Saturday, June 30, 2007

A taxonomy of Swiss dance styles

I'm a pretty committed club-goer. Except under extenuating circumstances, I'm at X-TRA's More Than Mode every week, and I generally sojourn out to Abart or Dynamo when they're having a goth event. I've also spasmed in time to a beat at Buddha Bar, Garufa, Hive, Labitzke, Mascotte, Supermarket, and Tonight. One of the early manifestations of my culture shock after moving to Switzerland was my surprise at the striking difference between my habitual dancing style, honed in the clubs of Boston and LA, and that of the native Swiss. Although it's now clouded by a year of forgetfulness and conflicting experiences, I remember many of the black-clad masses in both Boston's and LA's goth clubs as practicing a consistent and distinctive dance style, featuring sharp and violent arm motions mostly from the elbow. Something on the order of this. Admittedly, it doesn't have the same effect when performed in your parents' basement, but you get the idea. In particular, there was one clique of corpse-painted Spanish-speaking guys decked out in leather and spikes at the ironically name Das Bunker whose dancing looked like a fight scene from a Kung Fu movie remade for the Dark Ages. I also recall a sizable contingent of club-goers who preferred a more emotive style of dance, perhaps philosophically akin to ballet. Their dancing seemed to express the emotional content of the music, sometimes going so far as to act out the lyrics. Regardless of the details, no one was afraid to move around, and half the fun of going out was watching everyone else.

The Swiss, in contrast, are more reserved, both physically and emotionally. A substantial fraction of the people on the dance floor just rock from side to side. The slightly more creative will take three steps forwards and three steps back. Sometimes with a reckless disregard for anyone who might have strayed into their path. I think this particular style may even be enshrined in a song, but it's in German (something like "drei Schritte vor und drei zuruck") and my google-fu is not up to the task. Occasionally (at establishments playing electronic rather than goth music), someone will throw their arms in the air as if they were gesticulating with pistols held sideways, gangsta-style. These people are not gangstas. And then there is the frightening menagerie of truly atrocious dancers. Like the guy who wheels around the dance floor like a fencer set free from the piste, all the while waving his arms like a conductor counting out 4/4 with a baton. Or the fat balding guy who violently rocks back and forth while smoking a pipe.

There are a few exceptions. One couple at X-TRA wears long skirts and has perfected a style heavy on pirouettes which pull them into elegant motion. Another couple has managed to develop an expressive and fluid technique that wouldn't seem out of place in a US club. Other than those four exceptional cases, and a few other competent dancers, I'm in a sea of people performing the sort of ur-dance known intrinsically to every five-year-old. The sort of dance executed by wall-flowers when told that they just need to move to the music. Maybe the difference is that American children of my generation were raised on a diet of American Bandstand and MTV. Michael Jackson's moonwalk permeated our lives as much as his music. City streets were filled with kids break-dancing on sheets of cardboard. Dancing was intrinsically understood to be as much a public performance as a form of personal expression. Then again, Swiss beer is almost uniformly bland, in contrast to the bolder traditions of many of its neighbors. Maybe Swiss dancing is similar.

2 comments:

Stef said...

Ahaha! That was very enjoyable! I'm going to Switzerland for a year in Jan - now i can't wait to check out the dancing and perhaps add a little bit of australian funk to it!! I'll get them moving, don't you worry :)
Stef

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