I was watching CNN yesterday and saw that Don Cornelius died.  Perhaps some of you remember him – especially those of you were born before Stevie Wonder released “Sir Duke.  Mr. Cornelius, if you do not know, was the creator, founder and host of Soul Train – one of the epic early music shows on TV.

Now, I could go on many tangents writing about Soul Train. I could write about the empowerment of the Afro-American community. Or maybe the influence it had on Quincy Jones, Spike Lee and other black producers and directors. But I am too late. Yesterday, CNN covered all that in a stereotypical two minute feature, repeated 6 times an hour.

Instead, I will write about what Soul Train meant to me.  Soul Train was about boogie and moving & grooving.  I will blog about dancing – because when Soul Train was hot, it made all of us into Dancin’ Fools.

Soul Train was just one of many dance shows that influenced a whole generation and provided the “funky” moves we only dreamed of using during the school gym dances.  The brave and hip souls who exposed themselves on the Soul Train Dance Line were the ancient forefathers and mothers of the “So-You –Think-You-Can-Dance” Crowd.  If you cannot grasp the sheer quirkiness of the period’s boogie fever, pre-hip hop dance moves, and fantastic fashions, have a gander of just what Soul Train brought to the table and prepare to groove along to these highlights.

Yes, I can imagine the youngsters giggling through all of that.  Funnily enough, Soul Train was not the first dance show I remember. The grandpappy of all the shows, with the host who signed the deal with the Devil for eternal youth, was American Bandstand. For 30+ years, Dick Clarke did not age one friggin’ day as he hosted a variety of American Icons and the happening teenagers of the day.  But while Soul Train allowed all those who thought they had the stuff to strut it, American Bandstand was more like the mosh pit as the Alpha Dancers tried hard to get just a few seconds of screen time.  And that was the major difference between the ‘Train and the ‘Stand? (Yep, that was the hip lingo back then…and I still got it!)  If you wanted to stick out on American Bandstand, you had to do something really special

Soul Train and Bandstand provided the moves that helped me through school dances. Confidently, I was doing the “left foot, right foot” shuffle to “Kung Fu Fighting” in Grade 4, bumping to “Le Freak, C’est Chic” in Grade 9, or doing the Carleton Banks to “We got the Beat” in Grade 12.  For most of us, the TV dance moves were all we needed to get the other side of the gym begging us to dance with them. Yeah, right…

Inevitably as I grew older, dance shows served another purpose.  Now, for anyone born after 1990, imagine a time before the internet and free porn; imagine an innocent time when the Friday night  Baby Blue movies were the talk of the school lunchroom on Mondays, and when the images of the “20 Minute Workout” helped us master our domains.  And the dance show’s contribution? Yes…the Solid Gold Dancer. My goodness, did someone turn up the heat…

But sadly, there came a time when all the old chestnuts lost their allure.  The music became too mainstream and the dancers in the crowd, well, they were just like me – only nerdier.  I needed something more modern, more “with it”.  And who filled the void…Much Music and its hyper-hip Electric Circus.   Live from City TV studios in the cultural centre of Canada (you guessed it – John Street!) Electric Circus was “poser” Canada at its best…hosted by the chic Monika Deol and her vox basso. I mean, who didn’t want to be – or do – an Electric Circus Dancer? (For the record, that is not sexist. The dancers were both male and female…so people of all five sexual orientations could fantasize about them. How much more inclusively-Canadian can you get than that?)

But like always, the lights in the club eventually turn on – long after last call has passed. You suddenly realise that all that grown-up stuff – marriage, kids, work – has conspired against you and the dancing stopped without you even noticing. No more dance shows with their hip moves. Forget the funk. Forget the Boogie. Dancing – if you still did it – consisted of sweating to the Let’s Twist Again Medley, the Bird Dance or La Macarena at weddings.

But while I did not watch anymore dance shows, I still tried to find the opportunity to try out the moves that I saw during the occasional TV-surfing moments. On New Year’s Eve1999, I nearly suffered a cardiac arrest as I emulated the  Torrance Community Dance Group during an impromptu 4 minute dance solo on an empty floor.  There wasn’t one single Soul Train dance move during that set.  I realised after that unintentional aerobics class, that maybe I was getting old. That maybe I should put away the Billy Idol arm thrashing, the MC Hammer moves, and the Fresh Prince’s Running Man.

But as dance has been there pretty much for all of my life, I heard the advice, but I didn’t really listen to it. And so, dancing has made the occasional appearance during my grown up life (usually in the company of several drinks and the unmistakable beat of the 70s and 80s hits). When that happens, I am bopping because my pelvis and knees have loosened up through the liberal application of a few cocktails.  During these happy times, I still believe that I am just as good as the kids who shimmied along Don Cornelius’s Dance Line – even if I do have an overbite.

Keep dancing!  Later,


PS.  Interpretive dance…gotta love that too. One of my favourites!