P and I went to a wedding this past weekend. It was intercultural, although no South Asians were involved. It was a South African-American wedding and my first same-gender ceremony (same-sex marriage is legal and recognized in four out of six New England states, although sadly married same-gender couples are not granted the same immigration rights as married heterosexual couples).
The weather and the brides were lovely at the intimate outdoor wedding. As all the guests entered the outdoor “chapel” we were asked to place a small shovel of dirt into a planter so that “we can all grow something together” and during the ceremony the brides planted a tree into the pot to symbolize their new life as a family. I thought that was a nice idea.
However the main purpose of my post is not to talk about the wedding itself but the music and dancing at the reception.
So to set the mood, I want to paraphrase a comedy routine from Russell Peter’s “Outsourced”:
The joke is already out there…white people can’t dance—well that’s not true, not fair. White folks can dance. They generally love the audience participation songs… like the Macarena… it started off as a Latino thing, but then white people got a hold of it and really ran with it… they took it and made it theirs. We all did the Macarena but white people took it to another level. If you see them do it you can’t help but think “That is a white people’s dance… good for you whities, enjoy yourselves!”
I like to watch them enjoy themselves… when they hear the music that they like they get this joyous look in their eyes… there are certain songs—the Macarena, the chicken dance—now that is a white person song… have you ever gone to a white wedding and they play the chicken dance? That is how you know the dance floor is open… people lose their minds “ahh… it’s the chicken dance!!!”
Then there is the song that I believe is the white people’s national anthem… I was walking down Sunset Blvd and this night club was playing the song so loudly you could hear it on the street, and white people were stopping dead in their tracks to do the YMCA. White people lose their minds when they hear the YMCA… They don’t do it half-assed, they take it so seriously! When I see them do it they look so happy, and I feel so good for them, “Yes white people! Have your fun!”
Yes– I am one of those white people. Big time. I LOVE the YMCA and the Chicken Dance, and I’m sad that these songs are starting to fall out of fashion (I guess, if one could argue they were ever really in fashion). A few magazines I’ve seen lately state that the worst thing you can do at a wedding is play a whole bunch of these songs. I’ve even been to a wedding or two where (particularly the Chicken Dance) has been put on the explicit “do not play” list, and even if requested the DJ won’t do it. It’s so sad!
The thing that is great about these dances are that they are relatively easy, you don’t have to be a great dancer, if you don’t know the steps you can watch a round or two then jump in and look like a pro, and they are silly and fun–by the end everyone is laughing and feeling silly. It is the type of dance where you don’t have to feel awkward if you don’t have a date, or shy if you don’t have much rhythm, or worried that you will be the only one out there on the dance floor. These dances are stupid and silly and wonderful.
The Chicken Dance and I actually go way back. I used to teach it to people when I traveled. Often times I found myself sitting around a campfire with hosts with whom I did not share a common language. One of the best ways to connect in this situation is through music, dance and miming. My hosts might sing or dance and then it would be my turn to display some cultural tidbit. I’ve sung all sorts of songs (and believe me, I’m not a good singer), but the most fun I’ve had is when I’d whip out the Chicken Dance. It works wonders because it is so easy and participatory.
When I worked at the refugee camp in Northern Kenya I was asked to teach a dance. I told my refugee colleagues very solemnly that I would teach them a “traditional” American wedding dance… and proceeded to get the whole group to do the Chicken Dance. They loved it. And as the song gets faster and everyone swings their various partners around, the dance erupts in laughter and chaos. I even took a Nepali friend up on a dare once and dragged him to the front of an American coffee-house “open mic night” and we attempted to get the whole place doing the Chicken Dance. Good times.
The reception over the weekend was relatively low-key. Near the end of the night, right as P and I were walking out the door, YMCA started to play. Three people were standing on the dance floor, and no one was doing the moves. How can someone stand on a dance floor during the YMCA and not feel the urge to do the hand gestures?
Other personal wedding reception dance favorites– “the Twist,” and “Shout!” and although it doesn’t have its own dance, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is a great one to sing along to. In New England there is a tradition of playing the Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline” because it is played at some specific point during Red Sox games. During the refrain “Good times never seemed so good…” the audience is supposed to yell out, “So good! So good! So good!” and the same thing happens at weddings.
For those not familiar with the chicken dance… here is an example of a wedding reception rendition of the dance I found on youtube: