You Askin'? I'm Dancin'
The first time many of us were able to 'get on down' came at the humble school disco, where sexual frustration and teenage hormones overshadowed the actual dancing itself. Nevertheless, the good dancers landed themselves many a partner, whereas those who weren't so good were left alone at the side of the hall, and this was particularly the case when the 'slowie' began, as everyone paired off for the most physical dance of the night; boys would get particularly 'close' by trying to jam their knees into the crotch of the girls they were with, not to mention the almost inevitable dropping of one hand onto their partner's backside.
Adults found dancing a rather different proposition though, especially when the disco dancing craze took off following Saturday Night Fever. Many thought that John Travolta and his moves were coolness personified, and as a result, masses of blokes took to the dancefloor in an effort to emulate him by performing the most 'impressive' moves they could, usually while wearing white jackets, flared trousers and excessively large medallions. As the popularity of the dance grew, even Coronation Street's Brian Tilsley had disco talents written into his character, and the World Disco Dancing Championships were duly created for the biggest talents to battle it out on TV for the top prize of a Ford Escort.
Those who weren't interested in dancing themselves were able to watch others doing it on television, as no 1970's variety and entertainment programme was complete without its very own dance troupe. 'The Young Generation' led the way with 'Nasty' Nigel Lythgoe at the helm, but they took a back seat when 'Pan's People' appeared on Top Of The Pops every week, depicting songs in their unique ultra-literal way whilst wearing skimpy outfits. The latter made them a hit with male viewers, and troupes began to spring up everywhere, but when 'Hot Gossip' arrived on the scene courtesy of Kenny Everett, some wondered whether their rather tacky combination of sexually promiscuous dancing and revealing costumes was entirely necessary.
Dance troupes were out altogether by the 1980s, though, to make way for a new craze; breakdancing. Combining spinning and, well, more spinning, this dance originated from kids in New York City, and was even adopted by rival street gangs who would challenge each other in breakdance contests rather than brawls. British music impresario Malcolm McLaren spotted the potential of breakdancing, and it took off over here, with many groups of tracksuited youngsters performing impromptu displays on sheets of lino; it did cause many injuries, however, so some went for the safer option of robotic dancing, complete with jerky bodypopping, whirring noises and white face-masks.
The 1980s also saw a frankly obscene amount of songs accompanied by a dance routine, which itself originated all the way back to Chubby Checker's 'The Twist' some years earlier, and continued with the Village People's 'YMCA'. The Gap Band had us all rowing on the floor to 'Oops Upside Your Head', but even that was acceptable compared to the horror of 'The Birdie Song' in 1981, which sold massively on the back of its dance. This trait was exploited fully by none other than Black Lace, who not only made us ski, swim, sneeze and sleep to 'Superman', but had us pushing pineapples and shaking trees to their million seller 'Agadoo' a year later. They even sold a million copies of their album, which featured every single dance-associated song, but founder member Colin Gibb has thankfully disbanded the group after 25 years so he can join an Eagles tribute band.
Nowadays, bad dancing usually stems from too much alcohol consumption - or worse in the case of ravers, but dancing still gives many guys the chance to impress ladies all the way into bed, provided they can turn in a good display; if not, they could give quite the opposite impression. Some people are able to command the dancefloor with immaculate ease, though; Jeffrey Daniels of Shalamar bodypopped like a professional on Top Of The Pops, Michael Jackson thrilled us all with his moonwalk, while Madonna had us all Vogueing in 1990, and Britney Spears's dancing shows that she is good for something, after all.
Nostalgia programmes are fast becoming the TV equivalent of wallpaper, in that they fill large gaps with little in the way of content. This programme is the biggest culprit I've seen of that, mainly as all the aspects of dancing are seemingly stretched out to their limit, and some areas not described above aren't too relevant to the programme at all. What's more, all of the talking heads who crop up on nostalgia shows are on this one, and they come out with the usual hackneyed comments. Admittedly there are some gems in the archive material (miscellaneous TOTP presentation, a young Chris Tarrant interviewing a dance troupe on ATV, and a retro advert for the 7p Sun newspaper), but all in all, You Askin'? I'm Dancin' is completely vacuous to watch.
Then again, isn't that what we like to see on a Bank Holiday Monday night?
You Askin'? I'm Dancin' airs on Monday 26th August at 9pm on Channel 4.