WE ARE DANCING WITH YOUTUBE
By Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz
In 2004, the release of Downfall (Der Untergang) provoked a heated discussion about the humanization of such monsters as Adolf Hitler.
Despite an Oscar nomination, Wim Wenders accused the motion picture of “Verharmlosung” (trivialization). The public was divided.
The reactions on Youtube were immediate, multiple and mostly followed one common pattern of response: By subtitling the famous scene of Hitler realizing that the war was lost, the internauts displayed a multiple range of portraits of present-day politics, sports to cultural issues. “Hitler reacts to Barack Obama winning Nobel Peace Price; Hitler finds out that gays are getting married; Hitler finds out there is no Santa; Hitler finds out Megan Fox rejected him; Hitler tries to run a dental practice; Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live; Hitler is informed about the Downfall parodies …”
Many of those propositions were also immediately taken down from the site on demand of the producer, Constantin Film. Nonetheless in a 2010 interview with New York magazine, the Downfall's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel spoke positively about these parodies saying that many were funny and that they were a fitting extension of the film's purpose: “The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."[i]
Therefore, Youtube has stopped blocking the parodies and instead started placing ads on them.
While I am surfing through images of Hitler nervously breaking down learning that Susan Boyle has lost Britain’s got talent, a violet inscription and a well known picture of the whiskered man catch my attention: “Dancing with Hitler on ChatRoulette”.
Two, three, five, seven, a whole bunch of young people dances to the animated picture of Hitler that appears on their computer screen. Drowning Pool’s hit song seems to match perfectly the dance proposed by the Fuhrer. Heavy metal is back:
”Let the bodies hit the floor
Beaten why for, can’t take much more
Here we go, here we go
Nothing wrong with me (X3)
Skin against skin blood and bone
You're all by yourself but you're not alone
You wanted in now you're here
Driven by hate consumed by fear
Let the bodies hit the floor”
A young man shakes his fists in the air, then a blond girl, two teens, a bold tattooed male, another person wearing a mask, a couple of friends, everyone follows the Fuhrer. Agitating their arms, waving their hands they dance facing the figure of Adolf Hitler, reproducing his gestures, smiling, having fun.
Dance “to”, or rather “with”, as suggests the title of the video.
We have an expression in Polish that says: “to dance as someone plays you” –meaning that one will do what one is told to do.
The terrifying scene is of course manufactured; it is a well-prepared product. We cannot see all those who haven’t answered to the Fuhrer’s call, those who haven’t raised their arms but have maybe even posted a nasty comment – their biggest weapon.
We face a compilation, a selection. Propaganda?
The hit this season is to dance with Hitler?[ii]
Dancing Hitler is one thing.
The other bigger issue is “me dancing” with him.
Starting with Jenni’s room in the nineties (later JenniCAm) – the famous case of Jennifer Ringley who kept her camera on 24 hours a day screening shots of her bedroom every 3 minutes and diffusing them world wide – sites like Youtube, dailymotion, vimeo and others have opened up the channel of communicating nothing else but oneself to whoever enters online.[iii]
I would like here to take a closer look at the diffusion and profusion of a specific subset of homemade videos. Videos of dancing people.
This text, rather than being an analysis, will attempt to open several case studies of images of dance that travel across the WWW video channels, and especially Youtube. I hope that by zooming in and showing a wide spectrum of both subjects and tools, I’ll be able to observe how multi-layered this phenomenon is. Dancing videos span issues such as ethics, governance, quality, self-representation …
Let’s embark on a long journey across the virtual channels of communication.
I WANT YOUR UGLY AS LONG AS IT’S FREE
Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit “Bad romance” is one of the biggest sources of inspiration for today’s video dancers producing for Youtube. With Michael Jackson it was all about impersonators, trying not only to imitate the legendary moonwalk, but also to literally walk, talk, look like the King of Pop. Although Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta does everything to stand out from the crew of singing blondes, millions of fans, having viewed her work on the web, do not care so much about the specific aesthetics that the freshly pronounced queen has made her label. Her extreme care of design and fashion, her declared attraction to eccentricity, are nowhere to be seen among the videos referring to her songs.
