Tuesday, February 23, 2010

90s Group Dance Crazes

The 90s were a good time to be a bad dancer. The dance music industry seemed aware of the plight of the uncoordinated and responded aptly with some incredibly detailed instructional dance songs. All you needed was a basic command of the English language and the ability to distinguish Right from Left and you were golden. It was just that easy.

From country line dancing to hip hop moves, the 90s offered us a wide range of group dancing options. Whatever your fancy, it was pretty likely you'd be hearing it at every wedding you attended in the span of the decade. There was no better surefire way to get all the wallflowers out on the dance floor than to bust out a dance they'd learned in gym class. It had a certain way of easing the tension. For the most part they just involved a step forward, back, or to the side, a turn or two, some directional changing, and voila! You were dancing.

For the most part, you couldn't pinpoint exactly where or when you learned the routine, but when the song came on your body instinctively fell into step. It's like some sort of reflex. To this day, whenever I hear the opening bars of Cotton Eye Joe, I immediately break into a complicated series of hops and turns. While this list is by no means comprehensive, here are a smattering of dance crazes that took the world by storm circa 1990-2000:

Cha Cha Slide

I heard a rumor (via infamous gossip maven and disseminator of potentially misguided information Wikipedia) that the Cha Cha Slide was actually developed for a Bally's fitness class. Since I don't have the drive or energy to verify or refute this claim, we're just going to go with that. So, it started with a fitness class. What do you know.

This one requires a bit more on the coordination side, particularly during the "Cha Cha real smooth now" interlude. We're supposed to interject our own saucy salsa moves there, but that's asking a bit much from your average line dancer. Not to mention the "Reverse! Reverse!" part. The franticness of it all is enough to send you into stress-induced palpitations.

Cotton Eye Joe

You've got to wonder what exactly was the tipping point that drove someone to consider recording this traditional Southern folk song as a knee-slappin', toe-tappin' techno single. Because when I think Southern country music, my mind immediately makes the leap to Swedish Eurodance. To be fair, the Swedish Eurodancers in question did brand themselves as Rednex, but it just doesn't add up. Luckily they provide us with enough synthesized harmonica and banjo riffs to distract us from the discrepancy.

Electric Slide

This one's been around a bit longer, but it enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in the late 80s and 90s. It's a pretty straightforward procedure, really. You do a couple of grapevines, throw in a little toe brandishing, and top it all off with some good old fashioned boogie woogie woogieing. Repeat.


If I can be totally honest with you, I learned how to vogue from Stephanie Tanner of Full House. That girl had some moves. Madonna's 1990 song "Vogue" helped popularize the growing dance movement, leaving club-goers everywhere to awkwardly strike pose after pose in well-timed succession. The trick was in keeping a straight, underfed model-esque face throughout the whole thing.

Achy Breaky Heart

Remember, if you will, a time before Billy Ray Cyrus was just Miley Cyrus's dad. Back in the early 90s, he was a mullet-headed one-hit wonder of a country music star. With his pop crossover success, he had even the Yankee-est among us queuing up for country line-dancing.

If you ever have a chance to check out the lyrics, you'll be treated to a comprehensive list of people Billy Ray suggests you consult regarding his achy breaky situation before alerting his heart of its impending breakage. My personal favorite is Aunt Louise. I always secretly thought she'd have been sympathetic to the dire state of his romantic life.

Tootsee Roll

The only problem with this one was figuring out what to do during the verses. The chorus was relatively instructive, but everything in between was pretty up in the air. The 69 Boyz also seem especially intent on reminding us that the dance is not the butterfly but indeed the Tootsee Roll. Thank goodness they keep bringing it up. Between mentions I start slipping into thinking it might be the butterfly I'm doing, but they set me straight in the next verse. Close one, though.

Apache (Jump On It)

I'll admit this one isn't quite as widespread as the others, but after seeing that Fresh Prince episode I was completely hooked. Carlton and Will enter an 80s dance competition to salvage their busted Vegas trip, and the results are hilarious. Really, anything that includes Carlton dancing is okay by me.


What list of dance crazes would be complete without mention of the infamous Macarena? For no apparent reason, this catchy tune spiraled into one of the biggest dance hits of the later part of the 20th century. If you don't speak Spanish, I don't recommend the English translation of the original. It probably makes more sense in Spanish, assuming you speak no Spanish. The song has some choice moments, but I think my favorite are when Macarena gets together with her boyfriend's pals in the midst of his military swearing-in ceremony. Yes, it really is that specific. Thankfully they came up with looser translation for the English version.

The dance itself is pretty simple, which is probably why it caught on in such a big way. It doesn't matter how terrible a dancer you are, everybody can put out one hand and then the other. The butt shaking part might give you some trouble, but at that point you're just seconds away from a jump turn that'll leave you home free.

No matter how self-conscious and awkwardly adolescent you were, you could usually fake it on the dance floor thanks to these handily prechoreographed songs. When one of these came on at the school dance, it didn't matter that you couldn't do the worm or that your Running Man was decidedly subpar. You just needed to step into the well-organized lines, listen to the lyrics, and churn out a few basic steps. You may not have been able to cha cha real smooth during the free dance breaks, but you could grapevine and Charlie Brown with the best of 'em.


Anonymous said...

I can honestly say I never DID quite understand what I was supposed to do during the "Charlie Brown" portion, despite studying that video. I always imagined the little Charlie Brown characters dancing in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" looking at their feet, realized that's probably not what they meant and then was already behind in "going left now."

Charlotte said...

I love this post!

I still see kids doing the Macarena, and it always amuses me. To them it must be some dance from a million years ago, but I remember when it was the newest, coolest dance craze ever.

RAY J said...

How is the Cha Cha Slide 90s? Out here in the midwest it's only been the dance of choice at high schools/weddings for like the past 5 years...

Anonymous said...

I remember eating our lunch as fast as we could in middle school so we could grab our boombox and haul outside to do the macarena for as long as we could on lunch hour. We'd go on the sidewalk in front of the school which was on a main street in our town. If we were lucky a passer-by would honk at us. We lived for that! :)

floreta said...

my 90s dance craze actually isn't on this list.

The Lambada :D

Candice said...

I remember teaching all my little cousins the macarena. Oy vey...

I never learned the Chacha slide, and every time it comes up I feel so left out!!! :(

Anonymous said...

I remember the macarena, it is probably one of the few dance moves that I am actually able to do.(That and the YMCA)

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