Let’s face it: We can’t all dance like Beyonce, or Usher, or even Britney Spears at her worst. Haven’t most of us at some point in our lives tried standing in front of the mirror, scrutinizing our poorly executed excuse for *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” dance? (Okay, not most, but some). But lo, there is a place where fancy choreographed dance moves are few and far between — and when they appear, boy do they shimmer with attainability!
What is this land of democratic dance moves called? Rock ‘N’ Freakin’ Roll [rok-uhn-free-kin-rohl] and we’re all invited to get a green card.
To celebrate the kickoff of the Rolling Stones’ 50 & Counting tour this week, we’ve pored over hours of gentlemen high kicks, splits, rubber legs, and crazy hands to pick some of the most outrageous, mimic-able, and downright awesome dance moves ever to grace a rock audience. We’re not talking mere jumping around and fist-pumping, but certifiable and signature dance moves. From moving like Jagger to seizing like Yorke, here are eight of the most memorable male dancers in rock music.
1. Mick Jagger
Who can contest that Jagger is the most celebrated dancer in rock history? I mean, this dude in that successful pop band wrote a Top 10 song just about Jagger’s dance moves! The iconic Englishman has moves like Gumby at 69-years-old and is showing no hints of slowing down. Arms, legs, hips, and toe tips, Jagger uses all his appendages in the most swagger-y way that no one else past or present can improve upon.
Signature Move – “The Hip-Hawk”
Arms up and out, hips swaying right to left in a metronomic trance, almost independently of the rest of the body.
Also very important to note, Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s video for “Dancing In The Street” is the greatest and most confusing dance video to ever come out of rock.
He’s the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll and a dancing machine. Presley’s pelvis-rattling moves put female fans (and their angry parents) in such a tizzy during the1950s that the Ed Sullivan Show attempted to censor him by shooting him only above the waist when he began to dance during his appearances. Man, if those audiences could’ve seen our pop stars today!
Signature Move – “Rebel Legs”
Elvis had the original rock ‘n’ roll sway, most certainly nicked from African-American entertainers and given his own spin. The whole effect is less controlled than Jagger’s and more like a man who’s trying to keep up with his legs. Whether moving with the hips or popping knees at super speed, but it’s never really known what they’ll do, or where the music will take them.
3. Ian Curtis
Perhaps not as slick as the others on the list, but Ian Curtis’s unmistakable dance style became an integral part of Joy Division legend. Audiences in the ’70s hypothesized Curtis was on drugs while performing, or the unnerving moves were the result of epileptic seizures he suffered throughout his life. In reality, his flailing arms and wild-man eyes were due to neither drugs, nor epilepsy — although Curtis did have on-stage seizures where he had to be carried off. But the frontman’s erratic, almost disturbing performances were reflective something much darker, as Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself in 1980.
Signature Move – “The Prey”
It’s not quite the “Running Man”, but a desperate display of pumping arms and shaking knees as if running from the most hideous of nightmares, or futilely trying to shadowbox the inner demons.
4. Axl Rose
The Guns N’ Roses frontman inspired the Aquanet fantasies of girls across the globe in the late ’80s and early ’90s, being the epitome of the Sunset Strip rockstar. But with his diva antics and the culture shifting from hard rock to grunge, Rose and his dance moves soon became the oft-maligned target of comedians, parodists, and even his eventual replacement in the rock limelight, Kurt Cobain. But regardless of what a d-bag he was reported to be, his signature move was so famously distinct, that it garnered an official name far before I could make one up.
Signature Move – “The Snake Dance”
A spin-off of Jagger’s “Hip-Hawk”, but a full-body sway with a little shuffle and an equal amount of shoulder, making for an upright slither.
5. Dennis Lyxzen
From rocker kicks with Refused to Motown shimmies with the (International) Noise Conspiracy, Swedish post-hardcore cult figure Dennis Lyxzen is one of the most nimble and audience-rousing rock frontmen in the last twenty years. His dance moves have only gotten better over time to culminate in what I call the present-day “natural blonde” era where his performances are at their peak.
He’s got the jump kick, the split jump, the head bang, the Mod step, the hip sway, the sideways shuffle; Lyxzen has so many genre-spanning moves to bust out, but still has the spontaneity appropriate of rock. Who else can move seamlessly from a ravenous mosh pit, to a chic floor of Mod revivalists, to a podium on Soul Train?
Signature Move: “The Magic Mic”
A staple in the on-stage performance lexicon, very few can actually toss around a microphone as fluidly and consistently as a ninja. But Lyzxen has some seriously slick, almost effortless mic juggling skills that includes tossing a mic and catching it on his chest as he falls backwards on the floor.
Also see: Ian Svenonius of The Make-up and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist of the Hives.6. Beck
We’re a big fan of surprises. So when Beck hit the stage at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, the world beheld one of the best James Brown impressions ever attempted by an awkward, skinny white dude. The performance was a complete 180-degree flip from his former self, who cut his teeth on his ultimate ’90s slacker anthem “Loser”. From then on, the man whose iron grip on the word “eclectic” built up his dance catalog, trying everything from breakdancing to the caterpillar (with varied results). Sadly nowadays, you’d rarely see a pop or lock from the now long-haired, Petty’d-out musician.
Signature Move: “The Drop Split”
You’d never think Beck could be that flexible. I’d like to see hipster guys in Brooklyn or Silverlake attempt that in a vintage suit.
7. Freddie Mercury
The Queen frontman didn’t really have anything that we’d consider distinguishable dance moves, but his entire presence was one elaborate and beautiful dance. At times he was elegant, other times borderline metal, and many times unabashedly sexual. But just a twist, or an over the shoulder glance was all it took to hypnotize an audience.
Signature Move – All of it, just all of it.
8. And then there’s Thom Yorke…
I know, right?
What are your favorite dancers in rock? Leave your comments below!