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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake and Shakespeare

What does Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake have in common with William Shakespeare?

No, it's not a trick question.

It is truly amazing that Gangam Style, a music video by a relatively unknown singer named Psy, could sweep conquer the world and be seen by so many people.

The explosively popular Psy

As of today, the video has been seen on Youtube over 1.33 Billion times. Amazing.

What makes it so popular?

It can't be the song itself. It's a very catchy song, but the lyrics are in Korean!

Is it the dance itself? Maybe, but it's such a simple dance that I learned it with my niece and nephew in one or two minutes.

I think one of the biggest reasons these videos are so popular is because other people can imitate the dances and make their own videos -- they can be part of the fun -- and they can join the dance.

Have you seen the Harlem Shake?

My favorite is the underwater Stormtrooper

It's a new song and dance craze that's sweeping the world. Millions of people imitate it and film themselves, just like Gangnam Style.

But more importantly -- there is not just one popular video -- there are many popular videos. Many of them have millions of views.

I'm still waiting for someone to get a bunch of actors dressed up in Elizabethan costumes to do a Shakespeare Harlem Shake!

It reminds me of the Macarena, many years ago -- a huge dance craze that swept the world. Every single last person probably tried to do the Macarena.

Well, in William Shakespeare's lifetime there was another dance craze that was sweeping all over England and Europe.

It was called the Morris Dance.

There are many videos online with Morris Dancers, but my favorite is Gemma David, a schoolteacher who Morris Danced while carrying the Olympic Torch last year:


Morris Dancer Gemma David with the Olympic Torch

While there is some doubt regarding the origin of the dance -- it was popular before Shakespeare's lifetime, it was popular while he lived and it has endured to this day!

Shakespeare's company of actors, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, included an actor by the name of William Kempe.

Kempe was one of the two most important actors in the company. Kempe was the comedic superstar -- he got all the funny roles. He was the first actor to play Falstaff, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, he was the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and so on.

Just having Kempe in your acting company guaranteed an audience -- and they expected him to be funny.

Well, Kempe must have liked to dance -- because in 1600 he did the Morris Dance -- for nine whole days!

He traveled from London to Norwich -- a distance of over 100 miles -- dancing!

Will Kempe -- the original Psy?

Truth be told, he didn't do it nine days in a row -- he had to break it up over a few weeks. But he was mobbed by crowds and I like to think that every town would hold a feast for him, and there would be a lot of drinking, eating and dancing going on!

Kempe was also famous for his Jigs.

At the end of most plays in the Elizabethan period, whether the play was a tragedy, comedy, history there would be a dance by the actors. A Jig.

It was a way to make sure the show ended with a bang -- and make sure that audiences would leave the theatre with a smile on their face.

There is evidence to suggest that the Jigs also had dialogue -- and would also have some jokes, bawdy ones I am sure. I think Kempe was a master of the Jig, and probably had audiences singing, dancing and laughing on their way out of the theatre.

Here's a great video from a performance of Richard II at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in 2003 -- with Mark Rylance leading the cast in a rousing Jig dance:

I like to think that these dances -- the Jigs and Morris Dances -- were infectiously popular.

Audiences would not only watch them but they would copy them -- they could dance in the theatres as the actors danced, and if they saw a Morris Dance on the street, they would follow along and try to dance it too.

In the same way that Shakespeare's plays have survived this long, by being performed over and over again by professional and amateur actors, these Jigs and Morris Dances, and dances like them have lasted forever -- because we all want to be in on the act and be part of the dance!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


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