Why Couldn’t We Dance?

What’s your top Music from 2020?

In my former life as Head Coach of a CrossFit gym, I used to ask a daily Question of the Day (I’ve written about the practice before). In the beginning of December, as everyone was flooding their Instagram stories with their Spotify Top Tens, my curiosity was prompted about what music people in the gym listened to in their free time. Now, I must say, asking “what’s your favorite music?” is a poor man’s Question of the Day, this I admit. They can’t all be crafts of creativity. But, since we played music 100% of the time we were in the gym and it was a current trend on social media, I asked “What music have you listened to the most in the past year?” 

I got a lot of standard answers. Artist names you know, genres that dominate certain age groups. I got a few answers I’d never heard of, which you expect as well, there’s always a hip iconoclast in the group. One answer that I’d never heard of, though, stuck out to me: “Jerusalema” by Master KG. This was the answer of one of our members who was originally from Albania. He told me, “No one in the US has heard it, but it’s the biggest song in the rest of the world.” 

#JerusalemaChallenge

I had to check it out. I searched the song on Spotify, there were a ton of versions, many remixes. I listened to what I thought was the standard version. A standard beat to start, a building melody, climaxes and drops back in. Good song, catchy. I then found out that there was an attendant dance to go along with the song. I’ve always been interested in these group dances, going back to the “Tootsie Roll” when I was in middle school, to the snap dance when I was in college, to “Teach Me How to Dougie”, and many more in my post college years; I at least want to grasp the basics, most of them are pretty similar. I searched on YouTube for the “Jerusalema dance”…there were thousands of videos.

All over the world. All ages. Kids, grandparents. Nuns, priests, teachers, flight attendants, athletes, maybe even a few trained dancers. The videos haven’t stopped being posted.  Police in Ireland recently answered the #jeruslalemachallenge from police in Switzerland. The song, originally recorded and released in South Africa in 2019, was a hit in Africa and then spread across Europe and the world, reaching #1 in the charts in many countries. I must say though, few of the videos were submitted from the US, a couple from dance studios. My Albanian friend was right: everyone else in the world was dancing to this song, but we in the US were not joining in. Why?

Not That Kind Of Party

There is one easy answer for why we didn’t jump on the dance craze in the US: the song wasn’t in English. While the rest of the world may be very multilingual or linguistically open, we’re much more rigid here in the states. While that may be true to an extent, that argument falls apart when you look at the success of songs like “Macarena” or “Gangam Style”, international hits with attendant dances and little english in the lyrics. I was a kid when the “Macarena” hit and don’t think I’ve seen a dance craze quite like that.

Of course, 2020 wasn’t a good time for a dance party. COVID-19, ever heard of it? Well, that argument falls by the wayside when you acknowledge that this is a global pandemic. There are plenty of Jerusalema Challenge videos from Italy, where the song was not only #1, but they had some of the most serious outbreaks and harshest lockdowns. For much of the world, “Jerusalema” acted as a unifying source of shared hope and joy.

Therein lies the rub, the US was anything but unified in 2020. There was the largest civil unrest since 1968 in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. We then had a contentious election where each side depicted the other as a mortal foe of the republic: a global socialist on one side against a fascist tyrant on the other. The stakes were too high. No time for dancing.

“Fair enough.” I thought. Not our year to have fun with a global dance craze. We had too much terrible stuff to worry about.

Masaka Kids Africana

As a wonderful by product of my search through the Jerusalema Dance Challenge videos, I came across Masaka Kids Africana, a group of kids from Uganda who post dance videos and songs of their own on social media and YouTube. I started following them on Instagram and one of their posts always brings a smile to my face when it comes up in my feed. I was so treated yesterday, when one of their recent posts came up. I watched the shoeless children dance next to corroding brick buildings, wearing mismatched clothing with the biggest smiles that faces can hold. They are holding joy and light in this world.

Masaka Kids Africana is an organization that cares for orphaned children in Uganda. According to their website, these children have been orphaned due to “due to the AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty, and decades of civil conflict.” So then, we have to ask, was our last year worse than the conditions of orphans in Uganda? The country has had actual dictators, coups, and decades of violence in the streets. Have we been so spoiled, gotten so entitled, lost so much perspective, so completely ungrateful that we can’t smile in the face of adversity. Are we so averse to unity and hope? 

Dance Together

So, we’re left with the question again, why couldn’t the US join in on the dance? Dancing is the physical embodiment of joy and harmony. We have been the embodiment of fear and resentment. You can’t dance while afraid. You can’t dance when ruminating in resentment. You can’t dance with a closed heart. You must give your body over to the movements of the music in a joyful manner. That shouldn’t be an impossible task, despite hardships. We would do well to head the words of Nigerian recording artist Burna Boy when speaking about the dance, “My hope is that it unites us through our divisions and misunderstandings and dance together.”