If dance isn't funny, then why is it vital to one of the UK's biggest comedy events?
For those of you unfamiliar, the event in question, Red Nose Day, raises funds annually in the UK by encouraging the public to 'do something funny for money'. The concept was formulated shortly after the launch of Comic Relief, a charity founded in 1986 to support the needy both here and in Africa.
Since the very first Red Nose Day in 1988, the event has become bigger and better than ever. The sales of Red Noses and nights of comedy sketches are just the icing on the cake - baking competitions, sport challenges, hit collaboration singles... there are seemingly endless ways to get involved. To give you a sense of the sheer scale of its fundraising power, Red Nose Day raised 15 million in its first year alone. Last year, that rocketed to over 71 million. And this year, it's broken a record - in sum, over nearly three decades of donations, it has finally reached the billion mark.
So, where does dance come into all this?
Dancing for laughs has been a huge part of Red Nose Day's spin-off TV hits. Let's Dance for Comic Relief, a concept which exploded in 2009, featured celebrities (alone or in groups) picking classic hits and performing ironically to them. Peep Show's Robert Webb leaping about in a sparkly black leotard to Flashdance... What a Feeling (above) won't be forgotten in a hurry.
Since the established popularity of the celebrities-making-themselves-look-silly concept, Comic Relief have tapped into the joyous nature of dance and taken things up a notch. This year, three massive dance events have kept the donations mounting: a Strictly Come Dancing for nominated do-gooders, a day of dance routines for the public broadcast live from London, and even TV presenter Dermot O'Leary dancing for 24 hours on the trot (and raising over £600,000 alone).
Dance releases happy hormones. Dance boosts self-esteem. Dance is fun. These motivations could explain why Comic Relief has chosen to get the public better involved this time around. This time, it was all about the taking part. In Let's Dance, it was all about the laughing at.
So ask yourself this: other than the aforementioned, have you ever seen a funny dance?
It really is difficult to think of one.
The silent movies of Charlie Chaplin spring to mind. But whether or not these comical pieces could be defined as dance is another thing. They are examples of performed movement, yes; but such mimetic, gestural, story-telling movement is perhaps more frequently defined as 'physical theatre'. Were they choreographed? They must have been. But it is slapstick: it is not intended to maintain the rigorous technical conventions of dance.
Liz Aggiss is another name, although maybe not a household one. Aggiss, a prolific performer, choreographer and film-maker, is wonderfully distasteful and unforgettably provocative. She opposes the conventions of dance with her waddling, stomping and swearing. But again, her style is interdisciplinary; she is not an advocate for 'pure dance', by any means. Her facial expressions, voices, and rhymes all contribute massively to her humour.
Bgroup's Just As We Are, a dance in three parts by contemporary choreographer Ben Wright, is another more recent example of a dance with humour. But it was largely the costumes that instigated the laughs on this occasion; performers in magnificent 70's costumes, distributing rainbow 3D glasses to the audience. After a lecture given by the dancers on the wonders of dance for the soul, it was inevitable that the fourth wall would be broken, and audience members were invited up to take part. Again, for the most part, we were laughing with: with our peers who had decided to give it a go. The movements were not the main source of comedy here.
Perhaps, then, this offers another explanation for Comic Relief's decision not to produce another series of Let's Dance this time around. There are only so many songs with classic, imitable dances, and like contorted, silly faces, there may be only so many dance moves that tickle our funny bone. (Although of course, as the above examples illustrate, the precise definition of dance is debatable). Perhaps most importantly, the beauty of dance's humour lies in the joy it brings to its participants.
Take up a dance class, and you'll be laughing.
Originally published here on tremr.com.