Friday, October 16, 2009

Flashback On: Soul Train

Our final flashback feature for this week is on Soul Train. Started in 1971, the classic syndicated television show was a high-energy fusion of music performance and dance trends most prominently seen from the 1970s through the 1980s. Before music videos, reality dance shows, and online viral dance videos; there was Soul Train. (Photo above is from its Wikipedia entry.)

Here you can see a video of the Jackson 5 performing on the show. Michael Jackson even demonstrates one version of the robot:

Created by Don Cornelius, the heyday of Soul Train takes us back to a different time - socially, politically, culturally. The 1970s was clearly a different time than today. Wouldn't it be amazing if today's dance generation could access the full Soul Train episode archive? Imagine what we'd learn from remembering the past and realizing the legacy of the dancers and musicians on the show. Even just getting the "feel" of the dancers from that period would be beneficial to today's hip hop and street dancers. It seemed like every afternoon was a party on Soul Train. And we continued it into our lives after the show wrapped. We've all seen versions of the Soul Train line at weddings, high school dances, and backyard parties. It's a celebration of how dance builds a communal bond between us.

It's also interesting to remember that Don Cornelius shepherded a series of local music concerts called "The Soul Train" in Chicago high school in the late 1960s to early 1970s. As a precursor to the Chicago-based show and later the nationally syndicated show, this traveling caravan of local music concerts could be an interesting model to revive today. What if we saw a successful fusion of musicians and dancers in touring shows that would introduce new ideas and trends? Could a version of this be broadcasted online via Youtube or even a live streaming channel on or ustream? We have the digital tools today to broadcast a local phenomenon and transfer it to a national or global level. During these difficult times, we need to find ways to celebrate soulful dancing again. Soul Train placed dancers in front of the camera and let them be themselves. They didn't have to fit into reality show "storylines" or neatly edited biographical "montages" for us to embrace them as seen on many of today's reality dance shows. Perhaps with today's social networking tools, we can take it even further by allowing dancers to build followings with fans worldwide if they appeared on a broadcasted online dance show.

Finally, Soul Train revives the spirit of the funk era inside of us. There's just something about the music from that period, which brings out the soul and funkiness of all street dancers. While today's hip hop and street dance scene has evolved to embrace new forms of music, the funk always brings us back to the roots. Soul Train reminds us of the importance of historical preservation as well as keeping the legacy alive. Will we ever see something like it again? Not likely, but Soul Train continues to live inside the hearts of today's dancers. All we need to do is to remember it and build on the foundation it created.

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