Is Humour in Dance Acceptable?

I am a huge fan of America’s Best Dance Crew. I think watching the Jabbawockeez from Season 1 probably got me into dancing in the first place. But with all the publicity and the way the show’s marketed, I don’t want to use the word sell out, but it is certainly conducive to creating a style of dance less focused on technique and more focused on entertainment value.

Before I lay everything on the table I need a slight disclaimer. I’m gonna show a lot of clips from Poreotix and Quest Crew, and I just want people to know that I am NOT a hater. Quest Crew is too sick, probably my favourite group right now, and although I’m not as big a fan of Poreotix, I still recognize them as phenomenal dancers. However, they do a lot of silly things in their dances to create humour that I don’t quite agree with. I’d like to compare this to the way I feel about Mozart: I like and respect him as one of the greatest composers and musicians of all time, but it doesn’t make me a fan of his music. That being said, here comes the criticism.

There’s a short segment I want to highlight in Quest Crew’s choreography to “Forever” by Chris Brown. Skip to 1:55 look out for the hip-thrusting.

The moment that they froze and locked hips always got on my nerves. What was accomplished by doing that exactly? We just saw an incredible chair spin, and in 5 seconds the audience is going to see D-Trix do airflares, but in between these mind-blowing moves, you feature some (pardon my language) butt-humping? The song’s called “Forever.” It’s about the moment when you first fall in love with someone, and it feels so right that a night on the dance floor feels like an eternity. So why are you thrusting each other from behind in an attempt to get laughs? The music loaned itself so easily to an incredible freeze or flip, but instead they settled for a couple seconds of air humping and a gay joke.

Here’s another one at 3:18

To be fair this song is upbeat, fun, and crazy, so I wouldn’t have minded seeing some jokes thrown in, but this one was just so over the top. They actually set themselves up for an incredible move, one of those incredible tricks that Quest Crew is known for that would go down in history, but then they throw it all away just for some gag. I am no humour elitist, I think Family Guy is hilarious. I’ll laugh at every crude, inappropriate joke, but even this move made me cringe. It was so contrived in the set up, and the punch line was just two dudes lying on top of each other.

All in all though, if Quest Crew does one thing per dance that I don’t like, but still pulls out some incredible stunts and choreography, they will continue to see my support. The group I’m about to show next though, Poreotix, goes wwaayyy overboard.

The actual dance starts at 1:20

I just want to start off by saying that this is “Yeah” by Usher. This is like, the original anthem for hot, sweaty, club grinding. I want to see some suave choreography, like they just stepped into the club and the ladies got so wet the building had to issue flood warnings. But I mean, after a decent start, 10 seconds in you get another one of those dumb butt-hump jokes, like the audience has never seen a guy do that before, and then some cartoony fighting. This is followed by a rewind trick, which is pretty cool in principle so I won’t say anything else about it. Right after that though, they do some old grandpa dance and rip out their underwear. WHAT!?

WWHHHAATTT!?!?

That had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the performance. This was nothing but a cheap joke that took the spot of what could have been some really cool dancing. I don’t want to get into some philosophical debate about the purpose of dance, and what the definition of art is, but when you’re throwing your underwear at people, in a way that has nothing to do with the song (rhythmically or lyrically) then you’re not dancing, you’re just a bad comedian. And if the rest of the routine was stellar I’d be ok with it, but we’re just treated to some of the world’s most awkward hip gyrating and slow motion booty shaking.

I mean, what is the point of these “non-dance” interruptions? This is what I meant at the very beginning of the post, about the trade off between “technique” for “entertainment,” or in this case humour. Once again, I don’t want to get into an argument about what it means to dance, but these are clearly ploys that are designed, not to work with the music, but to try to be funny. Can you imagine any other kind of entertainment method that would do something like this? Would Kobe ever put down the ball and start thrusting on Gasol? I know that’s not the best comparison but it was a funny image in my head.

They might not pass me the ball, but that won't stop me from scoring!

