This week I attended an eccentric dance workshop with Barry and Joan Grantham – authentic music hall performers who have shared a stage with Max Miller.
Before I went I googled up a few eccentric dance videos to see what I was in for.
“Wow… what the heck is this?” I thought. And not in a good way.
Here’s Leonard Barr (Dean Martin’s uncle!) having an eccentric boogie:
When I watch this I am left cold. I don’t really know how to react to it. To me, it’s just plain weird!
So, off I go to meet Barry and Joan…
Things tick along – we learn the famous Laurel and Hardy dance, Wilson Keppel and Betty’s Sand Dance and a very tough Ritz Brothers routine.
To me, much of what we’re doing is natural – a silly version of real dancing. But things are put into context by the reaction of the professional dancers and corporeal mime specialists around me.
To them, these moves are unfamiliar. In fact, I find that although I can’t do the simple jazz step “shuffle-ball-change”, I can easily execute the eccentric dance moves called “knives and forks” and “cups and saucers”.
Suddenly this art form comes into focus.
Belying these routines is a core value that is inherent in all good comedy.
In the same way that good comedy leads to towards one thing and then wrong foots us to get a surprising laugh, eccentric dance is all about wrong footing our expectations of dance.
The weight is wrong, the emphasis is unexpected and rhythms are regularly upset.
So for an early twentieth century audience so deeply familiar with dance, eccentric dancing must have been extraordinarily and excitingly misleading.
Nowadays, when few of us are familiar with the patterns of dance, the eccentric dancing of yesteryear is meaningless.
If you watch the modern version of popular dance such as street dance, you can see the same principles cropping up again.
Fans of street dance are thrilled by routines involving offset rhythms and unfamiliar weighting. Isolating body parts are a key part of both eccentric dance and street dance. Moves now known as “popping” and “locking” are present throughout old eccentric dances.
So, maybe, even though this form of dancing might seem dated, it is in fact alive and well, reinvented from first principles, in the most of popular dance of out time.
To finish, here is Sigune Hamann brilliantly executing a section of the sand dance. Enjoy!
We’re putting our money where our mouths are and creating films of our own. To have a look at the attempts so far, click here: