Rudiments of Ballo Dimenio of the Late 20th Century

by James October

[ This article appeared in volume 1 of the Letter of Dance. ]

In the latter half of the twentieth century, a form of dance developed that was unique to the time period; nothing quite like it has been seen before or since. It was partially improvisational in form, but the details of its motions have been long regarded as lost.

Now, however, a newly-discovered cache of ancient picture books (known to that culture as "BASF 120"-- the correct pronunciation of "BASF" is currently under debate) has shed new light upon this mysterious dance form. Using computerized analysis techniques, we have extracted enough visual information from these books to begin reconstructing the dances contained therein.

There is one caveat to the information contained herein: we could not be certain of the speed at which the reader was supposed to read the books. Dr. Hindmity of the Princeton Parahistorical Institute suggested that the total length of the books should be 120 minutes, hence the labelling; this is, however, clearly erroneous -- to be a reasonable recording of human action, they must take between five and eight hours. Dr. Gottrong of Yale Physiotechnic has analyzed the motions of the people on the books, and concluded that, for the motions to be comfortable to an average human, the tapes should last approximately seven-and-a-half hours each. This is the assumption that we are working upon.

The books appear to be part of a series of recordings, and are titled "Club MTV". (The pronunciation of "MTV" is also under debate -- it is argued that American culture of the time may have returned to the ancient practice of using `v' and `u' interchangeably, which would result in "Muh-too".)

The exact purpose of these recordings is unclear. Some scholars have suggested that the subjects of the recordings were the aristocrats of the day, and that their actions were being recorded for posterity; this idea is reinforced by the presence of apparently major musicians of the day, such as "Motley Crue" and "Bon Jovi", who would come to perform for this elite crowd. (NB: it is assumed that these musicians were important, based upon the amount of respect apparently paid to them. However, no amount of coaxing of the sound track of the books has managed to produce anything recognizable as music. Some believe that there is a secret form of encoding being used here, such that this music, sacred to the aristocrats, comes out as simple noise if not properly decoded.)

One radical school of thought believes that the recordings were distributed as simple entertainment to the masses. This is absurd on the face of it, for a number of reasons. First, the title makes it clear that this is some sort of "Club", which was, in 20th-century terms, an exclusivist gathering. Even more importantly, it is readily obvious, by Mannshaft's Theorem, that any form of participatory dance is considerably more enjoyable than simple vicarious pleasure. This "visual entertainment" theory is obvious rubbish.

The author is firmly of the opinion that these books are a form of far-sighted dance instruction. It was far-sighted because gestalt-theory education, though common today, was almost unheard-of back in the Second Millenium, when linear education was still the norm. However, the use of rapid movement from one scenario to the next, presenting a set of forms almost simultaneously, makes it clear that primitive gestalt education is exactly what this was, designed to educate members of the "Club" in proper dance etiquette and style. I present here an analysis of the rudiments of this dance style, which I have termed "wiggle dance", or ballo dimenio.


It is clear from the books that the pre-eminent dancemistress of the time was named Julie Brown, who appears repeatedly in the books. She appears throughout, discussing improvisations with her students. She shows all of the signs of being the teacher-in-charge, providing encouragement to the students who would work out new variants of the dances. There is no reference to any other major choreographers, so we conclude that she was the primary author of this dance style.


Wiggle dance is unique in the dance world in that it is completely invariant with rhythm. That is, it is danced in basically the same manner, regardless of the meter of the music. This extraordinary flexibility is testimony to the genius of Julie Brown and her compatriots. Essentially, the dance reduces the music to its most fundamental element, the beat, rather than the phrase, as is common in contemporary dance. This reduction of music to beat is also apparent in the "music" that accompanies the dance, which can be compared to Japanese Kodo drumming in its sublimation of everything beneath the all-pervasive drumbeats. The other instruments merely supply added timbre to the drum, which truly controls the dance.


[stayin' alive, ha ha]

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about wiggle dance is that it does not require you to move your feet. The most fundamental wiggle step, which I have termed the anca botta ("hip thrust"), is a fine example. This step begins by casting one's hips gently to one side -- we have not yet ascertained which side is supposed to come first, so I arbitrarily choose the left, making this a botta sinestra. Simultaneously, one sets one's shoulders in the opposite direction, thus, to the right. While doing all of this, raise the hands above the head, and slightly behind it, and thrust the jaw slightly forward. You will see, upon attempting this step, the richness of physical ability that was possessed by the average late 20th Century American. The above figure is a crude artist's representation of a dancer doing this motion.

Note that nowhere in this motion do you move your feet! This is surely an innovative and exciting enhancement to the theory of dance, reducing it to its most primal elements.

Another movement in this dance style I term the piede al pavimento ("foot to the floor"), which is representative of its motions. In this step, almost the perfect opposite of the previous one, one keeps one's body quite still. One raises the leg quite high, so that the knee is level with the chest, then brings it sharply down on the next beat. This movement is generally repeated, perhaps eight or ten times, always keeping with the same foot. Note that one should not simply kick; the motion is made entirely by the upper leg, keeping the calves vertical. Dr. Pinorsky of the ITTS Ancient Biologies Division has suggested that this movement is to be done when the dancer's foot has gone to sleep. The author considers Dr. Pinorsky a wiseass.

Many of the dance steps important to this period derive from imitation of the dances of high-ranking officials, who were great patrons of the arts as part of their day-to-day lives. One such step is the girando d'Elvis, based upon the innovations of a fellow who apparently, as part of his career as a professional soldier, would entertain his fellow troops with his bardic and terpsichoric skills. This step is similar to the anca botta, and may, indeed, be a primordial version of it. The shoulders are more relaxed in the girando, and the hip motion smoother, and more circular. It may be that this movement was formalized over the years, and degenerated into the somewhat jerkier motion apparent in "Club Muh-too".

Similarly, the rotolando ("rolling") figure is derived from a gentleman who appears to have risen in rank through the ritualized tournaments of the day. Variously known as "Sly" or "Rocky", we have fragmentary video excerpts showing him ritually rotating his clenched hands while hitting a small bag, apparently to develop necessary callouses for the tournaments. This movement appears to have been appropriated by the creators of a specialized form of wiggle dance, known as "disco" (Dr. Hindmity has suggested that the name derives from the "flying disc" paranoias present at the time. The lighting within a "disco", he points out, is highly evocative of the lights that these mystic discs were supposed to have.) Dancers of the "disco" would rotate their hands quickly in front of their bodies (although without hitting anything), in reverence to this important gentleman.


The field of 20th century dance has only just begun to be explored, and the evidence is still fragmentary. Nonetheless, we can make confident guesses about the culture and dance of the time, based on the evidence that we do have. The author encourages others to observe what evidence they may find, and add to our knowledge of the original Postmodern Ages.

[Yes, the above appeared in the April issue, and yes, "James October" is a pseudonym for me -- Justin]