What if Usher was putting on a concert, and instead of singing, he just stopped and started fondling his back up singers? Would you write that off as “entertainment,” or would you be seriously confused because you are at a concert for singing, much like ABDC is a venue for dancing, not underwear tossing and bad gay jokes.

That being said, I believe that there is more to dancing than just “cool moves.” This next clip is from Week 4 of Season 1, call the “Movie Character Challenge” (Dance starts at 0:50).

This is the Jabbawockeez’s least intricate routine, but it stands out strongly in my mind because it was still so well done. Despite the fact that there was little “dancing,” they created a dark, mysterious mood and very effectively told a short story. If you ask me, THAT’S what’s important in a dance. I believe that, on a very basic level, dance (and art in general) is about trying to convey some kind of mood. That’s why it annoyed me so much to see Quest Crew make dumb sex jokes in a majestic, romantic song, and why it really annoyed me to see Poreotix making caricatures of themselves to one of the smoothest songs in history.

This final clip is a synthesis of everything I’ve been talking about in this post (Dance starts at 0:50).

This wasn’t my favourite dance in the world, but I didn’t hate it. Right off the bat, they’re dancing to Rebbeca Black’s “Friday,” so I know it’s going to be a silly dance and I’ll be more lenient on the jokes. That being said, some of the gags were still so bad, like the double butt-hump action at 1:45, but I was more accepting of it because it fit the mood better. Throw in the fact they had some really cool moves in between and I enjoyed this dance. I legitimately laughed out loud when Jason came out, because that was actually a pretty clever Friday reference. Honestly, I’d rather see more intricate and impressive dance moves (because the point of the show is to find the BEST crew, the one that can do the things no other crew can), but this performance was still pretty entertaining overall.

So I hope this post hasn’t given the impression that I’m a dance elitist. I don’t think every performance has to be some clever metaphor for the human condition, but I think that when you set out to do something, you should do it right. When you make a dance to a sexy song, you make a sexy dance. If you want to make a funny dance, then choose a light-hearted song that lends it self more easily to that mood. You can even just stop dancing for a second if you throw in a clever joke and I would thoroughly enjoy that. But please, for the love of god, don’t make your routine resemble a collection of the worst clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos, no one enjoys that.

That was a long rant. I’m done.

– Nick Hassan

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11 thoughts on “Is Humour in Dance Acceptable?

  1. Nice article but maybe a bit closed-minded. Just a few thoughts you may not realize but most professional athletes do many things that are non-sports related. Funnily enough you can ask a lot of basketball enthusiasts and they’ll tell you NBA is anything but just basketball (College basketball could be considered “pure”). Maybe not Kobe as much himself but players do a lot more than just play basketball and its these things that draw the most interest. Think Lebron chalk toss, Garneet roaring, Michael Jordan sticking out his tongue, Mutombo giving the finger wave… Same thing for entertainers. Singers go to huge lengths to do more than just sing at their concerts. If I went to a usher concert I’d be pretty disaapointed if he sat on a stool and just sang. Maybe somone like Alica Keys can pull that off but few others. As for lude interuptions, ever been to a Nick Minaj concert? I believe she gives a lap dance to one person every concert and considered one of the more popular parts of the show. Shit would be pretty boring if people stuck to stereotypes and did what was expected aka sexy song, sexy dance.

  2. Building off of the above comment-

    Why is it wrong for dance crews to include humour in their arsenal? If they’re in a competition in which the audience votes for who wins, and the audience is voting based on how many positive emotions a crew’s dance provokes, then humour is a very strong, strategic tool. Especially, by the way, since all of the crews have endless supplies of talent and good choreography (that is why they were brought on the show).

    Also, just a headsup, the QC performance to old-school upbeat song was meant to be satire. The part where d-trix falls on hok wasn’t necessarily a gay joke, but rather a funny “awkward moment”, just like a number of the other “play with your expectations” moves. Also, in the Forever video, that wasn’t just butt humping. That was actually a classic move used by Salt N Peppa as well as a number of other old school artists. They just put a slightly comedic twist on it. And if they’re take on Forever is being young, silly, and just having a stupid good (bromantic?) time, why is that wrong?

