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Insect-inspired tunes become dance hits
 
The South Korean musician Psy became an international celebrity in 2012 with his song, “Gangnam Style.” The song’s video was the first to be viewed more than a billion times on the Internet. The song has a catchy beat, but it was the rather humorous dance moves of Psy that made “Gangnam Style” a worldwide sensation.

This is not the first time a type of dance has captured people’s attention. During the 1920s, the Charleston became a popular dance craze. Named after the South Carolina port city, it started as a dance that mocked the supporters of the prohibition amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Another well-known dance - the jitterbug - began in the early 20th century as a type of swing dance. Cab Calloway recorded a song in 1934 called “Call of the Jitter Bug” that helped popularize the dance. The jitterbug spread across the world during World War II. By 1957, the jitterbug was the most popular fast dance featured on the TV show “American Bandstand.”

The name jitterbug does include the word “bug,” but it appears unrelated to insects. The name is based on the jerky movements called the jitters that are sometimes associated with people who have consumed too much alcohol.

There is at least one dance with a name related to arthropods. It is an upbeat-tempo, Italian folkdance called the tarantella. The name comes from the popular belief that the bite of a wolf spider can cause a frenzied condition known as tarantism. Dancing the tarantella was purported to be a way to overcome the affect of the spider bite.

Some of us are old enough to remember 1960. That was the year that Chubby Checker really got the twist dance craze going with his recording of the song that began, “Come on baby, let’s do the twist.” And many people did. 

The song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles in 1986 had people mimicking the figures in the ancient Egyptian reliefs. In summer 1996, Los del Rio brought us the No.-1 greatest one-hit wonder of all time as people everywhere did the Macarena. And then, there was the official FIFA 2010 Football World Cup song by Shakira, which had millions of us stepping out to the Waka Waka.
For sure, humans dance. Some birds also dance. And some insects. And spiders, too.

Probably the most recognizable of the spiders that dance are those known as jumping spiders. These small spiders have large eyes, and both pairs of front legs are longer than their back legs. Their dances involve leg waving and leg-and-abdomen tapping. So spider dances, like human dances, also involve sound. Just check out videos on the Web and see spiders really cut the rug!

Some butterflies also dance. The butterfly dances include a type known as a spiral dance. The butterflies spiral upward on the wing while following each other. A human dance, the Hopi butterfly dance, is suggestive of a real butterfly spiral dance with the brightly attired dancers following each other.

Flies dance to impress the females of their species. Some of these dances, like that of the butterflies, are aerial performances; others are with feet on the ground. Dung beetles, the insects that roll around balls made of mammal manure, also dance. It has been suggested that dancing on top of the manure ball allows the beetle to cool itself.

All insect dances, and most human dances, pale in comparison to the dance of the honey bees. This dance is known as the waggle dance, because of the signature move of the dancing bee. That move involves waggling the abdomen from side to side. Here’s how the dance goes. The dancing bee moves in a straight line while shaking her abdomen – in the bee dance only the female workers participate. Then, the dancer circles right or left and returns to the starting point. There she repeats the waggle portion of the dance and turns in the opposite direction. It is sometimes called a figure-eight dance because the bee creates such a shape during the performance. 

The amazing aspect of the honey bee dance is that dancing transmits direction and distance to a nectar source. It’s a functional dance. But because it is called the waggle dance, some might conclude that it ranks right up there with the cha-cha, the twist or the Macarena for pure entertainment. But, unlike humans, insects don’t do a little soft-shoe just for the fun of it! 

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Tom Turpin may write to him in care of this publication.
1/23/2013