“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
― James Baldwin
“Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance.” – Ezra Pound
THOUGHTS ON THE SHMONEY DANCE
I was asked to be on HuffPost Live tomorrow but I had to decline. H/T to Dr. Marc Lamont Hill who hosts the show and it celebrating 2 years on the set!! Happy Anniversary and congrats on the Morehouse gig!!
The topic is a summer dance craze and viral YouTube video by Bobby Shmurda from East Flatbush.
Given my work on embodied musical blackness from double-dutch to hip-hop and the digital ethnography of twerking, the Shmoney video and the memes associated with it on YouTube and other platforms speaks to the different ways dance and the social body works since advent of participatory media. Everyone wants to be part of a globalizing trend–the summer dance craze or the latest viral thing you can broadcast being a part of from your hood and/or your bedroom.
The Shmoney dance is more or less a novelty dance that will garner 7 million impressions worth of CPMs and digital currency on YouTube/Billboard tracking for Bobby Shmurda. These days this is the only kind of work that seems to pay with such high rates of unemployment in East Flatbush for black boys and men.
The dance reminds me of the novelty of Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance or the Ed Lover Dance from back in the 90s. It’s simple but marked by an irreverent style of self-presentation as part of a larger social phenomenon or meme online. It ain’t that complicated so it allows for a kind of all-together-now moment in online video. That’s the power of participatory media like YouTube.
Black Dance in a Hypernetworked Age of YouTube
But I would ask folk to consider this: When black dances from places like East Flatbush are shared freely with non-black audiences in our hypermediated age, young people of African descent can revel in the fact that their uptown or block party moves are shaking the dance floors of the nation (and perhaps beyond). But most black youth are still dying in the hood literally and figuratively.
Meanwhile non-black people who join in vicariously can remain safe; far from the realities of what goes on before and long after the song ends. Black men like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin are losing their lives as are black women like Renisha McBride and others who are getting punched in the face by the cops or gunned down in the name of Stand your Ground even when these citizens throw their the hands in the air waving surrender in the sights of a rifle’s crosshairs. I wish I could be there to hear what this young man is trying to say with his music.
What I also find fascinating about the dance is what one could say about it as a symbolic representation of the social body in America–the black body. The dance requires little mobility in an age where blacks have the least social mobility and suffer from the highest rates of income inequality. The dance shows a kind of bravado in the face of the real life tragedies happening every day in East Flatbush and Ferguson defying the dancehall lyric “nobody move nobody get hurt.” These meme dances are popular because they are so simple to stylize (doesn’t require very sophisticated techniques of the body). They are a kind of open cipher for anyone to join in. And you don’t have to move your feet much; just shuffle from side to side. Anyone could probably get a pass–including your grandmother or father–since the steps are generally open such that even athletes and people with two left feet can join in and not get sharply criticized. Something in us needs this synchrony and some part of it seems so insidious given the legacy of black dance and the kinds of sophistication we have produced dating back to partner dances like the Lindy, through street double-dutch and hip-hop up to the real Harlem Shake. It’s complicated and it ain’t. Wish I could be there.