Music is bigger than dance, right? Of course. It’s much easier to record, copy, distribute and sell. But quite often with music, I sense dance in the background, the unacknowledged flipside of the musical coin. MTV is called “music television” – and it’s full of dance videos. Vast numbers of young people go to clubs on the basis of the music played – and then dance when they get there. From lindy-hop to hip-hop, music styles have often emerged and developed hand in hand with dance styles. But it’s music that has generally hogged the limelight.
Dance, though, seems to be coming out of the shadows. The top-rated, top-viewed video on YouTube is The Evolution of Dance, a breezy potted history of popular dance styles – which is also, incidentally, a breezy potted history of popular music, except with dance on top, the way I like it. Elsewhere, kids all over YouTube are showing off their dance moves in a kind of physical karaoke, sometimes on the street, often in their rooms (see “me dancing”). For style and skill, it certainly beats air guitar. And on broadcast media, social dance has broken into mainstream television, with the Strictly Come Dancing format going global.
Dance is also establishing itself at high-profile music festivals. Two years ago, the Glastonbury festival opened a “dance village” – where they play music. This year, for the first time, it will feature a dance tent. It’s called the Salsa Tent, but festival goers will be able to choose from a range of taster classes and performances including samba, Bollywood, hip-hop, can-can, reggaeton and of course salsa. Actual dancing in the dance village? Now that is radical. The festival’s own website describes the idea as “unorthodox”. I say: the idea’s got legs, just give it a whirl.
And for anyone considering going along, here’s my recommendation. Instead of thinking about what kind of music you like best and then maybe learning a few steps, why not decide on the basis of which dance moves you fancy most? Once you’re out there swaying (or sliding or shuffling or whatever), it’ll take your understanding of the music to a whole new level.
Some of those sessions at the Glastonbury dance tent are hosted by Sadler’s Wells, which is principally a venue for performance dance. The theatre has become involved with participatory dance entirely in response to frequent requests from audiences, who wanted to be able to try out some of the moves they’d seen on stage. In autumn 2007 Sadler’s Wells duly instigated a series of monthly Dance Clubs, with introductory classes in different styles followed by an evening of dancing backed by a professional DJ. The club nights have consistently sold out.
Sadler’s Wells will also be taking part in the Latitude festival in July. Primarily a music festival, Latitude has previously featured theatre and comedy in its performance line-up – and this year will showcase dance for the first time.
All of this points to a growing visibility for dance. And a growing recognition that people are dancing more than we might realise – it’s just that they often call it “music” for short.