Just recently, a prime time network cartoon featured a couple
teens tossing a Toasters record on the stereo, with one friend proclaiming,
"C'mon, let's do the ska!"
If you're a big fan, that probably sounds like a great invitation,
but it may also strike fear into the hearts of young new fans. In fact,
there are many ska fans out there who might (or should) confess to not knowing
much about how to dance to this great music. What exactly is the ska? the
skank? the rocksteady? the monkey?
Before you go crazy with steps and instructions, we must
realize that there are some strange permutations of history that have warped
the history of the skank. In the dancehalls of Kingston, Jamaica, in the
early 1960s, dancers developed a natural style of bouncing and swaying to
the hot new beat. When the dance and music were introduced to the world
at the 1964 World's Fair in New York, however, neither the music, the dancers,
nor the dance were completely authentic. Rather than transport genuine West
Kingston rudies to Flushing, New York, the Jamaican government chose to
present a cleaner, more stylized version to America. Decidely non-Jamaican
dancers Ronnie Nasralla and Jannette Phillips led crowds through dances
like "the ska," "the ska row," and "the ska ride," all of which were much
more regulated than anything done in Kingston. In fact, the classic Jamaican
skank is really very simple, but moving when you see old black and white
footage of well-dressed Jamaicans bouncing in unison.
To do the classic, authentic skank, follow
these simple steps:
for your Skank: Listen along to the traditonal sound of ska, as performed
by The Skatalites,
courtesy of Soundcheck.
And you might want to stare at these guys for inspiration:
Reload this page if these guys stop dancing when you play the ska soundtrack
Step One: Bend Forward
Get that stiffness out of your spine, hang forward, but not too far, and
get those arms and knees loose.
Step Two: Bend Knees and Elbows
Bend your elbows and clench your fists if you want to get that real rude
attitude. Try to look more like you're getting ready to go sprinting rather
Step Three: Claim Your Space
Get those feet shoulder-length apart, move one foot slightly forward, and
take up as much of the dance floor as you can while you start your arms
cranking back and forth. It might help if you pretend your shaking some
Step Four: Start Moving
Feel the beat. Get those arms swinging slightly and feel the bounce as you
swing your hips. Move your weight from one foot to the other with each skank.
Make sure you coordinate your arms and legs. If your right fist is moving
forward, you should also be moving your right knee forward as you shift
your weight. Then shift to the left.
Step Five: Skank to the Beat
Now start to vibe with some classic ska sounds. If you're doing a classic
skank, your feet should not be moving too much. Rather, you should be bouncing
with the upbeats and cranking those elbows. For added style, get a real
cool expression and stare somewhere off in the upper corner of the room.
Preferably with shades.
Now you've got the basic skank, the move that just came naturally
to young Jamaicans. Of course, the form is completely open to personal styles
and variations. Here's an ever-so-quick review of some of the added variations
in ska's brief but great history:
Rocksteady: Steady Rock Easy
For the more mellow rocksteady era, you'll want more of a pose, less movement
in the arms and legs ('cause it too HOT!) and most of your expression coming
from your hips.
When you're ready to strap on your braces and Doc Martens, you can add more
of a snarl and a bit more machoism and testosterone (yes, even you skinhead
gals) to the classic skank. The stomp comes in when you really lift those
boots off the ground and start thomping with the more uptempo rhythms of
Two Tone: Kick-starting the 80s Skank
Here's the classic "rudeboy" skank that most young ska fans today know.
As ska mixes with the tempo of punk, you'll be adding a kick forward with
every beat. You'll have more of a skip and a hop in there as you emulate
your favorite British ska idols.
Ska-core: Slam and Mosh
When the skank hits the States, the more hardcore fans take more from the
punk/metal moshpit then they do from Kingston style. This is where you really
start to see some dance culture clashes on the club floors.
Third Wave: That "Running in Place" Thing
Ah, the great mystery of the 90s. Little skasters jogging in place as fast
as they can. Somewhere in there, there is still some slight evidence of
the skank, and therefore, some hope.
Of course, I'm not the only one out there on the Net with
something to say about the skank. Check out our Skanking
101 Net Links for more visuals, dance steps, and even some animated
dancers, from ska sites from one hemisphere to the other.
In addition, lots of members of the About.com Ska and Reggae
community have been having their say in our Ska/Reggae
Forum. We've got
a good variety of opinions on The State of The Skank, so get your voice
Remember, though, that it's all about enjoying the music.
One forum post, by our devoted ska fan, Skammando, sums it up best for us:
do the reggae, twist, shimmy, shake your ass in circles!"