Starting at the age of five, through hordes of teens, up to adults and professional dancers, people film themselves dancing what they consider the Bad Romance choreography.[iv] In a three square meters room or in a dance studio, between a cheap artificial leather sofa and an ugly night table, crossing over younger siblings and hitting the doors to keep dogs and neighbors out of the frame, wearing regular jeans, sixties gym outfits or tiny tops and panties, terribly serious, counting the steps or bursting with laughter; the self-claimed dancers flood virtual space with their personal performances.
Remakes, retakes, parodies create a global event that I would call “Me dancing Lady Gaga”.
Why? Because it’s for free?
No necessary training, no audition, no expectation, selection, no costs, no advertising campaign unless you do become a success and Youtube puts an ad on your video. And success has many different facets on this site. You might be deeply hated or admired. The importance comes from the fact that you are being watched.
Under the keyword “Me and Tanja dancing” I discover an excerpt from the DV8 motion picture “The cost of living”. Surprised I wonder who the mysterious Tanja might be.
Another user (needxtoxbreathex) finds it necessary to explain the source of this video, which confirms that Tanja is maybe dancing, but not in the frame above.
Disappointed, other viewers address the author – Zebuilline – “It isn’t you?”
Well, if people looking for “Me dancing miss fatty” and “Me and Tanya dancing to my humps” came across DV8 it is already a hell of a road.
OPEN A NEW TAB – RELATED
As the Internet is a non-linear tool, two roads for further research open up from the tag “me dancing”. We could either navigate into the direction of personal requests – people asking other users to dance for them – or dig deeper into the phenomenon of mass reproduction of famous dances.
The choice of how you “relate” is yours.
PUBLIC PRIVATE DANCERS
Rachel is thirteen; she loves gymnastics and is obsessed with peace. She runs her own internet channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/rachelrocks4590) and shares one with a friend of hers – Kelly (kellyandrachel). One may subscribe to one or both of them and ask the girls for special appearances.
One day, Rachel was asked by XOrandomgirl131 to dance to Starstruck (lady gaga again!).
Rachel very seriously admits beforehand that “some is made up, some is random, so no bad comments…”
As there is no official video clip, the dance has to be created. Rachel proposes an organization in time and space of her own (over 3 minutes of movements in her pink decorated room). She hopes we will like it.
Requests as a form of communication are becoming very popular as they directly confirm an external interest in one’s internet activity and give the faithful audience the hope of being listened to and being mentioned in the broadcast.
Whereas under “dancing for you” Youtube still redirects us to all sorts of soft erotic dances, “dance for you” already refers to some “serious” movements not linked with sexual behavior of any kind.
It seems that I am not familiar with the specificity of Youtube’s terminology and have to hit a couple of dead ends before typing in the “right combination” of words.
Requests dealing with “dance for” refer to “being silly” and liberating dance movements from both Michael Jackson technical’s difficulties and Lady Gaga’s boring mediocrity.
When asked to dance, the very popular Justine (http://www.youtube.com/user/otherijustine – 4,824,468 total upload views) decides to “dance like a fool”. She estimates that for other people “watching you try to dance is fun”.
Whereas last year ChatRoulette’s star Merton[v] proposed to compose and play in situ songs on the piano for his chat partners and showed great skill, humor and inventiveness, dance seems to serve only in one way – humiliating yourself in order to make the watcher feel better.
BLACK OR WHITE
Besides producing “silly dances”, Youtube seems to be a place where another way of dancing has found popularity, and where another particular dance vocabulary has entered into global use.
I am talking about colored dances, gendered dances:
“black girl dancing like a white girl” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sd_rZyXG9dM&feature=related;
“dude this white girls dancing as if she’s black and with her” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sek2YdZZ11I&feature=related;
“white boy dancing like a girl” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvTK_TezMxI&feature=related;
“white girl dancing black in tutu” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HaqMlfHrHY&feature=related;
“how white girls dance” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrJRjpACidk&feature=related
Whereas the term “white girl dancing” pretty soon redirects you to pole dancing, commentaries that follow those clips show a very strong connection to the quality and attitude of proposed dances.
