum­like move­ments, like a mar­i­onet­te’s; with­in the pri­mal turn­ing of her body, there appeared con­tra­dic­to­ry turns of her wrists, tor­so, ankles; the rhythm of her breath­ing fluc­tu­at­ed with dra­mat­ic effect; her intense dark eyes fol­lowed yet anoth­er, slow­er rhythm; and she intro­duced the “most refined nuances of agili­ty” in mak­ing spasms of sen­sa­tion rip­ple through her fin­gers, nos­trils, and lips. Yet, despite all this com­plex­i­ty, she was not afraid of seem­ing “ridicu­lous” or “painful­ly swollen.” The dance con­clud­ed when the con­vulsed dancer attempt­ed to cry out (with the “blood-red open­ing of the mouth”) and could not. The dancer then hurled her­self to the floor and assumed a pose of motion­less, drugged sleep. Berber’s dance dra­ma­tized the intense ambi­gu­i­ty involved in link­ing the ecsta­t­ic lib­er­a­tion of the body to nudi­ty and rhyth­mic con­scious­ness. The dance tied ecsta­t­ic expe­ri­ence to an encounter with vice (addic­tion) and hor­ror (acute aware­ness of death).

A noble attempt, but for­give us if we can’t quite pic­ture it…

And what lit­tle evi­dence has been pre­served of her screen appear­ances exists at a sim­i­lar remove from  the dark sub­ject mat­ter she explic­it­ly ref­er­enced in her chore­o­graphed work — Mor­phine, Sui­cideThe Corpse on the Dis­sect­ing Table…

Cole opines:

There are a num­ber of nar­ra­tive accounts of her dances, some pinned by pro­fes­sion­al crit­ics, and almost all com­mend­ing her tal­ent, finesse, and mes­mer­iz­ing stage pres­ence. We also have film images from the var­i­ous silent films in which she played bit parts. There exist, too, many still pho­tographs of Berber and Droste, as well as ren­di­tions of Berber by oth­er artists, most promi­nent­ly the Dadaist Otto Dix’s famous scar­let-sat­u­rat­ed por­trait. In regard to the naked dances, unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have no mov­ing images, no way to watch direct­ly how they were per­formed.

For a dishy overview of Ani­ta Berber’s per­son­al life, includ­ing her alleged dal­liances with actress Mar­lene Diet­rich, author Lawrence Dur­rell, and the King of Yugoslavia, her influ­en­tial effect on direc­tor Leni Riefen­stahl, and her sad demise at the age of 29, a “car­rion soul that even the hye­nas ignored,” take a peek at Vic­to­ria Linchong’s bio­graph­i­cal essay for Messy Nessy Chic, or bet­ter yet, Iron Spike’s Twit­ter thread.

via Messy Nessy

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Expe­ri­ence Footage of Roar­ing 1920s Berlin, Restored & Col­orized with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

The Nazis’ 10 Con­trol-Freak Rules for Jazz Per­form­ers: A Strange List from World War II

Down­load Hun­dreds of Issues of Jugend, Germany’s Pio­neer­ing Art Nou­veau Mag­a­zine (1896–1940)

Dick Van Dyke Still Dancing at 96!

Beloved com­ic actress Bet­ty White left some big shoes to fill last New Year’s Eve when she shocked the world by dying at the ten­der age of 99.

Who could pos­si­bly match her zest for life so many years into it?

Pag­ing Dick Van Dyke

The nim­ble-foot­ed 96-year-old has yet to host Sat­ur­day Night Live, but remains cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant nonethe­less, thanks to the endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of his ear­ly work.

His ear­ly 60s sit­com, The Dick Van Dyke Show, was a sta­ple of ‘90s-era Nick at Nite.

Even Gen­er­a­tion Alpha knows who he is, thanks to his ever­green turn as Bert, the danc­ing chim­neysweep in Mary Pop­pins (1964).

