May 26, 2018

Hula hoops and dance prop crazes during manic phase of pop music energy cycle

In the post on the restless warm-up phase of the pop music energy cycle, we saw how common it is for people to take part in tightly rule-governed dance fads. The idea is that they are coming out of their refractory state during the previous mellow, vulnerable phase of the cycle, and they need some warm-up exercises to do before they reach the manic phase.

Dance fads that are simplified and where everyone is doing the exact same motions, are easy to get into for people who are just waking up from a deep sleep -- they don't require that much coordination, and they don't expose an individual to awkwardness since everyone is doing the same moves.

What happens to dance styles once people shift into the manic phase? These are like the real sports or activities that people do after warm-up exercises in gym class. They still have constraints or rules, and they still have a basic tool kit that they employ, but it's more improvisational and whole-body. They're no longer socially awkward, and can "dance like no one's watching" (although they are), and they have sufficiently warmed up with the simplified fads of the previous phase that they can execute more complex and spontaneous sequences of motions.

It's hard to provide examples of this different style since, unlike the easily name-able fads, they aren't so uniform and identical across individuals that you can give it a single name that everyone recognizes. But looking over dance crazes from the manic phase, I did notice one thing that distinguishes them -- the use of dance props like hula hoops, jump ropes, glow sticks, and objects that are usually manipulated by jugglers.

Dancing with props is like rhythmic gymnastics, which is subjective and free-form, and where each performer has their own unique routine or style within a larger hazy yet identifiable genre. It's more difficult for judges to give grades, unlike a highly regulated and uniform kind of dance.

"Rhythm" is the key word here -- the objects aren't just being moved around any old way, or just standing idly by for decoration, but in repetitive sequences that keep time with the beat of the music. During the warm-up phase, people need simple and explicit instructions to move rhythmically: "To the right, to the right, to the left, to the left, now kick, now kick, now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself."

During a manic phase, when they're already warmed up, they seek high levels of rhythmic activity, like moving the whole body as well as manipulating one or more objects in time with the music. And doing so in a more free-form way instead of following the simple instructions of the singer / dance-leader. While spiking in energy levels, they're chasing a high -- and they can't achieve that with training wheels on. On the spectators' part, they get more of a rush seeing not just a body moving rhythmically, but a body with objects moving together rhythmically.

Because they require more skill or more extraversion to perform, only a minority of dancers will take them up even during the manic phase. But they will be common enough to identify the time period, unlike other periods in which they were marginal or invisible.

We'll start the survey with the most recent manic phase that is still familiar, the early 2010s. First, there was hula hoop mania. Here is the US search traffic for "hula hoop," which does not settle into a regular annual rise-and-fall pattern until 2010, peaking in 2013, and falling off afterwards:

Search YouTube for hula hoop, or "hooping" as the performers called it, and you'll find most results from the first half of the 2010s. Girls have been uploading videos of themselves dancing since YouTube began in the mid-2000s, and still are -- but the hula hoop videos are concentrated in the manic phase only. They're not only doing simple repetitious round-and-round body movements, but manipulating the hoop with their hands, arms, feet, neck, etc., and not just making it spin around a body part, but tossing and catching it, jumping through it, etc., again more like rhythmic gymnastics.

Then there was the "poi" craze with the Burning Man types -- using each hand to swing a tether with a weight on the end. It was common across all types of props to use high-key brightness against darkness in order to enhance the spectacle -- fire, LED lights, glow sticks, or bright paint. Related to poi was "fire spinning" using other props, like a staff with fire at both ends.

And while not as widespread, there was clearly something in-the-air about jump ropes -- why not? -- that Katy Perry's tour featured them during the dance routine for her biggest hit of the time, "Roar":

These trends extended across a wide range of people, not confined to just a narrow sub-culture. You don't get any more mainstream than Katy Perry's audience. There were performance art types into the fire poi. And every group of girls was into hooping -- country, pop, rock, electronic, you name it. Normies, nerdies, hippies, gothies -- the entire culture was in the mood.

During the previous manic phase of the late '90s, there were the ravers moving glow sticks and glow ropes around with hand and arm motions, along with ropes or ribbons akin to the poi of the next manic phase. The stoner crew were into devil sticks, or moving around a baton using two handheld sticks, which would be revived during the next manic phase. While closer to juggling than dance, the diabolo performances were still set to music. Cirque du Soleil featured the diabolo in three shows from the late '90s, and revived it in 2009 and 2012.

And although hula hoops themselves were not central to the period, the ravers did have long loops anchored at hip level that moved similarly to hoops if they moved their body around. They also wore assorted jingly-janglies around their wrist and neck, which while not manipulated still added rhythmic props.