  3. I’d agree with the above posts fully. At it’s core the dance performance (especially in this show) should be entertaining and I’d be pretty damn bored if the dance wasn’t “funny” at all.. it would have to be REALLY FREAKING GOOD to not (which is why humour wasn’t so crucial in the Jabawockeez performances). But that said I don’t think humour is there to make up for any dancing talent… it’s just kind of like an added bonus in group performance.

    I think more of the problem here – and you may not have emphasized it enough although I know this is one of your points – is the use of homosexuality as a means of humour in dance. All the butt-humping stuff you point out: I must admit I find hilarious, but I know some others wouldn’t – and I think that is what should be deemed unacceptable, not humour entirely, by any means.

  4. I actually agree more with the blog post than the above comments. The reason is because, while humour IS an effective tool in making a performance more interesting, it’s the quality of humour that I think Nick was referring to. A lot of groups, case in point Poreotix (again, no hate), would rather fill up their routines (and I mean REALLY fill up) with cheap jokes and slapstick humour, when one or two sparingly used jokes in a routine would easily be more effective (like the Jabba routine he linked to at the end, the funniest part was in the end when they all tried to hide). The gay jokes really cheapen the quality of the routine, and I think, as a response to Samik, a dance group shouldn’t be classified as America’s Best if they can’t even make a solid routine without butt jokes, because it doesn’t count as an ‘added bonus’ if there are more bonuses than dancing. @Dancer’sAnonymous, those awkward moments are awkward because it makes the presumed heterosexual dancer appear in a potentially homosexual context, and thus, ARE gay jokes. But again, that was okay in the overall routine because they used jokes sparingly, and we were reassured of their talent by real moves elsewhere in the routine. Humour is not bad, that’s not what Nick is saying, but if you wanna make a joke, make a clever joke that isn’t just a butt-hump and a gay joke, and don’t make 30 jokes in a 1 minute routine. And Atul, I don’t think those comparisons are fair because for the basketball players, they don’t do that stuff during the game itself. True, entertainers are to entertain, but these guys are DANCERS, and while they should also be entertaining in their routine, they still ensure that their dancing/routine composition is not compromised at the expense of being entertaining. Artists are a different breed, as we’re not necessarily looking at their quality of singing/rapping DURING their concert (since we already know their songs) and thus concerts aren’t to showcase their singing/rapping ability, but more focuses on actual entertainment, which is why it would indeed be boring if Usher were to sit on a stool and just sing (which I’m he has before). If everyone on ABDC had to dance the same routine, then maybe more humour would improve the dance.

    Basically, it’s sad if a dance crew has to use humour in an attempt to win over votes, rather than their dance ability alone creating a sick routine. But good humour is GREAT, and unfortunately that is also something lacking on the show (something clever/more than gay jokes would be nice).

  5. Thanks for all the responses, I’m glad to see I posted about something interesting even if a lot of people disagreed. Kevin mostly sums up my feelings but I feel like there are a few things I have to add.

    @Atul: The basketball comment wasn’t too serious, I even admitted it wasn’t the best comparison, it just made me laugh. All those things done to hype up the crowd though, you’ll never see them do it in the middle of a play. LeBron won’t stand outside the key and throw up some chalk or whatever, you do it during the short breaks right after a point or some kind of interlude, much like an MC would entertain the crowd between dance routines.

    Same thing with singers. They always stop between songs and give the crowd some love, but I wouldn’t want to hear my favourite artists stop singing in the middle of an act just to talk to me. The Nicki Minaj thing I kind of agree with. I think that adds to the performance, but in that it’s effective in creating a certain atmosphere she wants the audience to feel, which I would say is the main goal of “art.” That, and I’m sure she doesn’t stop the actual performance just to give someone a lap dance. If like, Jason Mraz did that during the concert, I might laugh and be entertained, but I certainly don’t think it would make it a better performance.