The phys­i­cal grace he brought to such musi­cal fare as Bye Bye Birdie and Chit­ty Chit­ty Bang Bang is some­thing he delib­er­ate­ly strived for as a fan of silent com­e­dy’s greats, and at 96, it’s not some­thing he takes for grant­ed. He began strength train­ing many decades ago, after observ­ing Broad­way dancers’ work outs, and main­tains a dai­ly reg­i­men of crunch­es, leg lifts, and hip open­ers.

Like White, he thrives in the com­pa­ny of younger peo­ple.

He’s by far the old­est mem­ber of The Van­tastix, a bar­ber­shop quar­tet he formed in 2020.

And for those keep­ing score, he’s 46 years old­er than his bride of ten years, Arlene Sil­ver, who sings and dances with him in the above video (and directs, too.)

Yes, Van Dyke’s shoul­ders and tor­so may have stiff­ened a bit in the four years since Mary Pop­pins Returns  found him hop­ping atop a desk for a sprite­ly soft shoe, but the ease with which he pro­pels him­self from a low slung wing­back chair at the one-minute mark will strike many view­ers as noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous.

(For those admir­ing the decor, Fall­en Fruit’s recent SUPERSHOW instal­la­tion pro­vid­ed the video’s younger-than-spring­time set.)

Van Dyke’s loose limbed appeal is accom­pa­nied by a refresh­ing­ly flex­i­ble atti­tude, anoth­er way in which he mod­els health aging.

A year into his mar­riage to Sil­ver, he told Parade that they’re so well suit­ed because “she’s very mature for her age, and I’m very imma­ture for my age.”

“Imma­ture in a good way, Sil­ver clar­i­fied to Huff­Post, “with the won­der of a child”:

He’s just fun, he’s open mind­ed. He’s not stuck in his ways at all.

We take very good care of each oth­er. But, I’m very aware that I have a nation­al trea­sure on my hands.

No won­der peo­ple love him. As proof, wit­ness the twen­ty-some­thing leap­ing to their feet to give him an ova­tion, as he makes his entrance in Disneyland’s 60th-anniver­sary spe­cial six years ago.

12 sec­onds lat­er, the 90-year-old Van Dyke was also leap­ing.

“When peo­ple tell you you look good in your 90s, what they mean is you don’t look dead,” Van Dyke con­fid­ed in the late Carl Rein­er’s 2017 doc­u­men­tary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Break­fast:

At 30, I exer­cised to look good. In my 50s, I exer­cised to stay fit. In my 70s, to stay ambu­la­to­ry. In my 80s, to avoid assist­ed liv­ing. Now, in my 90s, I’m just doing it out of pure defi­ance.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Pow­er of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Chore­o­g­ra­phers and Even John Tra­vol­ta Him­self

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

The Icon­ic Dance Scene from Hel­lza­pop­pin’ Pre­sent­ed in Liv­ing Col­or with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (1941)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Watch a Joyful Video Where 52 Renowned Choreographers Link Together to Create a Dance Chain Letter

Dance videos are hav­ing a moment, fueled in large part by Tik­Tok.

Pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs alike use the plat­form to show­case their work, and while the vast major­i­ty of per­form­ers seem to be in or bare­ly out of their teens, a few danc­ing grand­mas have become viral stars. (One such notable brush­es off the atten­tion, say­ing she’s just “an elder­ly lady mak­ing a fool of her­self.”)

You’ll find a hand­ful of dancers hap­py to make sim­i­lar sport of them­selves among the 52 cel­e­brat­ed, most­ly mid­dle-aged and old­er chore­o­g­ra­phers per­form­ing in And So Say All of Us, Mitchell Rose’s chain let­ter style dance film, above. Wit­ness:

John Hegin­both­am’s sprite­ly bowl­ing alley turn, com­plete with refresh­ment stand nachos (4:10)…

Doug Varone’s deter­mi­na­tion to cram a bit of break­fast in before waft­ing out of a din­er booth (5:15)…

And the respons­es David Dorf­man, who both opens and clos­es the film, elic­its aboard the 2 train and wait­ing on the plat­form at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue stop … con­ve­nient­ly sit­u­at­ed near com­mis­sion­ing body BAM (Brook­lyn Acad­e­my of Music).

