One of the more sociable activities absent during the current COVID-19 restrictions has been that much cherished pastime called dancing – no dancing in clubs and pubs, no dancing at weddings and no dancing at children’s dance schools. Admittedly there has been an explosion of TikTok boogie moves and Zoom party choreography, but nothing beats the real face to face experience. One aspect of community dancing that is seldom discussed is the ritual element, one that brings and binds people together in an almost sacramental experience.
Sydney has been home to these unique dancing phenomena for many years and perhaps now is the time to recall some of the more unusual and fanatical. Let’s begin back in the early 60s and the old Kings Cross Theatre which was home to one of Sydney’s earliest rock venues in the shape of Surf City. It was here that hundreds of teenagers gathered every Friday and Saturday night, paying the princely sum of 10 shillings to romp to the sounds of Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs. Beat and surf music was all the go and the dance style that erupted almost spontaneously was ‘the stomp’. There was no great skill in learning its very basic movies – just stomping your feet on the ground as if you were extinguishing cockroaches and flailing your arms in all directions.
There was a certain primeval aspect to ‘the stomp’, like Neanderthals bonding around an open fire and a similar ritual sprung to life some 20 years later. The venue was the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel, home to the part dance, part percussive obsession called ‘thong clapping’. Here the faithful would gather, packed in like sardines, banging their flip flops together to a musical accompaniment with the kind of religious frenzy normally reserved for self-flagellation. In recent years the pub has attempted to revive the activity but nothing has captured the mania that existed in the 1980s.
‘Go Go’ dancing, with frugging gals in gilded cages, was once synonymous with the 60s and venues in Sydney like the Whiskey Au Go Go in William Street. In the late 90s the tradition was reborn in one of Sydney’s most eclectic night clubs, the now legendary Sounds Of Seduction at the Lansdowne Hotel. With dj’s Jay Katz and Miss Death and a bevy of exotically clad Go Go dancers, both female and male, the dancefloor was a perpetual scrum of retro style gyrating and whatever dance moves you felt appropriate. This was freestyle dancing at its finest, free of any pretence, sweaty, crazy and and frenetic to say the least.
Finally one of the least celebrated but stunningly original dance moves originated in the early 80s with the Sydney band Outline and their absurdist, Zapparesque song, The Cicada That Ate Five Dock. Regarded as one of the great unsung gems of the Australian rock songbook, the tune reportedly also inspired its own dance style, ‘the cicada’. When the band belted out this extraordinary tale of a giant cicada that invaded Five Dock, the audience quickly embraced the narrative with insect like mannerisms – or so the story goes.
Perhaps when the pandemic is finally over and social dancing returns we could continue the legacy of Outline and celebrate other Australian fauna in song and dance. ‘Do The Funky Bin Chicken’, ‘The Wombat Watusi’, ‘The Bandicoot Boogaloo’ and the patently obvious ‘Kangaroo Hop’. Hey – you make me feel like dancing!