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Melbourne Shuffler (Underground Epidemic Productions, 2005) June 22, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Dance, Docu, Fanboy, Music.

Directed by Stephen Coles, Michael Knispel, David Knispel

In an episode of the ongoing Pinoy Big Brother Teen Clash, the housemates are tasked to dance one by one. They are told to prepare for a concert to raise funds to support the local soccer team participating in the Homeless World Cup. As usual, there isn’t much to do while watching except ogle at the housemate my eyes are thanking me for, wishing that every bit of the twenty-minute show will be all about him. A series of shots of individual housemates dancing to Kesha’s “Tik Tok” and Beyoncé’s “Telephone” is shown. For his number, Robert James Reid from Australia does the Melbourne shuffle. It’s a short clip but a memorable one, a charming revelation that starts with James asking “Can I take off my shoes?” and ends with mentor Jhong Hilario commenting “Are you sure you don’t know how to dance?” While James gets chosen to be one of the five to perform—which, to everyone’s heartbreak, he has to turn down due to sudden health issues—the surprise of seeing him shuffle leaves a remarkable impression. It leads me back to late-night MTV, to Leeroy Thornhill, and to my deepest frustration to moonwalk. And that idea alone merits an entry, an excuse perhaps to share Melbourne Shuffler, a documentary about the dance that originated in the Australian city in the late 80s.

Even if you haven’t been in Melbourne, you can easily feel the city through the film. You see buses and trains, buildings and graffiti, crowds surrounding a group of dancers—in a way like Jonze’s video for Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”, the observers killing time, the dancers making themselves comfortable with the attention—as well as rave parties promoted by foreign DJs. Night life in Melbourne is sprightly, or so it seems in Melbourne Shuffler. One interviewee even likens himself to Batman, changing from serious suit for daytime work to a party get-up for late clubbing. The documentary informs by way of various talking heads, DJs and party producers of the past and present as well as dancers both amateur and professional, relating their experiences as regards Melbourne shuffle, how and when they start dancing, where they usually go to, and how they fall in love with the dance above all else. These are reminiscences coming from rockers who dance to have fun (“to express ourselves”) and professionals who really take the rave scene seriously (“we are proud that shuffling events are now internationally recognized”). Good thing about this community is that no one gives a shit why you want to dance. Dance makes a party; and a party makes a night.

There is brief but meaty history tagging along too. It gives the Melbourne shuffle a perspective not out of self-importance but clearly out of its cultural impact, particularly how it has managed to travel major cities around the world. UK and Germany have famous shuffling events, as well as Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia. And recently, as I’ve shared, James is likely the first Pinoy to introduce it on national television, however short the exposure may be. Personally, it brings to mind seeing Leeroy Thornhill and The Prodigy in the 90s, running in loose clothes, mustering complicated footwork and killer hand moves. In the eyes of an eight-year old, that’s already a reason to live: to learn how to dance. Thornhill is interviewed in the film because his style was said to influence the basics of the Shuffle. But come to think it, as one of the rockers claims, Melbourne Shuffle goes way, way back to Michael Jackson and James Brown. True enough, it does.

The history part also takes us to old rave clubs in Australia, where its beginnings are traced by homegrown and international DJs and producers, and those who have come to see how the dance has progressed. It pictures a city made up of people driven by enjoyment in festivities, sex and drugs notwithstanding. The test of culture is time, and time here is crucial why the Melbourne shuffle continues to flourish. In this age of YouTube, everyone’s just a click away from viewing a sample of the dance and be enamored by its infectious mirth. Like b-boying, it appeals to anyone interested to learn, regardless of race and age. Dancing, more than anything, is self-expression; and the rockers agree that the dancefloor is not a place for competition. What I like most about the community is its strong sense of camarederie, and everyone is in for the sake of themselves. They make peer pressure sound like cajoling someone to watch the greatest porn in the world. It reeks of pleasure and experience.

Watching the rockers do the Shuffle is a pretty sight, especially how their steps look very similar yet not exactly the same. Coming up with something new is always a challenge. While amateur rockers begin by observing and mimicking basic shuffling moves, along the way they also start to create steps on their own, mixing styles and movements. It’s a superlative use of the two-step, the feet as the bass beat and the hands doing the embellishment. Unlike b-boying, you don’t allow your hands to touch the ground. You can spin, you can throw your hands everywhere, you can do the running man abusively, as long as you don’t breakdance. You stomp on the beat, you glide across the floor, you let the music move you. With that in mind, the permutation of moves is endless. A variety of styles are borne out of different music with different beats and crowd. It’s an organized movement in an organized community, which makes it a pleasing kaleidoscope of rhythms blinking and changing colors from one body to another. It’s freestyle, so everyone is doing it right. While men want their moves aggressive, women on the other hand keep it sexy. Caps are often worn as part of the get-up, but is also used creatively to adorn movement. Most rockers look down when they dance, looking serious about what they’re doing, but there is a feeling of oneness with the crowd, as they say, like talking without words.

As the interviews come to an end, the film drops its servings of numbing dance footage. Envious, I try to do it. No one’s home and it’s just me who will see the wreck that I am, which is actually more pathetic because I’m aware I’m being pathetic. But hell, the inspiration is there and the music is in full blast. So I grab my sister’s powder and spill it on the floor, and take off my shoes.

{After fifteen minutes, epic fail sits on the sofa. When my alter ego asks, “Are you sure you don’t know how to dance?” I kill him right away and say “I am really sure.”}

James Reid should do a lot of shuffling when he gets out of the Big Brother House, and let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred hearts beat at the same time.

Buy the Melbourne Shuffler DVD here



1. mary joy clarito - June 22, 2010

wow..this one is so cool..thanks for this mr. Bolisay. now I know what did James Reid did during their audition in dancing.. he also captured my heart when he did his dancing and i was like “what kind of dance is that?? I wanna learn it too.” hahah and i really do. again thank you for sharing this one.God Bless!

2. Richard Bolisay - June 23, 2010

hello mary joy. i can imagine how many of us had eyes gleaming as we watched him dance that time. thank you for the nice words. :) big night for james!

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