Audience Participation Dances

by Mike Walter

I’ve been DJing long enough to remember the “P.E.S.” years. That’s “Pre-Electric Slide” for you newbies.

In those days the “YMCA” and “The Hustle” were your best chance to get out in the crowd and show everyone some dance steps.

Then along came that simple “electric” line dance from the Caribbean and everything changed.

Searching for the Next Big Dance

The “Macarena” was white hot for a while but it cooled quickly. Wannabe’s like “The Ketchup Dance” and “The Pizza Dance” tried but failed to catch on. It got to the point where someone just took the Electric Slide, added some Cha-Cha steps and some jumping and voila we had a new dance!

All this tells me one thing: We DJs love Audience Participation Dances! I would even go so far as saying We Need Them.

Leading the Crowd

When I teach DJing I spend a significant amount of time on Audience Participation dances. I expect my MCs to get out on the dance floor and lead these dances so it’s important that my trainees know the steps well enough to show them to a large crowd. This is one of the areas where the “M” in “MC” is important. You can’t be the “Master” of an event unless you know how to lead the crowd when the time comes for them to be led.

The Two Types of Audience Participation Dances

One of the things I find that helps teaching Audience Participation is breaking it down into the two types of dances there are. The first is what I called “Repetitive.”

Repetitive Dances

Repetitive dances have a dance that simply repeats throughout. It’s usually a 16 step dance although some of the more complex dances can be 32. “The Electric Slide” and “The Macarena” are the two most prominent. Variations of “The Hustle” are also a good example as is “Cotton Eyed Joe.”

Chorus Based Dances

The more popular type of Audience Participation dance is what I call “Chorus-Based.” Chorus-Based dances have something universal that is done during the chorus, and then the rest of the dance, during the verses and breaks, is whatever the MC wants to have the crowd do, including simply free-style dancing.

Chorus Based Audience Participation songs are rampant. In fact DJs from across the country make them up every day. I teach my MCs about a dozen of them, from “The YMCA” to “The Chicken Dance” (think about it, the Chicken is Chorus Based too.) And I know my trainees find it easier to learn them when I break it down for them like this.

Put Your Hands In The Air

Let’s take a look at a song like “Hands Up.” During the chorus, it’s essential that the MC lead the crowd in throwing their hands in the air. There are also hand gestures that go along with the “Gimme your hear, gimme gimme your heart” lines. Some of your guests will even know these steps from previous parties and you never want to appear less knowledgeable then your guests.

So the MCs role is to lead the dancing during that spot in that song. But then the rest of “Hands Up”, that long introduction and the verses, you can really just do whatever you want with the crowd. Sometimes we have them making waves in the air with their hands, sometimes we lead them in a Motown-type shuffle. But the specifics are unimportant.

What is important is that your MC knows exactly when the chorus is coming up so he can anticipate it and get the crowd doing the right dance steps at the right time in unison.

If You Lead It, They Will Follow

One of the axioms I live by in my DJ career, and therefore insist that my DJs live by as well, is: “Never ask a crowd to do something that you aren’t doing”

When it comes to Audience Participation songs this translates to my DJs being out there on the dance floor participating with the crowd and showing them the dance steps they need to do. It’s not enough for me, or anyone on my staff, to simply say, “Okay everybody show me the YMCA” and then walk off the floor to use the bathroom. I expect my MCs to be out on the floor prompting the dance move and then leading the crowd in it. And this means every dance, even “The Chicken Dance” and “Hokey Pokey.” If the client wants to dance like a chicken, then it’s up to my MC to lead everyone in the dance and get out there and dance like a chicken too!

In training, Audience Participation songs are a great way for you to monitor your new MCs and make sure they have the energy and command to actually lead a crowd. Also, I look for fun and enthusiasm during these dances as well. Like I tell my trainees, “You can’t be ‘cool’ while doing the Chicken Dance so you might as well smile and act goofy and enjoy it.”

Do you use audience participation dances to command a crowd?

Mike Walter – “Multi-Op Corner”

Mike WalterMike Walter is a nationally recognized expert in the areas of DJ staff training and multi-system business development. He is also a writer for Disc Jockey News and Producer of the International DJ Expo’s “DJ of the Year” competition. Mike is the owner of NJ’s Elite Entertainment, selected by The Knot and Modern Bride magazine as one of the country’s top entertainment companies. Mike’s highly praised DVD set is available at TrainingYourNextGreatDJ.com. To contact him about his on-site training services or for general inquiries, email mike@eliteentertainment.com. View posts by Mike.
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