The Apache Dance

I had heard of the “Apache dance”, but didn’t know much about it, until I ran across this youtube video:

It’s a humorous setting for a dance that isn’t meant to be funny. But the acrobatic moves do give it a circus-like quality. I saw some other versions on youtube that were done by professionals, but with less energy. It’s interesting that the rougher they are with each other, the better it is.

From wikipedia;

Apache is a highly dramatic dance associated in popular culture with Parisian street culture in the beginning of the 20th century. The name of the dance (pronounced ah-PAHSH, not uh-PATCH-ee, like the English pronunciation of the Native American tribe) is taken from a Parisian street gang, which in turn was named for the American Indian tribe due to the perceived savagery of the hoodlums. The term came to be used more generally to refer to certain vicious elements of the Paris underworld at the beginning of the 20th century.
The dance is sometimes said to reenact a violent “discussion” between a pimp and a prostitute. It includes mock slaps and punches, the man picking up and throwing the woman to the ground, or lifting and carrying her while she struggles or feigns unconsciousness. Thus, the dance shares many features with the theatrical discipline of stage combat. In some examples, the woman may fight back.

There are quite a few versions on youtube. This next one has a great twist; Jimmy Durante in drag playing the woman’s part. (clearly, the long shots have a stand-in)

Buster Keaton also played the female part in this example.

Here is yet another twist, with the roles reversed, and the woman is beating up the man, in this case, the clownish Ben Blue.

It seems like this should be animated, and indeed it was.   Here is Popeye and Olive Oyl, and of course, Bluto cuts in.  It’s a great interpretation.

Here is another one.  The dance starts just after a minute, but it’s fun before hand too.

Wilson and Keppel – Sand Dance.

It’s not so common anymore, but most of us have seen a character doing a stylized Egyptian dance.  That dance is derived from the sand dance, done by a trio of music hall performers. Here is the Wikipedia intro to Wilson and Keppel and Betty.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty were a popular British music hall act in the middle decades of the 20th century who capitalised on the trend for Egyptian imagery following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Their stage act, called the “sand dance”, was a parody of Egyptian postures, combined with references to Arabic costume. The lithe and extremely lanky Wilson and Keppel, who wore long mustaches and make up to emphasize the sharp angularity of the features so as to appear almost identical, would demonstrate their impressive suppleness in adopting wild gestures and dancing in identical “stereo” movements (using gestures vaguely reminiscent of Egyptian wall paintings), while Betty watched their antics. Theirs was a soft-shoe routine performed on a layer of sand spread on the stage to create a rhythmic scratching with their shuffling feet. The act was usually performed to the familiar Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini.

And here is a video of them doing the dance.

Dancing so bad it’s funny

I am a big fan of eccentric dancing. Usually, eccentric dancing requires a high degree of skill.  But there are some great examples that are funny because of how bad it is.  I am talking here about professionals who dance to get laughs. This is bad dancing, not dancing badly. There are hours of real life bad dancers on Youtube, but those are just poor imitations of other dances.  I am looking for someone who created a specific style of dance so it will look ridiculous.

These dances have two things in common.  They look like they could be done by anybody, and they have tremendous enthusiasm. I would love to see someone animate a dance cycle that could make me laugh like these do.

We’ll let Julia Louis-Dreyfus get this bad dance party started.

Then there is Martin Short as Ed Grimley

Groucho Marx was primarily a verbal comedian, but he had some physical comedy chops for sure.  Particularly with dancing.

Here is a video with a selection of his creative moves.

Jim Carrey in a tutu was a famous one.

This is comedian Nathan Barnatt, also making use of the knees going in opposite directions.

Finally, the great Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

The Body Out of Control

People have a fascination with human movement that defies norms. Often it is the beautiful and extraordinary, such as dance or acrobatics, but it can also be the ungainly and strange. When we see someone moving oddly, we stop and try to comprehend what is going on.  Spasmodic, or erratic, motion has always had a certain use in comedy. The staggering drunk is probably the most common.  Jerry Lewis had an awkward running style that was one of his signature actions.  But lets focus on characters who really are not in control of their motor functions.

This music video for Fatboy Slim is both slapstick and really cool.  It was created by the Swedish firm Traktor. Plus it has cartoons in it!

Obviously their are wires yanking their bodies around and then the wires are removed in post production. But the effect is wild. It’s not unlike some moments in Ratatouille when Remy is manipulating Linquini.

Strange movement is one of the reasons zombies are so interesting to audiences.  I will confess, I have not seen the either of the Weekend at Bernie’s movies.  As far as I can tell, at some point the dead Bernie is re-animated through some sort of voodoo ritual. His odd motion became a dance craze.

And we must remember this modern classic. It has over 27 million views on YouTube for the very reason I am describing.

Eccentric Dancing: The Honeymooners.

Animators need to watch eccentric dancing.  This is dancing that’s intended to make you laugh. It’s the simplest form of physical comedy. To help introduce you to the best funny dancing of the past, I post the best clips I can find. If you click on the tag “dance” to the right, you can see more.

Here I share two great clips from the classic television show The Honeymooners.   If you aren’t familiar with the program, it was an inspiration for the The Flintstones.  The star was Jackie Gleason, his character was named Ralph Kramden. His buddy was his upstairs neighbor, Ed Norton, played by actor Art Carney.

In one episode, Ralph wants to learn to dance, so Ed tries shows him some moves.

This next compilation is set to some fun music, and gives a quick look at Jackie Gleason’s dancing.

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