photo from www.mightaswelldance.com
One hundred and eighty-four million, two hundred and sixty nine thousand, nine hundred and fifty two views as of November 20, 2011. When you write it out like that, or read it out loud, that number sounds even larger.
In April of 2006, comedian Judson Laipply uploaded a video to YouTube of himself doing his closing stand-up routine that he called The Evolution of Dance™. The YouTube clip of the routine went viral almost immediately. It launched Judson into national and even international fame and before long he was appearing on American television shows like The Today Show, Inside Edition, and Ellen, as well as 20/20, Good Morning America, The BBC and People Magazine.
It is easy to realize why this video would be watched by so many people so quickly—it’s fun, hilarious, impressive and most of all, it recognizes five decades of of American pop culture in less than twelve minutes. What is more difficult is to seek understanding into what it is about dance and cultural reference that makes us appreciate what exactly Laipply is calling upon in this skit. In Laipply’s own words (from this website), “The Evolution of Dance™ is the perfect visual example of how life changes. Each song and dance was ‘in’ during a point of time in history; however, since life is change, new dances, songs and moves are continually appearing and must be added to a constantly changing repertoire.”
Popular culture is a relatively new social phenomenon. It wasn’t until the 20th Century where pop culture began to be recognized as influential over the way we function as a civilization and how we communicate to one another through the things we wear, the music we listen to and the way we dance. When the United States emerged from World War II as a global superpower (economically, politically, militarily, and aesthetically) the international spotlight began its focus on style and swagger that capitalism and excess brought. The music that came out of the heart of this country, along with its fresh dance styles, was a conduit to the bombastic American identity. Whether it was fast-paced partner dancing with its excessive swing steps and flips, instructional songs like the “Twist” that commanded body movement, or the braggadocio of disco swagger of songs like “Staying Alive”, US culture was making a statement on their pride and recognition of capitalist success during a long period of a cold war.
The clip is only six minutes in length but manages to squeeze in thirty-plus songs. It takes the viewer through everything from Elvis to Eminem and reminds us that no matter what is happening in our political history as a nation, Americans have always discovered ways to find humor and expression despite predicament. American music is born of this principal (no matter how bad it got, there was always the Blues) and The Evolution of Dance™ is a modern reminder of articulation through mental displacement.
I am by no means a dancer myself nor am I an expert critic on the artistic form. What I can say with confidence, however, is that dancing is a thread so deeply sewn into the fabric of our culture that it would be hard to not take this viral video as seriously as we take it for fun.
But you don’t need me to tell you that–one hundred and eighty-four million, two hundred and sixty nine thousand, nine hundred and fifty two people already have confirmed it.