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A Brief History Of The Instructional Dance Song

The best songs that tricked you into thinking you could actually dance.
August 1, 2012, 7:00pm

Since the first beat of the first drum that was made out of a saber-toothed giant sloth pelt stretched over the opening of a giant ant hill, people have been dancing to music. And since that very first drum beat, people have been trying to dance, and doing it wrong.

We all know/are that guy/gal who, when the music comes on and the kids start beckoning them over to the dance floor, says things like “Nah, I’ve got two left feet” or “I can’t, I’m from that town in Footloose.” Those people: IT’S OKAY! You’re perfect just the way you are! Shit, did this just turn into an episode of Glee? I sure hope not. The point is, IT’S OKAY! Because, in the past century, music has made fantastic advances in plucking wallflowers off the wall and tossing them onto the dance floor with songs that explain exactly how they want you to dance to them. You don’t have to worry about “Just going with it” or “Feeling the music” anymore, because these songs are going to give you very specific instructions.


Now, before we get into it, this list does not include dances that are associated with certain songs. The Charleston never said “Hey! Right in front o’ left, right behind left, left behind right now left in front of right, now drink some bathtub gin and other things in the Great Gatsby.” Obviously, we all wish those were the lyrics. But nonetheless, you won’t be seeing songs like YMCA, The Macarena, Soulja Boi, or the Chicken Dance in here, because the lyrics didn’t tell you how to do it.

“The Hokey-Pokey” by, I don’t know, Various Artists, I guess?

It was probably the first dance you ever learned, unless you were some kind of rug-cutting prodigy that tap-danced your way out of the womb. If you hear the opening notes, and think “What’s this all about???,” your questions will be answered soon enough.

“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker

For the kids who aren’t up on the current dance crazes, Chubby gives them a break by telling them “Screw it, just do it like you did last summer,” but throws in a kindly reminder to go 'round and 'round and up and down, just to jog your memory. Shakira’s hips may not lie, but can they cure amnesia?

“The Time Warp” from that movie they show every Halloween

There’s really no room for error here, unless you’re a guy that’s wearing high-heels with fishnet leggings for the first time. They even go as far as having a guy with a diagram explain it to you in the middle of the song. The important part is just to act really creepy while you’re doing it, and you’ve got it.


“Cha Cha Slide” by Mr. C the Slide Man

Yeah, I know, I didn’t have any idea that’s what the song was called either, I had to do a lot of embarrassing Googling. I also didn't know that it was sung (and danced) by a guy named Mr. C the Slide Man. Jesus. This is the song that comes on at every Bar Mitzvah when all the kids who can’t dance sprint onto the dance floor, while the other kids who can dance are taking a bathroom or Challah break. Beware of this song, though. Even though Mr. C the Slide Man is explaining, very slowly, what he wants you to do, he’s being very vague. To this day, nobody knows what Mr. C the Slide Man means when he commands everybody to Charlie Brown.

“Lean Back” by Terror Squad ft. Fat Joe.

Simply genius. It’s like you step onto the floor and Fat Joe is there to give you a little pep talk saying “Hey buddy, just lean back. And that’s all you gotta do.” Just don’t lean back too far. Or you will fall down.

“Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid

Cupid seems genuinely excited that he’s invented a new dance craze. I imagine him locked in an attic for months, furiously scribbling on a chalkboard trying to crack the equation, then running into a briefing room at the Pentagon with a giant stack of papers in his hand screaming “I’ve got it! It’s FOUR steps to the right AND left, but the key is alternating the kicks!” Then he walked it by himself, and the rest was history.

“Teach Me How To Dougie” by Cali Swag District

This song is a bit of an anomaly, because it is asking you to teach it how to do the dance that it is teaching you to do, creating an infinitely spiraling logic loop. Imagine, for a moment, a slinky that is made of logic. Watch as the compressional wave of reality cycles back and forth from one hand to another. Now put your hips into it and you’re basically Dougie-ing.

“Lemme Smang It” by Yung Humma ft. Flynt Flossy

Smash-bang fusion. That’s really all there is to say.

The tricky thing about the instructional dance song is that it can sometimes create chaos on the dance floor, when the original goal was to create order. The kids who can’t dance are trying desperately to follow the steps, while the kids who can dance just want to do their own thing. The key, as always, is to listen to the music and not just the words, and most importantly, to never, ever sing along to any of these songs. Except "Lemme Smang It." Tattoo those words on to your brain and let the dance floor rule the night forever.