From Kate Bush to Hotline Bling: an unofficial history of pulling (awkward) shapes

Celebrating the nan-friendly hand gestures, drunken-uncle moves and trapped-in-a-box shapes of wacky pop-culture dancing

1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush

Like Nicolas Cage’s acting or Tracy Emin’s bedsheets, there remains no consensus as to whether this routine, first performed 40 years ago, is genius or hammy. If you know it was the groundbreaking starting gun to Bush’s career you’ll say it’s a spectacular meeting of dance, literature and pop never seen before or since. But show it to a clueless Gen-Zer and they’ll tell you it’s Noel Fielding doing a “trapped in a box” bit.

2. Ally McBeal’s dancing baby

This 3D animation of a baby in a nappy, waving its arms and shaking its hips like it was last on the dancefloor in a regional branch of Tiger Tiger, was one of the first ever internet memes. It had such longevity because the guy who created it allowed it to be reproduced royalty-free, meaning it quickly showed up in adverts, news outlets and, eventually, on TV, as a hallucination reminding Ally McBeal of her biological clock.

3. Telephone, Lady Gaga ft Beyoncé

There is a very narrow line between “this is a mess” and “this a celebration of, critical comment on, and furthering of the girlband choreography of the 90s”. Gaga, the queen of bad-but-amazing dance routines, pulls this one off, transposing X Factor moves in a Tarantino murder spree. She even makes Beyoncé do something silly, a feat not managed since.

4. Hotline Bling, Drake

Up until this point, Drake was trying desperately to make people forget he was ever a child star by appearing in ever more phoney hip-hop cliche videos, from club scenes to gangster shootouts, yet people still mocked him for being “soft”, the punchline of a thousand memes (“Drake the type of guy to die in a pillow fight” was one). But as soon as he embraced his performative side – dancing like a drunk uncle at a barmitzvah in this 2015 video – everyone thought he was cool. In fact, they found the one shot in the video where he grimaces and used that to make memes about how he doesn’t take any crap.

5. Strip That Down, Liam Payne

What happens when you learn about hip-hop culture and street dance mostly via Cheryl Tweedy’s very tempered ITV version of it? Nan-friendly hand gestures all the way.

6. New Rules, Dua Lipa

One: have a middling career where things are going OK but you struggle to break through. Two: record an elegant music video in which you and a harem of girls in pastel dressing gowns create a ritual out of not calling an ex. Three: suddenly become really famous and put on gigs at the Hollywood Palladium and Alexandra Palace. (Four: slightly regret that your live show now involves a strenuous dance routine.)

7. The 2017 VMAs, Lorde

The first time I saw Lorde do this performance, I thought it was an incisive comment on the facile pomposity of award shows: refusing to sing like a glammed-up puppet, she instead danced around the stage like a fan listening to Lorde’s music, puncturing the illusion of celebrity. It turned out she’d actually lost her voice the day of the show. If other pop stars are worried about their awards performances being too apolitical, they should try smoking 50 Marlboros after Taylor Swift has spiked their drink and see what they come up with.

8. Won’t Forget You, Pixie Lott ft Stylo G

In which a group of dancing slaves in silk slips rearrange chairs, mats and a hotel luggage cart so that Pixie Lott’s bare feet barely touch the ground. Not quite sure what she was aiming at here, but if you imagine the floor was a decent chorus and she’s doing everything in her way to avoid touching it, it starts to make sense.


Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

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