All Sorts of Legs

June 14th, 2007

David Elsewhere breaks human kinesthetics and reassembles them — with his mind.

The song is “Expo 2000” by Kraftwerk.

Here he is again 4 years later, the song is “Dawn Chorus” by Boards of Canada:

It’s an excellent example of advanced freestyle popping and locking, a street dance style probably best known worldwide as “dancing like Michael Jackson.”

Much of what’s going on here can be seen as redefining the human “rig” on the fly. We’re used to seeing the human form move as though the hip bone connected to the leg bone, etc., with hinge joints at the elbows, ball joints at the shoulders, and certain relationships of mass and weight between all the bits.

complicated mechanism
How to dance

This guy turns those constants into variables, moving as though he’s hot-swapping his body parts out with other bits of machinery — step motors, latches and locks, pneumatics, hydraulics, springs — and making new connections between parts that don’t normally move together, with invisible tie rods between his elbows, or bevel gears driving the rotation of two pieces in opposite directions. Glides and floating moves like the moonwalk change Newton’s laws, disconnect cause and effect, and add further otherworldliness to a performance.

Speaking of moonwalk, Michael Jackson’s really good (many longer dance montages are available); he started early, with the Jackson 5, who popularized the robot on shows from Soul Train to the Dean Martin Show, where they danced with Dom Deluise for some reason.

The Jacksons seem to have picked up these moves in California, where a guy named Don Campbell formed the Cambellockers in 1973, later The Lockers, who appeared on the Dick Van Dyke Variety Show in yet another “white guy can’t dance” sketch.

These kind of moves go even further back — thirty years before James Brown was hypnotizing people with his feet, the Fleischer brothers rotoscoped Cab Calloway putting it down for the Betty Boop Snow White short, my favorite Cab Calloway, Betty Boop, and rotoscoping examples all in one, excerpted below:

And of course — like all cartoons — it all goes back to the minstrel show, and probably further.

From Charles Dickens’ account of a performance by William Henry Lane, aka Master Juba, in Five Points in 1842:

“Single shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut; snapping his fingers, rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the backs of his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels like nothing but the man’s fingers on the tambourine; dancing with two left legs, two right legs, two wooden legs, two wire legs, two spring legs—all sorts of legs and no legs—what is this to him?”

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