These Dance Challenges Are Making America Great Again!

“Hard times require furious dancing. Each of us is proof.”Alice Walker

The title of this post started off as a joke I made a few weeks ago, after I stumbled upon a video of the Keke Challenge by New Orleans bounce artist Magnolia Rhome. Truth be told, I’m not deep off into pop culture like that. So while I did hear that Drake ripped a bounce beat for one of his new songs, I didn’t go looking for it.

I probably forgot to turn the sound off when I was flicking through my Instagram feed. And that beat did what that beat do. So I ended up watching Rhome do this fun little dance called “The Shiggy”, and then I clicked the hashtag.

Why I wanna do that for?

I spent an undisclosed amount of time falling deeper and deeper down the social media rabbit hole. There were stewardesses on a plane, a middle-aged white woman with her Jersey Shore-clone children, a geeky little white boy, an Asian millennial, an African man in a towel and another in a grand boubou, two little women, cops, doctors, and of course, scores of black youth and young adults, alone and in groups, jumping out of cars, making hearts with their hands, whipping imaginary steering wheels, bombarding Keke with the same question, lol.

Ciara did the Shiggy with her man in the background. New Orleans fitness trainer and dancer MoeJoe did it too (catch up here if you missed her Black Unicorn interview). I even found a tutorial video that made me want to get #InMyFeelings.

By the time I finished watching the wonderful world of Keke Challenge videos, I was hollering Drake for President! (Yeah, I know he’s Canadian, but he got the whole country dancing to Magnolia Shorty. Surely a provision can be made. Call it outsourcing.)

His song is okay, but the sensation it created makes me feel as hopeful about this country as I have felt in a very long time, and here’s why.

In a nutshell, I saw people of so many different backgrounds – that melting pot or salad bar that they taught us about in school – enjoying this one activity. It wasn’t about declaring or glorifying war. It wasn’t an attempt to take someone’s rights or resources away. It is perhaps the least divisive thing I have seen come out of our culture since I can’t remember when.

As I gushed to friends about this moment I had with Drake n em, someone hipped me to the Chocobodi challenge that had come out the month before. More recently, people are recreating the moves in Ciara’s “Level Up” video.

I suspect I’m late to the party. Very late. After all,  social media challenges have been popular for so many years now. And there’s always a hot new dance out. The ubiquity of camera phone technology and video sharing platforms just lets us see how widespread these trends are beyond our immediate circles.

So what made me pay more attention this time?

I think it’s the juxtaposition with all of the heavy, ugly things happening in our world. The feeling of powerlessness and paralysis compared with this silly little dance.

In the past 90 days, we have been bombarded with images of migrating parents being separated from their very young children at the man-made borders of this entity called America.

We have watched 45 piss off world leaders time and time again, shredding decades of foreign policy and undermining our fabled “national security” with a single Tweet or tantrum.

We have watched black folks’ repeatedly harassed, harangued, and murdered – by police and civilians alike who don’t look like us, and by so-called brothers (and less frequently, sisters) who do. #NiaWilson is the latest victim to rise up in our collective consciousness. A week before I ever heard her name, a 10 year-old girl named Makiyah Wilson was killed in a DC public housing development a mile or so from my house. A local activist went so far as to post a picture of her blood staining the sidewalk on Instagram. Another friend posted poems his students had written to memorialize her.

Say Their Names: Left: Makiyah Wilson, age 10, killed in Washington, DC, on July 16. Right: Nia Wilson, age 18, Killed in Oakland, Calif., on July 22.

So yes, we absolutely have bigger issues than the latest dance challenge. Yes, the dance videos are a distraction. A welcome, temporary one.

Our sanity is under attack. Watching hundreds of people get their joy in virtual unison, irrespective of background, helped me smile, laugh, and balance the anger, fear, trauma, and hopelessness that daily life and the nightly news seem programmed to induce.

Actually standing up to do the Shiggy, the Level Up, the Chocobodi, or even the Electric Slide (now there was an eye-opening backstory!) even if I don’t make a video, could help me physically throw off those negative emotions and make way for clear thinking – how to keep myself and my family safe. How to address these problems proactively.

I’m not suggesting that most of the people making dance challenge videos set out to do anything deep or revolutionary. They were just having fun. Maybe they are the “walk and chew gum” folks who enjoy pop culture and take action on social justice causes. Maybe they are oblivious to the suffering around us if it doesn’t directly affect them. That’s way too many people to generalize.

I’m just hoping that one day, we the people will become conscious of our power to “dance our way out of our constriction,” as George Clinton sang in the timeless classic, “One Nation Under a Groove.”

Not to get too “woo-woo” or metaphysical, but there is a reason why dance plays a significant role in nearly every religious or spiritual tradition. I don’t fully understand it myself, so I won’t try to explain it to you. There’s something about all our vibrating cells moving in unison, to the same beats and rhythms, that changes the energy, individually and collectively.

The times are plenty hard. So let’s dance! (Put on your red shoes and dance the blues… shoutout to the late great David Bowie.) Furiously. And chant down Babylon.

Deidre R. Gantt is the former Associate Editor of Face2Face Africa. Prior to that, she served the Greater New Orleans community as a Program Associate with Foundation for Louisiana, where she managed leadership programs, grant opportunities and communications support to drive civic engagement and policy change. Her communications background includes a lengthy freelance career as a writer and editor, grant writer, and college writing instructor. Between 2007 and 2010, Deidre covered the rebirth of the cultural arts community in her hometown, Washington, DC, for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. Her professional writing career began in the 1990s as a contributing editor for Rolling Out urban style weekly. Deidre is also an accomplished poet and performer who has appeared on stages throughout the United States as well as in Tanzania and Ghana. Deidre holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern California.

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