The hundreds of comments aspiring to the name of “discussion” follow various dances performed by both male and female, black and white teenagers.
Dance truly becomes a space for politics.
Let’s follow a discussion under the video “Proof that most white girls can’t dance”:[vi]
White girls can't shake their booty like blacks girls can. bigbig83uk 2 weeks ago
Okay i am white and I DONT dance like tht ! and me n my friends can dance so dont say most say somee babygurl27711
Okay Maybe yall cant dancee. But most the ppl i hang wid can ! and so yeah so dont say most say somee babygurl27711
actually, we can both dance quite well, we had filmed this over 2 years ago and we were just goofing off this is not actually how we dance. HandLcrazies
WTF!?You both white and saying that we cant dance! Well YOU! cant dance but other white girls can dance! bellawolfprint
lmao you guys remind me of me and my bestfrann!!!!!!!!!!! JeaniiJoJo
just cause you cant doesnt mean we all cant and my friend black and sge cant dance to save her life halyie
Love the twilight poster and it was always a fun time when me and my best friends did dances too. Go on girls and dance ur little butts off!!! jenjen050688
it's not the dancing skills I would be interested in,more like lip & rump technique boatmoter
ok please please stop it now thats the ugly ugly truth and thats the onley proof they need lmao :| :D XD ;D lol!!! bbs061
my black boyfriend moves just like that... miaelisabetta
Comment removed miaelisabetta
your so lame who talks about theyre black bf omg ur bragging i bet he looks like alien and predator iGemeniOfficial
Comment removed miaelisabetta
Comment removed miaelisabetta
there kidding xD I CAN DANCE & im white:)...it doesnt matter by coulour you dumb fucks Cupcakexoox
wat da fuk krazey805
you guys need to calm down most of these kind of videos are people just fucking around...so don't get so butt hurt. AandNspersonalFX
lmao wow u guys are soo stupid (in a good way! the funny way!) poohbear7541
oops. i think i just puked all over my computer screen. TAYLORR426
yA! SOME dUMb ASS biTChES dAT dONt EVEN NOE hOW tO dANCE!!! fREAkD8
Dang you people are rude. These girls are having fun. they are ot here to impress you or to get you to say the were excellent. They don't are if you think they can dance or not. I have said before, if you think someone can't dance, shut up the typing and post a video response showing them how you dance, then we will see what kind of fool you really are. OLOLOLOLOL 2008republican2012
As suggests a guest hiding under the nickname of republican, instead of talking/writing, one should put a video response. That’s legitimate. Yet what it also apparently suggests is the time necessary to produce a dance on Youtube isn’t much longer than that of typing a comment. It is that of immediate creation. But what if one would take more time both to write and create a dance?
Without entering into details concerning the appearance of events that are known as Flashmobs, without looking back at 2003, at those organized by Bill Wasik from Harper’s Magazine that stand out to be the first ones, I want to stress not the number but the different, declining forms that have been emerging all over the world for the last couple of years. Especially one:
The dance mob has become something quasi common in big cities and places of great interest.
On the one side, I notice a mass version of “me dancing lady Gaga”:
A number of professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs gather to reproduce a famous dance. I am talking here about the 100 single ladies at the Picadilly Circus[vii] or the numerous tributes to Michael Jackson.
On the other side, there are events that aim to gather people around dancing, independently of the pop icon summoned.
Those happen to show a bit more inventiveness sometimes; for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQLCZOG202k&feature=fvw – a Belgian proposition of do re mi.
Yet the more specific it is, the more a dance mob gets interesting. There will be such happenings as a dance tribute to Oprah during her Black Eyed Peas birthday concert in Chicago.[viii]
There will be multiple small format events that testify maybe of a need to rediscover 21st century community dances. For example the Extravaganza dance in York, Pennsylvania[ix], and if you wonder “where the hell is York” it might mean those people felt an urgent necessity to discover it themselves.
