The Hustle, the Marketplace and New York Dominance
In my last article I spoke about why so many New Yorkers love the Hustle and how the "kids" of New York help introduce this dance to the world. Now some people may have taken exception with that statement.
After all, the world is a pretty big place and wasn't there more than a just handful of people doing this dance? And well, many people influenced and contributed to this dance, right? The answers to these questions are both yes … and no.
Yes, there were thousands upon thousands of people from all over the metropolitan area and the country doing the Hustle. Thousands from Westchester to Long Island, from Florida to California and beyond were stepping out onto the dance floor.
Many others taught, borrowed and stole moves from each other as well as other dances. Some excellent dancers that were simply incredible to watch are only known in local places where they hung out; and for better or worse have become a footnote in Hustle history.
Still, ultimately the marketplace helped establish who the players were, and how they would become the face of this dance to the eventual tens of thousands that were trying to emulate it.
So no, there really aren't more than a handful of dancers that can truly say they were the "face" of the Hustle, and be honest about it.
These are the people that allowed themselves to be judged, applauded, embarrassed and even booed. They doggedly worked at perfecting what they were doing. They tried to be creative, innovative and different in how they presented and performed this dance.
These are the people who stepped up and decided to take the risk and the challenge of putting themselves out on the dance floor in both show and competitive environments over and over again.
To be honest, some really couldn't do this dance that well. They where just good performers with maybe a great acrobatic trick, others were better dancers than they were performers, and some … were all of the above and more.
Still, fair or not, the marketplace, through the public's responses to their performances, was the final judge and jury. The marketplace has been instrumental in determining how some of these people would become the face of the Hustle and others would not. That's not an elitist or myopic statement – it's just a fact.
To make my point, how many people remember Michael Jackson's electrifying performance of "Billie Jean" on the Motown 25 television special?
The year was 1983. For millions it was the first time they had ever seen the moonwalk done. People talked about it for weeks and months and imitators galore sprang up everywhere.
Forget the fact that the moonwalk had been done by pantomime artists for who knows how long and had been done by Break Dancers from all over the country for years. (I remember seeing it done in a club in LA while I was competing in the Playboy contest in 1979).
Can anyone tell me who invented the moonwalk? Was it in some little club or street corner ... somewhere? Does anyone know where it had been used, done or perfected with absolute certainty for the first time?
No, I don't think so. It took Michael Jackson and a knock out performance on national television to popularize it and he did it so well that he became synonymous with it and it with him. The marketplace decided that he, Michael Jackson, would become the "face" of the moonwalk.
The same can be said for the Hustle. Without doubt there were many contributors to this dance in direct and indirect ways. But why was it that a handful of kids from New York were able to dominate as the face of this dance called Hustle?
Forget about the personalities and personal feelings toward any particular individual or the caliber of their dancing or even lack thereof.
The question is, why did the general dance marketplace 9.5 times out of 10, time and time again, choose someone from New York or someone with a "New York look", as the face of the Hustle?
Well, as I mentioned in my last article, in the beginning there were no dance events, socials or Pro-Am Competitions to build your name or to showcase your ability. Your skills were honed in the clubs and the club competitions are where you demonstrated and spotlighted your talent and abilities.
It is where you got your credibility, your "street cred" so to speak. Although there were hundreds of contests and promotional events held, back in the mid-seventies and eighties from all over the country, there were only a handful that stand out as true landmarks in my opinion.
I consider them landmarks because they were predominately built around showcasing the Hustle or "Disco" and meet all of the following criteria: 1) the size of the prize or contract, typically 5k or higher, 2) large national or regional (3 states or more) exposure, 3) caliber of the competition and/or the number (10 or more) of contestants and 4) the impact that they had on popularizing this dance.
When these criteria are used as benchmarks you will see that the results all have a common element. That is, as a matter of historical fact, they were all dominated by the kids from New York.
Without question, it would be these same contests or events that would put a face on this dance that is still evident today. Because no matter what you think of the personalities or even the dance abilities of the players, the bottom line is that you can't take away or dismiss their accomplishments.
And these accomplishments are significant when you weigh their ages, lack of formal training, the poise that was needed to perform on these large stages, the newness of what they were doing and the fact that their accomplishments have withstood the test of time. (Some are still being talked about and in some cases still performing some 30 plus years later).
And to answer an analogy from my friend Chuck Fetta, yes there were many signers of the Declaration of Independence, but there were only a handful that had the courage, vision, initiative, drive and took the risk to make the signing happen. (Check out the HBO series John Adams – it's really great.)
Again, I want to make clear that I'm just trying to give some perspective as to the how and why New York is the de facto standard for how the Hustle is done and became such a dominate force in Hustle to this day.
It is not my intent to detract from any of the unsung heroes who have contributed to this dance in other ways. Nor am I advocating that winning a dance contest or dancing on a TV show automatically makes you a Hustle expert. Far from it!
There is many a great teacher that have never won a dance contest or performed anywhere. But they have a true understanding of the dynamics of this dance, the theories behind touch dancing and how to communicate these things
The facts are that from 1977-1981, as the dance took off, performing at a major event or winning a major contest was note worthy because they were groundbreaking, fresh, and new. They paved the way and set the standards by which people would be evaluated and helped shape the public's perception of this dance.
Perceptions that would last long after those events occurred. Some may even argue that some of the perceptions weren't always in the best interest or the long term health of the dance, but that's another discussion.
So, for better or worse, like it or not, the names that continually pop up repeatedly were people from New York.
So I want everyone to sit back, take a breath and try to "hear" where I'm coming from in detailing how New York dominated the Hustle dance marketplace for so many years, set the standard for the dance, and how the marketplace helped determine how some people became the faces of the Hustle.
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