The latest dance moves often made their television debut during the Soul Train Line, but that doesn’t discredit the fancy footwork featured in some of black music’s most memorable dance videos. We made a daring and perhaps controversial attempt at compiling what we think are the best and most imitated dance music videos. But we didn’t pick just any clip that included a breakdown or tossed-in routine; these videos are built around dance and really make us want to move because nearly every second is filled with floor-ready funk.
“The Pleasure Principle”
We know Janet can dance, as proven by the tightly packaged moves in “If” and in “Rhythm Nation,” which guest stars Ms. Jackson’s uniformed army executing on-point accuracy. But “The Pleasure Principle” is impressive because of its simplicity, showcasing Janet all alone as she grooves in a warehouse, turning out freestyle and choreographed moves. Singing then kicking the mic stand down, the acrobatic dismount from the speaker and the active jazz hands in front of the broken mirror make this clip sexy without even trying.
Combining elements of Broadway, the flashy Moonwalk, and the famous “how did they do that” lean, “Smooth Criminal” is easily one of Jackson’s best dance videos. Not even the smallest details were overlooked in this nearly 10-minute clip, encompassing his artistic vision, showcasing his signature showmanship, and offering a rare collaboration with dancers who stepped up their game to keep pace with his widely mimicked dancing style.
“If It Isn’t Love”
Bobby Brown had exited the group years earlier, but with Johnny Gill added to the lineup the quintet was whole again–and just in time. In the video for the single from the Heartbreak album, New Edition kicked it in the style of the Temptations and the Four Tops, adding Ralph Tresvant’s energetically sad vocals and N.E.’s tribute-worthy “come back to the mic” steps. “If It Isn’t Love” introduced one the group’s signature stage routines–one this particular roster still performs at live shows today.
“Every Little Step”
You may not have rocked the “Bobby”-labeled spandex shorts or sport coat, but chances are it’s hard for you to sit still during this jam. Brown and his backup dancers fit just about every early New Jack Swing step into this short film, from the Roger Rabbit to the Running Man. Since the scenery in this clip takes a minimalist approach, viewers are treated to repetitions of the moves and a few that make their appearance only once. Thank goodness for VCRs and now YouTube, as fans are still trying to copy the Whitney-proclaimed King of R&B’s choreography.
“Pumps and a Bump”
After years of hyper-caffeinated moves that no one could ever keep up with, Hammer toned down his style and upped his innuendo during the “gangsta” period of The Funky Headhunter. Fans endured the controversial speedo-version of “Pumps and a Bump,” but the recut of the grimy-funk number focused on Hammer’s choreography. The cameras were locked on his troupe’s footwork for extended periods of time, supplying lessons to the in-public haters who are Hammer wannabes in private.
Though it’s one of Usher’s more conceptually interesting videos, what remains is his B-boy-infused foot- and floorwork. In this clip for the title track of his sophomore album, Usher and his crew engage in an ongoing fight with Tyrese and his posse, all for the attention of a beautiful damsel who’s got some moves of her own. The best way to solve this love triangle? By battling it out on the dance floor, of course, which mysteriously appears as the dancers begin their throwdown.
In the era when Hype Williams’ music video style ruled the airwaves and everyone had their favorite boy band, Omarion, Lil’ Fizz, J-Boog and Raz-B–known collectively as Boys of the New Millennium, or B2K–charged onto the scene with the pulsating “Uh Huh.” The video to the upbeat club-banger made the boys the favorites of tween and teen girls, most likely because of their showcase of shirtlessness, but also because of the tight choreography that made viewers tired just watching it but intrigued enough to try and keep up.
“Work It” was Missy Elliott’s tribute to the sounds and styles of old-school hip-hop, but it was the moves that truly entranced viewers. Funky flips and floor movements; locking and popping; head spins and hand glides–no noteworthy step was left out of this high-energy clip. Though not much of a dancer herself, Missy surrounded herself with a roster of talented B-girls and B-boys that kept dance evolved by taking it back.
Ciara feat. Missy Elliott
“1, 2 Step”
After wowing us with The Matrix move in her clip for “Goodies,” the Princess of Crunk&B proved that her hypnotic movements weren’t just a gimmick in “1, 2 Step.” CiCi’s B-girl posturing, solid choreography and freestyle numbers, and the “everybody join in” nature of the tune inspired by its chorus had something for dancers of any ability. Ciara was present at all levels, encouraging each of them as they showed off their 1, 2 step.
Chris Brown feat. Juelz Santana
Chris Brown may have an average name, but his dance steps are anything but, as showcased in this clip. Featuring a boys-vs.-girls dance off, Brown proves his ability to pop, lock, and krump with the best of them as he tries to convince a young lady to be his main squeeze. Capable of holding her own on the floor, the two and their crews trade steps in this hip-hop-infused banger that’s still a club-pleasing favorite today.
“Walk It Out”
Mack 10’s declaration that “gangsters don’t dance, we boogie” was adopted by many rappers regardless of their region, hip-hop style, or gang affiliation. Thankfully, Unk and his crew shunned this proclamation and hoof it with intense dancehall and B-boy-style moves that make other hip-hop videos look like they’re taking a snooze. The powerhouse prancing inspires viewers to get up and move, making this cut a club favorite, and Unk released a proper follow-up, “2 Step,” which highlights the talents of equally energetic dancers.
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
When Kanye West said Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time, he spoke for all the women and men who paid tribute through imitation. “Single Ladies” quickly became one of the most copied clips in recent memory upon its release and was one of the first dance crazes of the YouTube era. Inspired by work from noted choreographer Bob Fosse, Beyoncé and her backup dancers bounce through the handclap melody with intricate J-Setting moves, sky-high stilettos and simple leotards serving as the wardrobe.
― Joel Lyons
Joel Lyons is a New York City-based aficionado of dance, pop and R&B. Experience his appreciation at www.ThatsMyJam.net.