This article was originally published on THUMP UK.
Just this morning I received a slightly confusing email that happily informed me that today is the 20th birthday of the Macarena. This, frankly, is absolute bollocks, but the song has such a strangely convoluted history for a bit of holiday-friendly fluff, that to save boring you into an early grave with a labyrinthine account of the creation of the record I'll just blindly accept that, yes, today is the 20th birthday of the Macarena. Thus, it's been 20 years to the day since humanity as a whole embraced dancing in a way that it's not done since.
Do you remember being six years old? Of course you do. I bet you can remember every awful, embarrassing, scarring thing that happened to you when you were six years old. Shut your eyes. You're back there in the playground, with dogshit on your shoes and glue between your fingers, chasing girls with sticks, falling face-first into a puddle. You're back there in the classroom terrified to the point of tears that your friend is going to tell the teacher that you called them an old fogey and that teacher is going to tell the headmaster and the headmaster's going to tell your parents and your parents are going to tell Father Christmas. You're back there in the school hall, velcro flapping in the breeze, the faint smell of baked sausages mingles with old netballs, and you're stumbling over your own feet, failing to get the Macarena right.
That sense of shame's never really left you, has it? Twenty years on—somehow two entire decades have drifted into the ether since the smash hit dance sensation rocketed up the UK charts—you're still haunted by it. It eats away at you when you least expect it. You're sat in the car waiting for your mum to pay for petrol and it's there. You're trying to pick a decent pear in Aldi and it's there. You're making love to a beloved partner and it's there. You've never escaped the Macarena because the Macarena has become as much a part of your life as faint memories of Blue Peter appeals, Phil Jupitus, and duckweed. The Macarena is part of all of us.
Go to a wedding, barn dance, annulment, christening, vehicle tax registration confirmation bash, or all you can eat buffet completion celebration anywhere in the world, and you'll see a swarm of people still not exactly sure how to the the Macarena even though they've been aware of the Macarena longer than they've had the internet or quinoa. They look anxious, unsure of themselves, genuinely terrified that they've flipped their right hand rather than their left. The Macarena's ruined their lives and yet they can't stop trying to master it, as if conquering a novelty dance craze from the half-remembered 90s will rid them of the demons they've harbored since the last days of the Major government.
This week the internet's been going wild over a video from the 1996 Democratic National Convention in which Hillary Clinton—the world's first politician-as-.gif—does the Macarena. And, yes, the sight of a potential world leader rocking the kind of moves your grandmother pulls after six multiple orgasms in a Benidorm bar is quite funny, but what's funnier is the genuinely bizarre longevity of the Macarena as a cultural touchstone.
Think about it. Do you still remember how to the Cha-Cha Slide? Can you still Crank That like Souljah Boy? Yeah you're really into Konichiwa but when was the last time you did the Rolex Sweep? The point is, dance crazes are often just that—momentary blips on the cultural landscape, bizarre moments in time when we collectively agree to delude ourselves into shaking a leg and actually enjoying it. But the Macarena goes beyond a silly fad. It is more than just something that Lee Mack gets paid handsomely to look back fondly on, or a pop culture relic that Rick Wakeman can pretend to be enraged by. It is something that unites us, a truly transcontinental reference point that means 90 year old Portuguese farmers can connect with 17 year-old Lithuanian gymnasts, Venezuelan sailors have got something in common with IT support workers from the depths of Thailand. No one ever need feel lonely again, for the Macarena is there within us.
I've got a theory as to why the Macarena outlived the Twist or the Bartman or the "Thizzle Dance" and it's this: the Macarena rewards those of who can't dance with at least one actual set of moves in our armory. Learning the Macarena is like learning how to cook three easy dishes really fucking well. By that I mean that no one will mind that you can't cook lamb arayes with tahini and sumac like Ottolenghi if you can rustle up a banging plate of beans on toast. As long as you're able to semi-adequately pull off a selection or two of the Macarena's various stages, you'll always have something to fall back on when you find yourself on the kind of dancefloor where you've actually got to dance rather than being allowed to browse the Gardener's World forum in peace. At heart most of us are frightful of being mocked, horrified of the prospect of embarrassment and utterly unable to cope with the actualities of being embarrassed, and that means that things like the Macarena are more helpful, more genuinely useful than they initially seem. They're a kind of guiding rope to communality, a way of bridging those horrifying gaps between all of us that make us want to jump straight into that yawning inter-personal chasm.
So next time you're mumbling along to the words in a community center in Cromer, pissed on cheap Cava, queasy from a day spent trying to stuff as many sausage rolls as possible into your pastry-lined gob, stumbling over yourself straight into the fragile figure of your great-aunt, just remember that you're experiencing something incredibly special, and important and unusual: you're having an experience that most of the world can relate to. And you thought it was just a silly dance.