“The idea of it is to dance as wildly, as noisily, as furiously as you can; expose yourself as much as possible if you are a woman; and kick as high as you can, no matter which sex you belong to.” Though more than 140 years have passed since Mark Twain described the can-can in The Innocents Abroad, his observations fit many subsequent boogies and shimmies. To start, the twist, the tango and moshing have each been deemed “obscene”, “inherently dangerous” and “disturbing”.
The current dance brushing up against the potential arbiters of moral panic is “daggering”, condemned earlier this week by the deputy children’s commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, who said: “There’s not a lot separating that kind of behaviour from actual violent, coercive sex.” “Daggering” is a jig centred on a man aggressively humping his crotch against the curve of a woman’s backside, as she grinds backwards. Its genesis is in Caribbean dance, and its musical accompaniment is dancehall. Fans of the genre and attendees of Notting Hill carnival will have known of daggering for years, but it garnered the attention of the children’s commissioner’s office during Channel 4 News’s investigation into teenage girls in gangs.
The knee-jerk reaction to videos of teenage girls being humped by testosterone-ridden boys is to worry, but just because it tingles the eternal itch that children grow up too fast does not make it a genuine threat. In a culture where young people are agitated by “aggressive marketing”, daggering is not on billboards or the television. Even Rihanna, who is fond of both dancehall and provocative performance, abstained from partaking on the transmission of The X Factor that Ofcom branded “at the limit of acceptability”. Daggering is not sold to children through mass media’s promotion of envy and titillation. Children have learned daggering from YouTube clips of Caribbean parties and the music videos of niche acts such as Mr Vegas, Major Lazer and Vybz Kartel.
What’s perhaps most threatening to grown-ups is that the children who are daggering are discovering, sharing and performing it themselves. This dance may seem misogynistic and emblematic of sexual depravity and coercion. However, beyond one case mentioned in Channel 4’s report, there is little proof that the girls in this video, or others like it, are unwilling dancers. Or that participants are destined for sexual assault.
To take a swing at dancing for being erotic and appealing to young people is to forget its history. Youthful, erotic male-female dancing is perhaps the earliest recorded form of dance: it is daubed on the walls of palaeolithic caves and formed the crux of pagan fertility rituals. In all but the most puritanical of civilisations, the locus of youthful courtship – in all its elbowy, clumsy glory – has been some incarnation of the parquet floor.
Daggering has drawbacks for all parties: girls and women are juggled like hunks of meat, and the supposed aggressors are at genuine risk of fracturing their penises and pubic bones. But it’s transient. Since the advent of the teenager, dance has been punctuated with crazes – jives, the macarena, the frug, the running Man, the dougie – which wear out and hobble off, making space for the next. Doubtless, daggering will grind along, in the same way swing dancing – another where the female is a ragdoll – exists as a novelty. But once the women tire of dancing this way, they’ll stop. And, unlike moshing, another gauche bop that upsets adults, daggering is utterly dependent on female-male contact. So long as dancehall culture is preternaturally obsessed with homophobia, daggering will lose its legs the moment women stop wanting to do it.
And besides, there’s slut-dropping to be getting on with.
For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/30/daggering-dirty-what-kids-do