02 April 2007

Sparks Fly High: The Legend of Dancing Point

Author: Mary Quattlebaum
Illustrator: Leonid Gore

In this charming bit of Virginia folklore, Colonel Lightfoot, a vain country gentleman (otherwise known as a "foppish dandy"), must evict a vagrant who is squatting on his land... which proves difficult because this particular vagrant happens to be the Devil himself. The Devil, knowing that Lightfoot is extremely proud of his dancing ability, challenges the Colonel to a dance contest. Stakes are high: winner gets to stay on the land.

While this may seem rather quaint and silly today, at the time, dance-offs were a socially acceptable form of negotiation. Keep in mind that in the early days of colonial America, property law was still in its infancy and contract litigation had yet to develop into the art form that we see today. Without a standard legal protocol for this kind of conflict resolution, people had to rely on the only reliable tool they had: Dance.

Even in the not-to-distant past, dance-offs were still commonplace as a method of resolving property disputes. The turning point came in the mid-fifties when a brutal New York turf war between two rival gangs forced the government to step in and outlaw any form of confrontational gyration. (The violent showdown was definitively captured in the classic documentary West Side Story.) This shocking example of inner-city violence ignited a media storm that caused a nationwide fear of dance. Inevitably, the widespread panic infiltrated America's heartland, as small towns started to ban dances of all kinds. This mass hysteria was met with some resistance, as small youth-led revolutions arose to oppose this latest wave of puritanical hysteria. The most notable case was the Illinois "Dance Dance Revolution" led by the anti-establishment icon Kevin Bacon. (For more information see his stirring biography: Footloose.)

Despite the small pockets of grassroots resistance, dancing remains illegal as a method of settling property disputes (otherwise Donald Trump would never have been able to build his ridiculous empire... unless he made a deal with the devil, which I'm sure he did anyway). However, dancing is still used as a negotiating tool, but almost exclusively in the realm of sexual negotiation. Typically, the two parties involved will take to the dance floor to grind out a mutual understanding for a potential emotional/sexual contract... usually set to the hypnotic beat of a devilishly bad song about "bringing sexy back" or "my humps" (aka lovely lady lumps). I guess that's what you call progress?


vi said...

Brilliant idea: combine The Apprentice with Dancing with the Stars. Wanna pitch the idea with me? I'm thinking Donald Trump and Jennifer "Baby" Gray (she needs a shout out).

Minh said...

Brilliant! No one puts Baby in the corner!

...and the show can be called "The Real Lord of the Dance."