The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd have spread across the world and as many have said: this is not a moment, it’s a movement. But it is also a moment of movement, as the protests have been accompanied by outbreaks of dancing. A common sight on social media and light news spots are the Electric Slide and the Cupid Shuffle, but you can also see the Cha-cha Slide, Macarena, krumping and the haka dance.
Dance and public protest have long gone hand in hand. They have even gifted activists a marvellous, much-used slogan: “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.” Attributed to the anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman, it in fact paraphrases the original.. Around the personal act of dancing it spins giddy, almost ungraspable ideals: liberation, joy, self-expression.
Euphoria is one reason why dancing goes with uprising, but it is not the only one. Look at the clips and you’ll notice that nearly every dance is collective. They bring different people – black and white, protesters and bystanders, sometimes the police – into alignment. Everyone moves in sequence, with space in between. These dances are unifying actions, collective actions – not working towards a goal, but rather bringing people together in a wordless way.
Whatever else it may be, dancing is not fighting. It is ordered without being forced, it is peaceful but not passive protest. And finally, these dances – unlike staged flash mobs or art-activist events – are unauthorised. They belong to whoever is doing them. They are, very literally, movements of the people.
Right now, the people’s movement of choice looks to be the Electric Slide. Why? Like the Cupid Shuffle and Cha-cha Slide, it’s a four-wall line dance with a 90-degree turn between each repeat, so you can keep it going for as long as it takes. The basic sequence – sidesteps and step-touches – are simple, though the Cupid Shuffle is even simpler. Once you have the steps, you can style the rest how you like.
The dance has a long pedigree, with black roots and widespread branches. The step sequence was first devised by Broadway dancer Ric Silver in 1976 to an upbeat reggae song by Bunny Wailer, Electric Boogie, a hit in Jamaica that went on to become a more mainstream US success for his compatriot Marcia Griffiths, in 1982 and 1989.
Interestingly, Silver tried very hard to authorise his original 22-step sequence (his birthday being 22 January, he was very attached to the number), but despite takedown notices and copyright claims, it’s an unauthorised 18-step version that took hold. You can see why the people’s version won out. After a regular 16 counts, those extra 2 to swivel are like a cute little touch, sending you a notch round the phrase; add in another 4 and you’ve lost the tickle.
In the 1990s, the sequence was styled for American line-dancing and became a genre staple. It got another big boost through the 1999 black romcom The Best Man, here danced to Cameo’s 1986 hit single Candy. It has become massively popular at parties and weddings, and is often called the Candy Dance.
And that’s the Electric Slide. Rooted in black culture, very widely known, accessible, adaptable, inclusive. Why not learn it? It could be fun, you can make it funky, but it won’t just be frivolous.