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Hammer's new move

The former rap star is launching an online dance community with how-tos and videos.

January 28, 2008|Monica Hesse | Washington Post

Stop! Hammer Time! Again!

MC Hammer (born Stanley Burrell), the guy who made millions with songs such as "U Can't Touch This," then squandered it away, then became a televangelist, then -- oh, please, did you live in a cave from 1988 to 1996? Anyway, he's back, and this month the 45-year-old is launching DanceJam.com, a user-generated community featuring slo-mo tutorials, dance history and videos of some 150 dances from capoeira to pop 'n' lock. Show the world the brilliance that is your Funky Chicken.

Question: No offense, but we already have YouTube to witness strangers busting moves. Why do we need DanceJam?

Answer: YouTube doesn't have a community around it. You can watch a video and make comments about it, but dancing is about a whole culture. We want to be a repository for all things dance, a place where you can learn about the dance, watch it, put it in slow motion, rewind it, compete in competitions. . . .

Q: Why do you think there's been such a national dance craze lately? "Dancing With the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," 82-year-old grandmas doing the Soulja Boy. . . .

A: Dance is an integral part of the soul of human beings. There hasn't been any time or any area where people didn't dance. In biblical history they talk about David dancing through the kingdom and celebrating with joy. There is an escape in dance. There is a euphoria in dance. There is a victory in dance.

Q: Does it still serve that same purpose of human expression?

A: We take a trip down memory lane when we watch "Dancing With the Stars." We're reliving our history. We're thinking, "If I could dance that well, where would I be?" And every lady wants to be the princess at the ball.

Q: But the dances that they do on that show are all very formalized. It seems like now, in our user-generated culture, everyone's a choreographer.

A: That's true and it's not. Dance has always been a grass-roots, localized happening. That's its culture, going back to the mashed potato, the twist, the jerk, the monkey, Elvis Presley's moves -- one person from one region does a dance, then they tour and bring the dance to another region. That's the way dance has historically evolved.

Q: Are there ways in which environment and geography are affecting current dances?

A: The way we dance in Northern California is a lot different from the way we dance in Southern California. Up in Oakland, the styles called hyphie and turfing were born. Both of those involve "going dumb," which means just letting it all go. It's the urban African American expression of a mosh pit. To go dumb like that is a reaction to unemployment, to feeling abandoned, to feeling like there's no hope. You want to let it all go, so you just go dumb. In Los Angeles, that type of pain is expressed in a much more tribal way. Look at krumping. It looks like young men ready to go to war . . . like they're fighting when they're dancing.

Q: What kinds of dance are you doing these days?

A: I'm a master dancer. A master dancer can go through all of the dances in one record. He can cha-cha and then turn around and krump. Come out of the krump and do a little turf dancing -- then slide into a move from the '70s, add a little '80s cabbage patch, and then keep on going.

Q: The cha-cha? You?

A: The cha-cha is a stalwart to the West Coast African American community. No matter what else comes in or out, the cha-cha is always in.

Q: I notice the Hammer Dance is conspicuously absent from DanceJam's catalog.

A: At the right time, I will introduce several styles of the Hammer Dance -- including tips on executing some of the classic moves -- to DanceJam.

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