House Dance: A House Music Gem Hidden Far Too Underground (Part 2 of 3)
(continued from Part 1)
To some in the underground community of house dance, this form of expression exists in the very margins it belongs: many leagues under the commercial sea, free from the overcommercialized, corporate interests that once ravaged another highly beloved dance form: B-Boying (or, to use the media-coined but canonically uncouth term, “Breakdancing”). Insofar as B-Boying, which can be considered a distant cousin to House Dance, has a separate history and its own origins, it also edges House Dance in age by a decade and a half or so.
Whereas Hip-Hop culture, and the B-Boying it gave birth to, has its roots in early 1970s New York City, House Music was born circa 1983 as the Chicago revenge child of disco, several years after disco met its untimely demise in the aftermath of 1979′s infamous “Disco Demolition Night” and other extenuating market and social forces. House Dance, then, though itself having roots that extend far back to such influences as Capoeira and Swing Dance, largely developed as the complicated, cross-pollinated creation of late 1980s New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Jersey—of which New York seemingly played the largest formative role (tellingly, many of the pioneers, including Shan S, Brian ‘Footwork’ Green, Marjory Smarth, Caleaf Sellers, and others, lived in New York). Cities like San Francisco and Paris played strong supporting roles in House Dance’s post-pioneer second wave years later.
What, then, is the connection between Hip-Hop and House Dance as relates to House’s ongoing status as arguably the most underground of the various urban/social dances? I believe part of the answer may have to do with the observations and decisions of the dance’s pioneers. The spectacular rise and subsequent pop demise of B-Boy culture in the media probably shaped House Dance’s development quite acutely. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that House Dance’s early innovators “proceeded with caution” after seeing how urban Hip-Hop dances like B-Boying and various Funk Styles were gutted by the same corporate and media interests that aided their global explosion (e.g., 1984′s ‘Beat Street’) .
Another likely and more organic factor in House Dance’s slow spread is simpler to explain: House Music culture experienced a ten-year delay in popularity relative to Hip-Hop’s ’80s popularization; the former truly boomed in the mid-to-late 90s during the second wave of music producers coming out of Chicago, New York, UK, and other places. Only during these years did House Dance begin to cross international borders. To hear Jardy Santiago tell it in a recent Step X Step Dance interview, Japanese dancers were strongly influenced by underground Hip-Hop/House Dance documentaries like 1992′s seminal PBS documentary ‘Reck N Shop Live from Brooklyn‘. Even Soul Sector, a widely influential Bay Area urban dance group that helped popularize House Dance in the 21st century, and in which Jardy himself played a key role, didn’t band together until the late 90s at the hands of Mikey Disko and others. So whatever can be said of House Dance being consciously kept reined in by its conscientious founders, its timing in the grand scheme of social urban dances has surely also played a role in its remaining underground.
All things considered, though, over a decade has passed since House Dance veritably emerged as the newest of the ever-evolving urban dances, and while it enjoys wider popularity in overseas markets like the UK, Japan, and France—annual, sold-out international conferences like Juste Debout and HDUK are examples of that—the number of American House Dancers outside of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco probably numbers in the low hundreds, if that.
But why? In a city like Miami, why are there but ten or fewer House Dancers? Why are Facebook groups like ‘House Dancers of Atlanta‘ so few and far between? Why does Instagram only show 160 pictures with the #housedance hashtag, compared to over 15,000 for the #bboy hashtag? How can you explain why Youtube’s auto-generated “B-Boying” channel has aggregated some 507,495 videos—yet no such channel even exists for “House Dance”?
Furthermore, how can we explain, nearly 30 years after House Music’s first breath, the severe lopsidedness of House Dance’s representation in social media, even with Jardy Santiago’s Youtube channel garnering 2.5 million views to Toybox‘s 4.5 million, or one of Conway’s videos being viewedalmost two million times. Where have all the House Dancers gone? The answer, is as simple as it is disheartening and clear: underground.
In tomorrow’s final segment of this 3-part editorial, I’ll give some ideas as to what we as fans of this liberating form of dance expression can do to spread wider awareness and adoption of House Dance culture. The gem remains yet unearthed—but not for long.
Starting this Thursday, June 28, Danny Dance will be starting an all-new, weekly House Dance series onhis Youtube channel to help spread some of the vocabulary of movements that makes up house dance culture—and that will undoubtedly enrich your next visit to a house music club.