Slapstick & Street Dance – Not So Distant Cousins

I’ve got an idea… it could be huge, so keep it secret…

Let’s combine street dance and slapstick in a new artform called slapdancing.

Maybe?

Anyway… here are 3 areas where slapstick and street dance professionals can learn a lot from each other.

NUMBER ONE: The Extremities

Big shoes, wigs and white gloves?

As Gok Wan might say, it’s all about the extremities.

In big arenas like circuses or dance-off pits it is difficult for audiences to see. Clowns use white gloves and big shoes. Street dance crews can use a similar trick.

In the following clip (start watching at 40 secs) the stripey tights and accurate foot position help the audience pick up the visual gag.

On the other hand, in this clip of a street dance crew, the movement is lost against the dark background.

Start watching at 2.20min

BUT remember, simply being seen is for cyclists, not performers.

Performers must concentrate on the extremities.

In this next clip, an all-white costume causes problems – we don’t get a sense of how sharp the movement is – because we can’t see the hands and feet.

Watch from 1.57

NUMBER TWO: Body Isolations.

Try swirling your neck around with out moving your head.

Try swirling your hips, without moving your torso.

The result could be sexy – or hilarious. (It’s a fine line!)

Here is eccentric dancer Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker showing off his extrordinary body control. Sexy or hilarious – you decide:

Bill Irwin moves his body parts around to great comic effect – watch his wiggling from about 6 mins 45.

All these performers have great body control and it is a great tool for a visual performer to have up their sleeve. Or up their baggy trouser leg!

NUMBER THREE: A Sense of Humour!

Using the body to “mess around” is a great way to get laughs – and to create variation in street dance.

This street dancer has combined great skill with fun to create a fantastic (though sometimes rude!) performance.

So, maybe all you trendy young dance dudes can learn something from old slapstick clowns – and maybe you trendy young slapstickers can learn something from those old dance pros.

Maybe we could have slapdancing clubs all over the country.

Maybe?

 

We want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

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:

http://www.thesillyseasons.com

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Old moves never die… they just get reincorporated

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.

BUT!

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 want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

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:

http://www.thesillyseasons.com