Does life get any more sophisticated--or any more primal--than dancing?
Before human beings wrote books, before they strummed strings, before they painted pictures, they probably jumped, stomped, twirled and rocked. In ancient cave paintings in France and Spain, groups of figures seem to be dancing.
It's an art form found in nearly every culture on the planet, whether the purpose is ceremonial, entertainment or social. Its pull is strong--as some shows around town will demonstrate.
If you feel like it's time to face the music, the Conga Room (5364 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.  938-1696) is a good place to start. The club offers dance lessons ($12 per person for one hour) on Thursdays and Fridays from 8 to 9 p.m.
Stick around tonight and you can try out your new moves to the salsa sounds of Tito Rojas, who has been singing since the '70s but hit his stride in the '90s when salsa became popularized in the U.S. He plays shows at 10 and 11:45 p.m. $27 to $55.
Joyful movement can erupt from the most dire circumstances. "Gumboots" showcases the dance and music that came out of some of the most oppressive working conditions in apartheid-era South Africa. Blacks working in gold mines donned rubber boots to wade through the continually flooding mines. They were chained together. They could not speak.
The workers developed a sort of Morse code of stomps, slaps and jangled chains to communicate. Outside the mines, these gestures combined with Zulu dances and singing into a new dance form. The South African ensemble performing "Gumboots" shifts from melancholy to exuberance and back, always, though, with catchy rhythms. "Gumboots" continues through Dec. 10 at the Wilshire Theatre, (8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. $27 to $52.  365-3500).
Many of the moves featured in the revue "Swing!" came out of the Great Depression. The Lindy hop, the jitterbug and other swing styles were the inspiration for the show, which got two Tony nominations for director-choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett. To put the show together, she got champion swing dancers to act, and Broadway dancers to swing.
The L.A. show is slightly different than the Broadway version--which is still running--because Taylor-Corbett customized it to the talents of the touring cast.
"Swing!" runs through Jan. 14 at the Ahmanson Theatre (135 N. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Also Sun., Dec. 17 and 31 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 7 and 21, Jan. 4 and 11 at 2 p.m. $32.50 to $70.  628-2772).
If you haven't seen "Billy Elliot" yet, you're out of step. Sure, you've seen most of it before--it's a little bit "Flashdance" in a "Full Monty" setting--but you haven't seen Jamie Bell. He plays 11-year-old Billy, the kid from a family of coal miners who longs to dance, with remarkable heart and naturalness.
Julie Walters plays the tough but caring mentor who teaches a local ballet class and spots Billy's natural talent. Gary Lewis is the father who is raising Billy alone since the death of his wife. The movie, in selected theaters, is rated R for profanity.