Going back to the early '80s manic phase, the dance prop craze was not as pronounced, probably because people were less competitive and attention-seeking during the Great Compression, which was just wrapping up, compared to the more competitive people of the status-seeking and widening-inequality period since then, including the late '90s and early 2010s.

The main example was jumping rope, especially in a gymnastic or acrobatic way like Double Dutch, although the aerobicizing trend incorporated jumping rope to music too. Before, during the '70s, improvisational and musical jump rope routines were limited to a sub-culture of urban African-Americans, whereas it hit the mainstream during the first half of the '80s (as seen in this retrospective from the Denver Post, fittingly written in 2013).

Although not a widespread trend, here is the no less iconic forerunner of the glow-in-the-dark stick used as a dance prop for electronic music, Taco's neon dancing cane from the video for "Puttin' on the Ritz":

The original manic phase of the late '60s was in fact where the hula hoop craze began. The toy may have been introduced in the late '50s, but it only lasted less than a year, and was not part of a wider music-and-dance craze. See this historical account from the Washington Post. It only really caught on when it was re-released in 1967, when it was also modified to have BBs inside of it, so that it made a rattling sound when moved around (the "shoop-shoop hula hoop"). That made it into a rhythmic musical instrument of its own, much better suited to a period of free-form and free-spirited dancing to upbeat bouncy music. They also dyed the plastic with brighter colors than the original -- LEDs were not an affordable option yet.

This video is from no later than 1972, just after the spike in hula hoop interest during the manic phase of the late '60s, but still shows it being used as a rhythmic dance prop rather than just a toy to kill some time with.

Although the dance prop craze is behind us at this point, there's only a few more years left in the mellow refractory phase, to be followed by about five years in the warm-up phase of color-by-numbers dance fads. So we're still only about eight years away from another rise in interest in improvisational prop dancing, with a peak lying about ten years away. High schoolers who are currently bored out of their minds during this mellow, emo phase will find themselves hula-hooping and fire-twirling by the time they're 25.


  1. Those prop types of dances require a much higher level of focus and energy-expenditure, so they are popular when people are feeling more manic.

    Acrobatic spectacles are more popular during the manic phases. For instance, the acrobatic performance show "Cirque Du Soleil" premiered in the summer of 1984(a high point for manic activity). Cirque Du Soleil heavily features props such as tossing rings and swings.

    The Broadway musical "The Lion King", which also heavily features acrobatic performances, premiered in July 1997 - another peak for the manic zeitgeist.

    Another acrobatic musical, the Broadway classic "Cats", premiered in 1981.

    The musical "War Horse", which has actors using props to pretend to be a horse, as well as other performing other difficult physical feats, premiered on Broadway in 2011.

    You also see cinematic movies featuring more high-intensity, complex dancing during the manic period. For instance, "Footloose" premiered in 1984. It was remade in 2011.

    "Flashdance" - 1983
    "Saturday Night Fever" - 1979

    We see that in music videos as well. As you pointed out, dancing became more popular in the mid-90s with TLC, The Real McCoy, and then peaking around '98-99 with the late 90s boy bands "N'Sync" and "Backstreet Boys", as well as the early music of Britney Spears.

    These highly choreographed dances are characteristic of the mid-to-late 90s.

  2. You can try to decipher trends by watching music videos of each period.

    For instance, dancing features in music videos during the warm-up and manic phases. Dancing becomes absent during the refractory period.

    You see that by seeing how an individual artist changes his style. "N'Sync" music videos featured choreographed dances. But in the video for Justin Timberlake's hit "Cry Me a River", 2003 - there is no dancing.

    Likewise for the video for "Sexyback", released in 2003:

    But then in the video for "Can't stop the feeling", dancing comes back:

    Another trend - driving fast cars or racing cars more likely in warmup/manic periods. For instance, in the video for "My Life would suck without you"(Kelly Clarkson), we see a boyfriend and girlfriend goof off by speeding their car around a neighborhood.

    Traveling or going on a plane ride also more common in videos for Warmup/manic phases. For instance, the previously posted video for "Makes me Wonder"(2007), by Maroon 5, which shows a businessman traveling through an airport and taking a plane ride.

    Pools or swimming are more prominent in the refractory period. One example is the music video for "She Will be Loved"(2004) by Maroon 5, where a pool features prominently. There's no dancing in that video, either.

    Or the angsty movie "Garden State"(2004), which has an incredibly laidback and mellow soundtrack. There is a pool scene in that movie, also. The characters are not horsing around or goofing off in the pool, but just relaxing.

    Why would pools be more prominent in the refractory periods? Maybe because water tends to have a relaxing, soothing effect. Remember, in the refractory zeitgeist, people are trying to relax themselves, calm themselves down. In the warmup and manic zeitgeists, people are trying to excite and stimulate themselves. Pool parties may also be common in the manic period, but it would be more people horsing around; or swimming energetically by themselves in a pool.

