In the Beginning: Do a little dance!

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51yai+MKH5L._AA240_.jpgWho said you can't have your cake and eat it too? Our new book In the Beginning's hitting stores in little over a week, and we've got a fat slice of fact waiting for you below. Enjoy!

Dancing (for fun)

Since dance doesn't leave behind artifacts, we can't really tell you who was the first caveman to get up and do a jig. (There's a little evidence of dancing in Egyptian tomb paintings) What we can tell you quite a lot about is...

The Waltz

Picture 2.pngThis dance, which may get its name from the German word for "turn," first picked up speed in Vienna in the 1780s. Exactly where the basic steps came from though is unknown. (Some people think its roots are in the comparatively clumsy German folkdance called the "Landler.") But its quick rise in popularity is much easier to explain: it was absolutely scandalous for its time. After all, it required (gasp!) touching. And one didn't need a dance teacher to learn it, which meant hoi polloi could pick it up "“ although it's worth noting that the first recorded waltzing in America, in Boston in 1834, was performed by a socialite under the guidance of an instructor and was still considered shocking. (The instructor was Italian, which we imagine explains a lot.)

The Polka

It sounds like it should be Polish "“ but hold on, the polka is actually Czech. First embraced in the middle of 19th-century Bohemia, and the name was originally the Czech word pu _ lka, meaning "half-step." So what's the Polish connection? The Czechs changed the name to "polka" around 1830 as a demonstration of solidarity with their neighbors, the Poles, who were fighting Russian rule in the November Uprising at the time.

The Tango

index.2.jpgLike the waltz, the tango was the dirty dancing of its day. Unlike the waltz, however, it was decidedly not created for the upper-crust. The word "tango" may be an African word, or it may be from the Latin tanguere, "to touch." Either way, the dance itself was heavily influenced by African slaves brought to Argentina in the mid-1800s. The country's urban hubs were thriving and hugely multi-cultural, and in the dance halls, polkas, waltzes, and mazurkas got mixed up with Cuban and African rhythms. Eventually, young "compadritos" took their moves back to the seedier parts of Buenos Aires, and the sons of society, who liked to slum there on the weekends, picked up the trend. In the early 1900s, these swells, emboldened with their sexy new dance, made their way to France "“ and by 1913 the first tango in Paris had become a sensation.

The Charleston

Named for the city in South Carolina, the dance was popular among African-American dockworkers but quickly got co-opted by young whites looking for an easy way to express their disdain for Prohibition. Later, it would give rise to Lindy Hop, which in turn was a forerunner of swing. The basic Charleston step, however, was incorporated into both dances. Here's what you need to know: rock left, step right, kick left, step left, kick right, knee right, kick back right, step right. Trust us, it's easier if you just pretend you're a flapper and freestyle it.

The Twist

cole_spencer-twist.jpgSure, Chubby Checker had a #1 hit (twice!) with "The Twist," but the guy who wrote it was actually Hank Ballard, who first released it as a B-side in 1959. The dance, which was created for the song rather than the other way around, was sort of the anti-tango "“ it discouraged kids from touching each other. One of Checker's buddies reportedly described it best: "It's like putting out a cigarette with both feet, and wiping your bottom with a towel, to the beat of the music."

The Lambada

Perhaps appropriately for such a passionate dance, the Lambada has warring factions arguing over who came up with it first. Some think it came from Brazil (where several other dances appear to be its ancestors); others argue that a song from Bolivia started it all. Either way, the 1990 movie Lambada made it an international hit. But don't refer to it as the "Forbidden Dance" when in conversation with a Brazilian or a Bolivian. Lambada dancers prefer to think of their pastime as sensual, not sexual. And whatever you do, don't mix it up with...

La Bamba

la_bamba_175.jpgA traditional Mexican song-and-dance routine most often performed at weddings. The version of the song you know is probably Ritchie Valens' cover from the 1950s "“ unless you happen to be a bride in the state of Veracruz, in which case you might know an updated version of the dance, in which the newlyweds tie a big red bow using only their feet y una poca de gracia.

Can't wait the 8 days for In the Beginning? Pre-order your copy at any of these fine stores today: Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-A-Million. Oh, and if you e-mail us your proof of purchase at newsletters@mentalfloss.com, we'll send you an autographed sticker to place in the book!

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October 23, 2007 - 2:30am
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