In the sum­mer of 2017 — the same year Tik­Tok launched in the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket — BAM asked film­mak­er and for­mer chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Rose to cre­ate a short film that would fea­ture a num­ber of chore­o­g­ra­phers whom out­go­ing Exec­u­tive Pro­duc­er Joseph V. Melil­lo had nur­tured over the course of his 35-year tenure.

The result takes the form of an Exquis­ite Corpse, in which each per­former picks up where the per­former imme­di­ate­ly before left off . Quite a feat when one con­sid­ers that the con­trib­u­tors were spread all over the globe, and Rose had bare­ly a year to ready the film for its pre­miere at a gala hon­or­ing Melil­lo.

To get an idea of the degree of coor­di­na­tion and pre­ci­sion edit­ing this entailed, check out Rose’s detailed instruc­tions for Globe Trot, a crowd-sourced “hyper match cut” work in which 50 film­mak­ers in 23 coun­tries each con­tributed 2 sec­ond clips of non-dancers per­form­ing a piece chore­o­graphed by Bebe Miller (who appears fourth in And So Say All of Us).

A great plea­sure of And So Say All of Us — and it’s a sur­pris­ing one giv­en how accus­tomed we’ve grown to peer­ing in on work record­ed in artists’ pri­vate spaces – is see­ing the loca­tions. Ter­races and inte­ri­or spaces still fas­ci­nate, though the lack of masks in pop­u­lous pub­lic set­tings iden­ti­fy this as a decid­ed­ly pre-pan­dem­ic work.

Oth­er high­lights:

The com­par­a­tive still­ness of Eiko and Koma, the only per­form­ers to be filmed togeth­er (2:19)

Mered­ith Monk singing creek­side in an excerpt of Cel­lu­lar Songs, a nature-based piece that would also pre­miere at BAM in 2018 (5:51)

Mark Mor­ris’ glo­ri­ous reveal (6:59)

As with any Exquis­ite Corpse, the whole is greater than the sum of its (excel­lent) indi­vid­ual parts. Rose ties them togeth­er with a red through line, and an orig­i­nal score by Robert Een.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing chore­o­g­ra­phers in order of appear­ance:

David Dorf­man

Reg­gie Wil­son

Trey McIn­tyre

Bebe Miller

Kate Weare

Sean Cur­ran

Faye Driscoll

David Rous­seve

Gideon Obarzanek

Jodi Mel­nick

Jawole Willa Jo Zol­lar

Rodri­go Ped­erneiras

Eiko Otake

Koma Otake

Angelin Preljo­caj

Bren­da Way

Lin Hwai-min

Bri­an Brooks

Sasha Waltz

Don­ald Byrd

Stephen Petro­n­io

William Forsythe

Nora Chipau­mire

Karole Armitage

John Hegin­both­am

Miguel Gutier­rez

Eliz­a­beth Streb

Zvi Gothein­er

Ron K. Brown

Lar­ry Keig­win

Annie‑B Par­son

Doug Varone

Bill T. Jones

Ren­nie Har­ris

Ralph Lemon

Mered­ith Monk

Lucin­da Childs

Meryl Tankard

Ohad Naharin

Daniele Finzi Pas­ca

Ivy Bald­win

Mark Mor­ris

Susan Mar­shall

John Jasperse

Solo Bado­lo

Abdel Salaam

Mar­tin Zim­mer­mann

Aurélien Bory

Ben­jamin Millepied

Bren­da Ang­iel

James Thier­rée

Ken­neth Kvarn­ström

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Awe­some Human Chore­og­ra­phy That Repro­duces the Mur­mu­ra­tions of Star­ling Flocks

The Mis­take Waltz: Watch the Hilar­i­ous Bal­let by Leg­endary Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Jerome Rob­bins

A Dancer Pays a Grav­i­ty-Defy­ing Trib­ute to Claude Debussy

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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