    "Garden State" also has a party scene where nobody dances. The song that plays, by "Zero 7", is very mellow.

    Note that the party scene is still more outgoing and wild, as people hookup or converse with each other. It shows that you can still be outgoing and more mature, while also being more passive and non-active.

  3. The movie "Singin' in the Rain"(1952) had a song called "Gotta Dance". Early 50s were a manic peak.

    Another idea: people are more likely to consume new media content - watch new movies, read new books, etc. - during the manic phase. But during the mellow phase, they are more likely revisit old things - reread the same books, re-watch the same movies, etc. Rereading or re-watching something takes way less energy then exploring something new - it has a more soothing effect, whereas reading a new book creates more tension.

    In the refractory period, there's more focus on processing past experiences; in the manic period, more emphasis on living in the present.

  4. Dance movies were big during the early '80s manic phase -- Flashdance, Footloose, Fame, Breakin', and Staying Alive (sequel to Saturday Night Fever) were all major box office hits.

    From the second half of the '90s, there was Showgirls, but that flopped at the box office.

    Early 2010s had Black Swan, a major hit.

    These are all movies about dance as an athletic and expressive activity, something that benefits heavily from being in a manic state. They tend to focus on performers before an audience, requiring higher levels of extraversion.

    There are dance movies from the vulnerable and warm-up phases, but they're not about the performance before an audience -- they're about dancing as a lead-up activity to romance. How can we make sure that Boy meets Girl? Have them working together as dance partners, who gradually develop feelings for each other during their teamwork. Plot problem solved.

    These movies don't focus much on the athletic or gymnastic qualities of dance, nor on expressiveness. It's just a fun, low-key hobby that two people happen to share, bringing them into initial contact so that a romance can develop.

    Hardly any were popular, except Dirty Dancing, from the refractory phase of the late '80s. There were a bunch of clones during the early and late 2000s. The genre hit parody levels by 2009, when the spoof "Dance Flick" was released.

    These sub-manic dance movies suck, both as narratives and as dance and musical performances. Try as I might to level up my '80s stats, I've never been able to sit through more than five minutes of Dirty Dancing when it's been on TV. Soundtrack is OK -- main theme is kind of sappy but has a funky groove here and there, the Patrick Swayze song is gay, but "Hungry Eyes" does have those wonderful synth bells during the chorus.

    Flashdance remains the standard: plot and characters are good enough to not ruin the spectacle of the music and dance parts, and its cinematography is one of the most chiaroscuro examples ever shot (plus being a rare movie filmed in Pittsburgh):

  5. Beat Street ('84) break dancing battle:

    The tone of this particular scene is one of amiable competitiveness (whereas the mid-century equivalent probably would have less competition altogether, and the late 90's or "contemporary" equivalent would've had more "in your face, bitch" crassness). I believe most of the "actors" in the breakdancing scene were just real street kid dancers, so it makes sense that they could have so much fun in the early 80's, whereas if they had cast high level dancers or ACTORS the signs of rising striving would've been more evident, given that elites succumbed to striving as early as the mid-70's.

    "From the second half of the '90s, there was Showgirls, but that flopped at the box office."

    That movie really is a good example of how not to appeal to the audience. It's too cliched and hokey to appeal to male viewers (and the dance theme doesn't help), yet it's also too self-aware and sleazy to appeal to women and girls (in fact, the NC-17 rating meant that girls would not see it). Women want predictable and safe entertainment at the theater (their weirdo fantasies can be sated with their boyfriends/husbands and with chick lit), men want story and content boundaries to be pushed with a minimum of sap. Not unlike how with music, it's guys who want complexity, solos, and the occasional splash of flippancy or brashness, while with girls it's always about earnest expression of feelings.

  6. Another pattern: In refractory music videos, the singer is often shown lying in bed.

    For instance, in the video for "Breathe"(Faith Hill), the most popular Billboard song of 2000.

    Or for the music video for the song "We Belong Together"(Mariah Carey), the most popular Billboard song of 2005:

  7. Here's another example of a slow song, early 2000s, which prominently features a pool - "Burn" by Usher:

  8. This may be reaching, but Space Age accomplishments are more likely to happen during manic highs. Moon landing in 1969, first space shuttle flight in early '80s, beginning of the construction of the International Space Station in late '90s(completed in 2011), exploration of Mars in the early 2010s. NASA employees are more likely to give extra effort during the crunch time of manic highs.

    Space Age disasters are more likely to happen in the refractory periods. The explosion of the Challenger in 1986; the Columbia tragedy in 2003. Construction of the ISS was suspended for a time following the Columbia tragedy.

    Apollo 13 happened during a manic high(1968), but NASA workers, and the astronauts themselves, were able to save the flight by putting forth a heroic effort, as depicted in the movie of same name.


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