Columns - 1997

    Shake it up, bubbe

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    It's June. The season of weddings. A time of year when family and friends gather to celebrate the union of two supporters of the jewelry and catering industries while asking cosmic questions such as, "What is that noise?", "What are they doing with their bodies?", "They call that dancing?", and "Why do I always get stuck next to the speakers?"

    Sound familiar? You've been there. The wedding or bar mitzvah party where you don't know why these kids (anyone younger than you, whether you're 85 or eight and a half) are shaking with loose abandon reminiscent of the primitive mating rituals of certain long-lost cultures. (Of course, these long-lost cultures might still be around today if their mating rituals weren't so primitive.)

    We will only discuss this in the context of during the reception. This is family hour reading, after all. Sort of. Well, my kids don't read it... But they will if I ever have any.

    So, if you're a bubbe-to-be or a zayde-times-three, this column is dedicated to you. It guides you through the most common inhuman contortions that we put ourselves through to remind ourselves beyond any doubt that we are, in fact, only one small evolutionary step away from monkeys. And it's unclear in which direction.

    Most of these songs (and their accompanying dances) are variations of "line dances," also known as "we-don't-know-how-so-let's-all-do-the-same- moves-in-a-line-mimicking-the-one-person-who-really-knows-how dances." In the good old days (before 1995), dancers (polite ones, at least) were concerned merely with avoiding their partners' toes. New dances give people reason to worry for their ankles, shins, faces, and virtually any other body part reachable without a scalpel.

    We'll start with the traditional nusach, then move on to more contemporary pieces.

    "The Locomotion"

    Come on, baby. Do the locomotion. Next to the blessings for your aliyah, it's the most likely common factor between your bar mitzvah and your parents'. Originally written to celebrate the invention of the steam locomotive, it's due for an update.

    "Everybody's doing a brand new dance, now?" If so, it's not the Locomotion. When's the last time you took a train ride? (Subways and els don't count.) That's the last time the Locomotion was a brand new dance, now...

    "The Chicken Dance"

    Avoid it at all costs. Period. I don't care that its origins can be traced to the Talmud. (How else could it have lasted this long?) Baste this bird and serve it at the reception. Save society. Save Jews everywhere. Save yourself. Avoid this most fowl dance at all costs. At least when I'm around. I will not be responsible for my actions.


    Kool and the Gang wrote this song that, thankfully, you can just dance to. "Come on and celebrate and have a good time and use too many conjunctions." Don't worry. Dancing to this song won't drive little Moishe into a Gang (though if you're in Los Angeles, it's already too late). But even LL Cool J figured out how to spell his own name right.


    The key to dancing to "YMCA" is actually spelling out Y-M-C-A with your arms each of the 314 times they say Y-M-C-A in the song "YMCA." Failure to spell out Y-M-C-A each time they say Y-M-C-A in the song "YMCA" indicates to everyone that you were last on a dance floor in 1-9-5-0.

    Of course, whenever possible, you should substitute the little-known Village People re-release "YMHA." Hey, we are Jews.

    "The Electric Slide"

    "You can do it. It's electric. Boogy-woogy-woogy." What else is there to say? A lot. This staple of the '90s party scene will make your foot feel like it's been stapled by the first high-heeled novice you dance next to. Outlawed in 49 states (it's the only source of electricity in Wyoming), it survives due to lack of law enforcement along with other crimes such as failure to use turn signals, playing Barry Manilow albums, and combining peanut butter and SPAM with intent to eat. It's easy when everyone gets the hang of it (the dance, not digesting peanut butter and SPAM), but until then body armor is recommended. At least wear steel boots and a face mask. (Tammy Faye cosmetic applications suffice.)


    Inspired by the Italian dish of the same name, this song (by Los Del Rio) took America by storm in 1996. It first hit northern Cuba (Miami) two years earlier, in the biggest wave since 1992's hit, "Hurricane Andrew" (by El Nino). This song is the most honest admission that we don't know anything on the dance floor. "Macarena" lets people return to pretending to understand the words at services instead of on the dance floor. "Macarena" is in Spanish, and apparently unintelligible when played below 130 decibels. The only words anyone will understand are "Hey, Macarena." (This is conjecture. If we understood the rest, we would never play this song at a wedding or bar mitzvah, considering it's about a young girl who... ** This column is delivered via email, and CyberPatrol has censored the rest of this sentence**)

    "Macarena" eliminates almost all potential for stepping on anybody's toes on the dance floor. Why? You stay in one place the whole time. The Macarena consists of a series of arm gestures considered obscene in certain cultures with primitive mating rituals, ends with a 90-degree turn, then you start again. How simple. Right?

    I'm pleased to report that for every idiot-proof invention, someone invents a better idiot. People turn the wrong way. People forget what to do with their arms. No matter how high we set the limbo rod, someone still smacks their chin into it.

    The bottom line with all these dances is to have a good time. If someone criticizes your dancing, tell them they need another drink. If you listen to their criticism, you need another drink. (Kids, I'm talking about apple cider.)

    Well, I was going to show you how to do these dances. You'll figure them out. These kids learned them without my help. I learned them, and I'm beyond help. You can, too. I always encourage us old people (over 21) to show these youngsters (under 7) who really owns the dance floor. Or, at least to remind them who rented it for the evening.

    Whether you came to watch the bar mitzvah break a glass or to witness the newlyweds participate in their first Jewish ritual since their previous weddings, the important thing is the ceremony itself, and the people directly involved. It's not about the party, and every scene is not about you. It's about an event in Jewish life you're there to witness and celebrate.

    Remember that. You can do it. Boogy-woogy-woogy.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley who is available to teach you how to step on people's toes -- on and off the dance floor.

    For a copy of the best-selling video, "Gettin' Down, Jewish Style" please send $39.95 to Schvitzin' to the Oldies, Box 130052, Birmingham, AL 35213. Allow eighteen months for filming, choreographing, pre-production, copying, delivery, and negotiation with Richard Simmons' agent. The first 500 customers will also receive the official "Electric Slide Suit of Steel." One size fits all.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.