    @Dancer’sAnonymous: I think it’s a real shame that crews have to do that just to get votes. I think there’s a difference between getting a positive reaction and positive emotions. To go back to the Jabbawockeez routine, it was about as serious and un-funny as you could get, but it was very effective in that, and created the opposite of a “positive mood.” By doing so it got a great reaction. I hope I don’t make it seem like humour is unacceptable entirely (although the post is titled as such), it’s just that the humour can be out of place sometimes. Here’s Jabbawockeez dancing to “All that Jazz.” (Dance starts at 1:35)

    This is a great example of how humour can be incorporated, but done so such that works rhythmically and adds the mood.

  6. Ok I agree that Poreotix does tend to take things overboard but there’s a few things I think you guys might want to recognize
    The show is called “America’s Best Dance Crew”. There is no specification on the style that needs be incorporated. If humour is your style, then it’s not 30 added bonuses in a 1 minute performance, it’s a performance meant for humour, with incredible rhythm to emphasize timing. Why does that discredit them as a best dance crew? They’re still dancing?
    On the butt humping thing, there’s two problems with what you guys are saying – first, it has nothing to do with two guys doing it, butt sex is just funny. If a guy did that with a girl, or a girl with a guy, it would still be funny. Putting stuff in the butt is an unnatural phenomenon that is, as a result, quite funny. Secondly (and kind of a continuation) it’s the oversensitive and overbearing population of the “rainbow” defense that make these jokes not okay, because they make the idiotic assumption that because it’s two guys doing these things, it is a joke at the expense of the gay community. These jokes are not meant to be like, “hahah aren’t gay people funny? Look how ridiculous they are!” They’re meant to be “haha, put it in the butt” jokes. also even if the gay connection were made by the unfortunate few who delve to far into entertainment, these crews, being th elovable characters that they are, take away the negative stigma attached to being gay. It makes you realize that people you love to watch and wish you knew are comfortable with their sexuality, and are okay with the gay community, so maybe you should open your mind to it to

    sorry if I seem kinda ticked, not a thing against you TYA thugs, I’m really just loving the discussion

    • Since when did humor become a “STYLE” in dance?
      Humor can be added to a dance, but humor can never be dance. And the thing that you need to understand is these cats are being judged for humor by the audience, as if humor is something that makes a crew “the best”.

      No disrespect meant. I just get really frustrated when kids are misunderstood about the concept of dance.

  7. @Dancer’sAnonymous Okay you have some good points, but ABDC is about dance, and while I’m all for various and original dance styles, ‘humour’ is not dance. Following your logic, I wouldn’t call a 1 minute Russel Peters act that syncs with music a ‘dance routine’. Something close would be that ‘Evolution of Dance’ video on YouTube, but one can clearly see that, while it is a great and hilarious routine, he’s definitely not a master of any of those moves and thus not America’s best.

    To address the butt-humping jokes, no matter what side you take (it is offensive to some, and not as offensive to others), it is still a crude cheap form of humour. Elementary school, almost. Not to bash these guys again, but Poreotix includes a butt-hump in almost every routine. Jabbawockeez have proven that you can be funny/successful in other ways, and I think many people will agree on this. I.Am.Me also creates ridiculous routines without crude jokes either.

    My friend Doran made a valid point via Facebook saying that humour is more palatable to the general audience that doesn’t quite understand street dance like Nick and I (who bboy/pop) and so I do acknowledge that I don’t really know what it’s like watching a routine on ABDC having no background in street dance, which may bias my opinion.

  8. My post may not pertain to the previous posts, but I’m just going to say what I think, as a fellow dancer and a b-boy. And also let me assure you that I DESPISE talking over the net and getting into arguments about dance. I’d rather say what I want to say by showing it in my dance instead of pathetically sitting behind the computer screen and whining. But because I have my supports to Kevin and he asked me to join this discussion, I will say a few words.

    I am going to have to admit that I am a hater. I do not like the show ABDC at all in the sense that it really makes dance, especially b-boying, lose the essence of dance and it teaches the general audience a completely misunderstood conception of what determines “the best dance crew”.

