July 17, 2008

Dance, Dance, Internet Revolution

The evolution of the subgenre, from "Numa Numa" to OKGO's treadmills to stimulating Wii Fit sessions.

Michael Gluckstadt

At Gelf, we like to explore and map out the uncharted territory of internet video. YouTube is a tangled mess and someone needs to sort out the Hitler dubbing from the octopus tricks. Our previous efforts have charted the man-on-machine violence subgenre as well as the category of live reporter slip-ups, or as one commenter coined them, "fuckcidentals." Now we'll take a look at one of the most fundamental pillars of internet video: dancing people.

The latest addition to the YouTube dance canon is called "Where the Hell is Matt?" or simply, "Dancing." Matt Harding's jig around the world has been viewed by millions of people and caught the attention of Gawker and the New York Times. The uplifting music (think Bengali Coldplay) and the sight of people from every corner of the world doing the same thing is touching and life-affirming, even in this detached and jaded internet world.

But "Dancing" is just the latest example in the rich three-year history of dancing YouTube videos. Can anyone forget VH1's No. 1 internet star, the Numa Numa guy? (If you did, I apologize for reminding you.) The video spawned literally thousands of spin-offs, from Stewie Griffin to Lego characters, and aspiring internet stars the world over. Though I don't think any of them stand up to the original music video "Dragostea Tin Dei" from the Moldavian boy band O-Zone.

Of course, not all internet dance videos are that wholesome. As everyone knows, the internet is for porn, and a good chunk of internet videos feature (often faceless) gyrating female bodies performing burlesque dances, which fall just shy of YouTube's mysterious decency censors. More innocently, there are plenty of videos that feature attractive women in a marginally less exploitive manner, such as the burgeoning subgenre of guys taping their girlfriends playing Wii Fit in their underwear.

Some online dance videos are more interactive than these creepy voyeuristic ballets. Soulja Boy's "Crank That" dance might not have swept the nation's dance floors and sports arenas without its instructional video counterpart. You can also learn other dances online like the Jitterbug and Jonathan Papelbon's Irish Jig. And then there are the music video dances. OKGO's "Here It Goes Again" treadmill video has gotten the band many times more attention than their powerpop songs. Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" is known for the Kanye West hit that sampled it, and the series of creative YouTube videos it has inspired. If only Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" had been released a few years later, there's no doubt it too would have been a viral video star.

While there are more highbrow uses, all discussions of internet video dance begin and end with the YouTube's all-time most viewed video, "The Evolution of Dance." A straightforward concept, it features a man dancing on a stage to snippets of popular songs from the last 50 years. Judson Laipply doing the Time Warp might be amusing, but why has it leapt to the top of the incredibly crowded field of internet video? The New York Times's Virginia Heffernan, who writes about these things, has an answer. "'The Evolution of Dance' has drawn more than [91] million views," she writes, "because it's … not in English. That's all. No talking. No dialogue, no voice-over, no monologue. No language but lyrics." That means that it plays all over the world, especially in Asia, where video screens appear everywhere from subway cars to mobile phones.
The universality of the video's appeal—of all of these videos' appeal, really— has to do with the human instinct to vibrate with the rhythms of life. And while that may sound a bit hokey, I can't help myself. I was just watching Matt Harding's "Dancing."

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

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