And while in Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) the youngsters dance to Backstreet Boys, Antwerp (Belgium) chooses classical Sounds of Music whereas London dances hits for T-mobile directly entering into the “system” with a force that used to serve independent ideas.
Quick enough, institutions become more concerned with dance and discover various approaches to tame flashes into constructed dance mobs.
Dance becomes a powerful tool in hands that can manipulate it.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Opposing “smart mobs” to José Ortega y Gasset’s dark vision of the mass, several Philippine prisons invest in turning their inmates into popular dance stars.
With professional dance teachers and choreographers Vince Rosales and Gwen Laydor the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) became world famous for its dancing prisoners performing Jackson’s Thriller (at first obviously diffused on Youtube).
After several months and an extremely fast growing popularity, the jailhouse opened public performances on Saturdays proposing two-hour programs varying from Queen’s and Jackson’s Medleys to Grease Lighting.
Under the supervision of the head of the prison Byron F. Garcia, the CPDRC dancers also toured other prisons such as Manila City Jail, Makati City Jail, and Quezon City Jail.
In between the up to 1,500 dancing inmates there also is a place for soloists and second roles (e.g.: openly gay inmate Wenjiel Resane plays the role of Michael Jackson's girlfriend in Thriller). A quasi-balletic organization, if I may risk a far-fetched comparison.
Intriguingly, the popularity of those strictly indoor dances is entirely due to an imposed “me dancing Lady Gaga and putting it on Youtube” method.
And isn’t it an uncanny feeling to watch those behind the bars in Manila dancing the same Black Eyed Peas song that the crew did in Michigan Avenue in Chicago?
While in the Philippines the children on the street sing and dance the latest jailhouse hits[x], in France the Choreographic Center of Angers (CNDC) fights to implement the Bal Modern – a dance ball where the comers are invited to learn and dance contemporary choreographies together.
ALLEZ VENEZ MILORD
Created in 1993 by Michel Reilhac, the Bal Modern is based on the simple idea of coming to a ball where one would learn not-so-simple steps in order to dance them that same night.
The core of this event that is getting more and more popular across Francophone regions like Belgium[xi] or Quebec[xii] is to be able to link up contemporary choreographers and their possible publics who for that night become “their” dancers.
It is not about reproducing the moonwalk this time. Although the task is no less challenging because the steps are those of already existing choreographies or made especially for the occasion by established artists like Mathilde Monnier, Loic Touzé or Vim Vandekeybus.
Unfortunately though, not many of those dances can be found on Youtube. It is as if those who claim the term of contemporaneousness would still function with very traditional ways of communication.
Nevertheless, because of the persistence of several personalities, the Bal Modern is slowly becoming an event people do talk about.
From there, it’s only one more step to “dance about”.
TIME AND SPACE ACCORDING TO MATT
In 2003 Matt Harding filmed himself dancing badly during his trip to Asia. In 2008 he went back on a unique dance world tour: fully sponsored, he visited dozens of different places and, as he himself puts it, got 2,387 people to dance badly with him.[xiii]
One of the most famous dancers of the 21st century has found a simple formula:[xiv] “Me dancing badly, all around the world, I put it on Youtube and this is my site (…).”
As over thirty million people have watched him dancing, Matt’s performance has generated hundreds of dance video responses. All kind of similarly “bad” dances float through the world making Matt’s steps distinguishable, precise and … unique.
Because he has been doing it for over six years now, “him dancing” has turned into “a dance”.
As space and time do not seem to matter in this virtual world, the one thing that makes choreography happen is persistence.
From the past 16 hours I spent watching various videos, two dances remain with me.
Hitler maniacally shaking his arms in the air and Matt’s three step dance. No other choreography can resist the overflow of random movement assaulting me from the net.
Nonetheless none of the “outstanding dancers” can claim my participation.
Maybe I’ll risk a comment though.
Will Matt make it till 2029?