    Commercialized shows like ABDC are solely based on “entertaining the audience”. Yes, entertaining the audience is one of the key aspects of a dance performance, but you can’t do so much of “entertainment” that you lose core values of dance itself.

    The general audience does not know a thing about dance except 3 things.

    1. it has to be flashy
    2. it has to be appealing only to the eye
    3. it has to be catching attention by any means necessary

    Essentially, they’re only looking for entertainment.

    Dance is not all about entertainment. There is a plethora of categories that should be looked upon in order to judge a crew. Let alone, there are numerous dance styles involved in this show, which I am damn sure that each style has its own extensive, separate, specific, and unique criteria to look at. But however, since the ignorant audience members are the judge. It’s basically the above three things that determine the “best” crew.

    For example, often times I see on ABDC, a crew will show up, do a couple of routinized move and then in comes the dynamic b-boy powermoves and flips. I despise it every time this occurs in ABDC. Basically this makes the b-boy style of dance look like a bunch of clowns and acrobats. B-boying has HEAPS and HEAPS more than just dynamic powermoves and flips. The general audience would not know a thing about the soul, funk, and jazz behind b-boying. They wouldn’t know the spiritual movement that you have as you let your body free to the music. They wouldn’t even understand the concept of freestyle! They wouldn’t know what style, “flava”, or swagger is in a dance. They wouldn’t know how an intricate footwork pattern is extremely difficult to create.

    You would NEVER see such a thing in ABDC. Why? The audience finds it too boring to see footwork, style, swag, and attitude. The only thing that entertains them is the dynamic headspins, airflares, and windmills. Because of this, dope crews like Quest Crew and Jabbawockees are forced to throw out these things and exclude key essential aspects of this dance style. I’m not going to lie the b-boys in these crews are doing some sick stuff in the b-boying scene. But when they’re on ABDC. They’re just acrobats. Ridiculous. So essentially, the b-boy category is simple based on who does the most physical and eye catching powermoves.

    I also remember when Super Crew was competing and one of their showcases included a sequence where the entire crew positioned themselves to create a shape of an airplane. Apparently it was this “move” that made the judging unanimous…

    I mean how the heck is this supposed to show the technicality of the crew? They may get props for creativity, but creativity for what? I could ask a bunch of 10 year olds at a camp to do that and call it creativity. It is different from a creative dance choreography.

    So about humor, I’m not against it. BUT humor definitely should NEVER be a factor that determines “the best dance crew”. In fact humor should have very minimal influence as a determinant of what makes a dance crew the best. Such things should only be evaluated with such importance at a stand-up comedy competition.

    Someone above posted something about ABDC being a sell out.

    Yes. It is a sell out.

    • Hey Bro,

      I totally agree with both your posts, but I thought I’d defend Dancer’sAnonymous’s potentially poor wording –
      When he said humour was a style, I just think he meant style as in personal style. Not type of dance. As in, some dancers have a goofy laid back style, some a more in your face type style. That’s what (I think) DA meant by humour being their style. And these crews aren’t being judged on humour, but rather what sets them apart (which just so happens to be their sense of humour). It is expected that all these dancers know the fundamentals of their genre. If you want to see picture perfect dance, watch SYTYCD. And like any battle populated by educated dancers, you’ll notice the times when people get off their seat and start BRAPing and whatnot, isn’t when someone does a pretty solid combo of footwork. Sure that’ll get them a headnod or a 🙂 smile, but it’s clean segue to a power move, the in your face move, or the comedic move that’ll get people going crazy and full :D. Every battling b-boyer/popper/locker/krumper would know that. Fundamentals win respect. Showmanship wins battles. If you can’t bring anything new and creative to the table, enjoy staying in the first round. And that’s what these crews are doing. Bring their personalities, their creativity, and their abilities as both dancers and entertainers to the table to win a battle.

      That being said, the whole butt-humping and crude childish humour is a bit of a grey area. I mean on the one hand it’s sorta pathetic and overboard, on the other it makes me laugh so I can’t really chirp it lol

      -Surinder

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