There are plenty of songs that get us dancing. The very best are the ones with opening chords that pull you back onto the floor after you've already put your coat on and said your goodbyes. To be honest, I have rather a lot of those. Earlier this month two of my best dancing companions (I mentioned them here) were in town and we spent the weekend as we always do when they're back in Manchester; swaying hips, fancy footwork and plenty of sweating. On the first night we threw a party at our house and hung tinsel fringe curtains on the walls, a metallic declaration of intent that said THERE WILL BE DANCING. The next night we took to the sprung dancefloor of Manchester's old Victorian swimming baths and moved for hours; so many hours, in fact, that my feet were obliterated with blisters by the end of the night. The skin has only just grown back but it was worth it.
I'm fascinated by club culture and the relationship between weekend dancing and the working week. It's why I love the sight of women in Liverpool or Manchester with rollers in their hair on a Saturday afternoon, getting themselves ready for a blow-out night before Monday rears its head again. If being moved by music is such a universally wonderful experience then what about the songs that are about dancing? Rather than compile a playlist of classic floorfillers (where to start!) these are the songs about losing yourself on the dancefloor whether alone or with friends, about going to a Block Party, and judging a conquest on their ability to move.
The ultimate anthem for dancing away the work week, this Nile Rodgers classic follows the ever-seductive idea of being 'lost in music'. I think the notion of being lost on a dancefloor was what I was going for when I named this blog back in 2006; of being surrounded by hazy, arresting dancing figures and consumed by music. That was before I'd even been to a club and had this idea of a discotheque as a hazy and confusing place, which is probably pretty accurate if we're talking about a bunch of people off their heads in Studio 54.
We're lost in music/ Feel So Alive/ I quit my 9-5/ We're lost in music
2. Cosmic Dancer by T Rex
I danced myself right out the womb/ Is it strange to dance so soon/ I danced myself right out of the womb
One of the most gorgeously melancholy songs about dancing, Mark Bolan's Cosmic Dancer is a track that spans the solitary/social dancing scale. On the one hand it sounds like it can only be meant for a slow and romantic solitary sway. On the other, it's the perfect soundtrack for two lovers to lock eyes from opposite sides of a dancefloor and meet in the middle for a slow dance.
A special mention to the video on YouTube of Billy Elliott clips set to Cosmic Dancer.
3. In The Evening by Sheryl Lee Ralph
I first heard this song around a year ago, dancing at a Horse Meat Disco night. I'm pretty sure there was a man beside me going for it in leather dungarees and I heard the chorus of this song and needed to know who it was. That night was one of my favourite nights of dancing ever. It was so hot that most of my friends left. My face was streaming with sweat but I barely left the club because every song was too urgent to leave, and the crowd was fantastic, everyone doing their own thing but united in it.
In the evening the real me comes alive/ I can feel it/ In the evening something happens that I can't describe/ But it helps me to survive
This song begins with the perpetually cool Richman dancing in a rather uncool bar. "I was dancing at a nightclub one Friday night and that nightclub was a little untight. Yeah, I was dancing all alone a little self conscious when some kids came up and said, 'for dancing come with us.'" Saviours! Before Jonathan knows it, he's dancing in a good-time bar with hip shaking, positive vibes and women who like women. And like all heterosexuals that invade the gay bars, Richman has a pretty good time.
Well I was dancing in the lesbian bar in the industrial zone/ I was dancing with my friends and dancing alone/ Well the first bar things were alright but in this bar, things were Friday night.
This is one of the many songs in which dancing is really the codeword for a bit of bump and grind. Ah, how a little hindsight illuminates. (My baby moves at midnight/goes right on till the dawn/ my woman takes me higher/my woman keeps me warm.) Metaphors aside, You Should Be Dancing commands a cool walk up to the dancefloor to be followed by intuitive hip thrusts. As with the rest of Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, this is a song that pushes any activity that isn't about dancing in the moment to the periphery and makes those watching from the bar look like a bunch of good-time buzzkills.
PS. John Travolta.
6. If You Can't Dance by The Spice Girls
Into brass, panpipes and Geri Halliwell doing Spanish rapping? If You Can't Dance has all of these things whilst imparting some important wisdom onto Spice fans when it comes to potential conquests: If you can't dance to this/you can't do nothing for me, baby. It's true, the ability have a great dance and not give a fuck is probably one of the most attractive characteristics in a potential partner, and The Spice Girls know what's up.
It's only 12 o'clock midday and the sun is hot and there's a party on the next block and free soda pops and you're dancing with Lisa Left Eye Lopes and copying her footwork. And you're bumping into more friends and shimmying along to the music and you'll keep dancing until it's dark and beyond.
I'm a big city girl from all over the world/ and I do what I wanna do/ right foot, left shoe/ then you shake it around/ bring it up, clap your hands/ then you turn it all around
8. Sway by Dean Martin
This couldn't be a complete list without a suave recording from a Rat Pack-er. Dean Martin's 'Sway' was the English-speaking version of mambo instrumental 'Quien Sera' and maintains almost all of the sexiness of the original, with some strings and sweet nothings thrown in for good measure. This is the sort of song that catches me off guard and makes me wish I was on the French Riviera in the 1950s in the arms of a man who probably drinks too much whiskey and will leave me for an adolescent (So... Frank Sinatra, I guess?) The rose-tinted sexism usually wears off with the end of the song but Sway remains a classic ode to dancing with the wrong (right?) man.
9. John, I'm Only Dancing by David Bowie
The dancefloor will forever be a sexy space, whether that's about feeling sexy in yourself, feeling consciously unsexy, or trying to figure out how to dance with that nice looking person over there. As long as the dancefloor remains a sexy place (i.e., FOREVER) there'll always be that funny ambiguity about sexy dancing vs friendly dancing and toeing the line, which Bowie sums up perfectly in John, I'm Only Dancing.
John, I'm only dancing/ She turns me on/ But I'm only dancing/
10. Take This Waltz by Leonard Cohen
How's Leonard Cohen proposing to dance the waltz for brooding romance? This song manages to sound equal parts hope and regret, so that it's suited both for an emotional break-up dance (that's a thing..) or a loving waltz after years of marriage. This isn't about rushing to a dancefloor, this is about resting a chin on a shoulder.
Oh my love, oh my love/ Take this waltz, take this waltz/ It's yours now, it's all that there is