Let’s Do the Rocksteady

I have become a regular reader of Heather Augustyn’s work. This fascinating piece on rocksteady is worth a read so I republish it here for those with an interest in Jamaican music and performance practice…

A few months ago I shared the advertisements that Ronnie Nasralla had made showing how to dance the ska. These advertisements pictured himself with Jeannette Phillips along with dance steps, five of them to be exact, and they appeared on the back of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires’ albums, and in the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Star newspapers for five sequential weeks. These dance steps were also demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and at various events in the United States during that year, by Ronnie & Jeannette, Sheila Khouri Lee, and other dancers who brought the ska to the world. You can see these advertisements and read about them here.

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So when I saw the back of this Byron Lee album, I realized that a similar approach was taken a few years later with the rocksteady, and it got me wondering about the dance steps for this genre that came in 1966 to 1968.

Ronnie Nasralla is this time photographed with a different female dancer, perhaps because Jeannette Phillips had gotten married, although I am not sure who the new dancer is, so if anyone knows, please comment below.

The dance steps are as follows:

 

 

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B

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D

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F

G

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dance steps are described on the back of the album, so put on your dancing shoes and get ready.

One step shuffle — completely relax then sway your body from right to left sliding on your feet, allowing your hands to sway from side to side (A) following your hip movement. The shoulder must be raised and tucked under the chin. This shuffle is done all around the dance floor with couples swaying in and out of each other.

Stamp one foot at the same time bending both knees (B). Come up wriggling the body very loosely, then extend the foot which you did not stamp to the side (C). Repeat using other foot going to other side. This is done facing your partner. A variation of the step is shown in (D) where the leg is placed forward then backward instead of to the side. The girl does the reverse by placing her leg backward when her partner places his leg forward. When the leg is placed forward you lean back, and when the leg is placed backward, you lean forward. Remember: loosely wriggle your body when coming up on each stamp.

A bouncing one step action like marching with the body bobbing at least two beats to every step (E). The whole body is loose with the hands very limp up about chest high. This is a continuous action with the partners “marching” and bobbing all over the dance floor.

A variation to this step is when the right leg is placed across the body (F). Then you press back by placing the left or back leg further behind at the same time, leaning forward from the waist (G). You continue by stepping to the right, then left, then ready to repeat. The same marching action is continued during this, only with the hands swinging alternately to maintain balance.

The “Rock Steady” dance is probably the most relaxed dance ever done — the whole body at all times must be loose & “oily” and partners never touch each other. They get on and leave the floor together but once on the floor, everyone dances with everyone, getting into the spirit of the Rock Steady beat which is sensuous, heavy and throbbing. The lyrics are so catchy that they are sung by everyone while dancing.

Alton Ellis recorded his hit “Rock Steady” for Duke Reid in 1967. The lyrics gave a few tips on how to dance the rock steady, whose steps were more smooth and fluid than the ska since the tempo and energy were more subdued as well.

Better get ready
Come do rock steady, ooh
You got to do this new dance
Hope you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know

Just shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything in time
Then see
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

You got to shake your shoulders

Better get ready
Just to do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Just like Freddy
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake them shoulders, ev’ry thing in time
Then see
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

You got to shake your shoulders

Now you’re ready
Let’s do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Now that you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
Now that you know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything is fine
Now see
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

Ev’ryone, oh dance

Hopeton Lewis’s “Rock Steady,” recorded in 1967 for Merritone, also offers a few instructions for the rock steady dance:

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Heads are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
Then go steady
If you’re ready
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Hips are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
If you’re ready
Go rock steady
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Although it offers no actual dance steps, Dandy Livingston’s “(People Get Ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady,” recorded in 1967 for King Edwards’ Giant label told us, “When you’re feeling blue, you know just what to do, do rocksteady, uh-huh.” There’s the Uniques’ “People Rocksteady” where Slim Smith sings, “Out in the moonlight we will dance.” And there were plenty of other songs that referenced the genre but not too many that gave us the dance steps we needed to do the dance, possibly because the era of the twist and mashed potato and stroll were now passé.

Share your thoughts on the rocksteady dance below, especially any memories from the days when it originated.

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