A high-octane dance style, waacking takes centrestage at Retro Rally this weekend
Tried waacking? I’m not talking mafia kills: waacking is a form of high energy, free-form dancing that lets the dancer’s personality take centrestage. The name itself is attention-grabbing; so I caught up with Mekhola Bose, waack artiste of the Calcutta Waack Pack who’s in town for this weekend’s Retro Rally dance event to explain a little about this buzzy, bizarrely-named dance.
Waacking started in the 70s in New York’s gay clubs: all stylised posing and dramatic footwork to the then-popular catchy disco beats. Often called punking, it drew inspiration from black and white Hollywood stars like Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall. It became famous with the 70s TV show, Soul Train, and you might recall its associated funky dance moves like popping, locking and breakdancing or b-boying. Post the disco era, it saw a mega revival at choreographer Brian ‘Footwork’ Green’s Broadway Dance Center in New York.
I asked Bose, a former drummer, what drew her to waacking. “Waacking is powerful. It’s about manipulating a song to express yourself. Your character and emotions become one with the music,” she says, “This is important as it’s freestyle.” On the popular TV dance series So You Think You Can Dance in 2011, international waacking queen, Kumari Suraj, an American of Indian origin, floored the judges. Waacking once again became the new way to move on the dance floor.
So when Kumari Suraj visited India in 2014, a group of ardent fans, Bose among them, gravitated to her to learn more. “This was my dream. While I’d learnt waacking moves, meeting her taught me so much more,” says Bose, who’s now part of Suraj’s elite Indian dance crew the House of Suraj. In a nod to her Indian roots, Suraj started a sub-strata of waacking called Bollywhack, danced to Bollywood music. While Bollywood dances often mimic waacking (check out a waacking video to see), it’s not the real deal, says Bose.
The dance’s catchphrases include ‘waacking’ (swivelling your arms vigorously above your head in intricate moves), ‘posing’ (dramatic model-inspired posing), ‘battling’ (a freestyle dance face-off between two dancers) and ‘punking’ (the character you represent while dancing). Costumes play a role too — as casual as you please or dressed up to the nines to fit your music and moves. “You can wear what you like to dance — from leotards to a sari,” adds Bose.
Added advantage: waackers (still dominated by female dancers in India) build arm muscles, strengthen their core and increase their flexibility. It’s also crazy cardio: the footwork is dazzling and lightning fast. Bose’s local partner, Divya Easwaran says waacking is now growing in Bengaluru. Retro Rally could help focus attention on this dance form.
Easwaran and Bose now take to the dance floor to show off their moves – flailing arms, arching backs and nimble, dazzling footwork. It’s breaktakingly addictive. You understand waacking star Princess Lockeroo when she says, “When you waack, you can see the music.”