Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Funky Chicken

The Funky Chicken

My beloved husband Jon, twelve years younger, danced like a professional. I loved to watch his lithe body glide along. I danced, too, but I was too self-conscious to move with ease. "Honey," he teased me, "whatever dance you dance, you're always doing the Funky Chicken."

That made me laugh. I'd never heard of the Funky Chicken. I thought Jon, born and bred in New Jersey, was spoofing my Midwestern roots. 

I forgot about the Funky Chicken until recently when I read Alice Sebold's Lucky, an account of her brutal rape. "In high school I began as a geek," she writes. "A geek because I played the alto saxophone and...was in jazz band, where, as second alto, I jammed on such tunes as the "Funky Chicken" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

Goodness! Funky Chicken existed? Beyond Jon's imagination?

I hit the Internet and found instructions for the Funky Chicken dance, posted by Ben Zuidwijk & Sandra Boer. As I watched them dance, I saw that, yes, I do a mean Funky Chicken, but  I never incorporated advanced moves like wiggling my knees a la the Charleston or scratching the floor with my feet and clucking.

Then I found Blues Legend Rufus Thomas, Jr., billed as "The World's Oldest Teenager." He did a mean chicken scratch, as only the son of a sharecropper could.  I admired his red cape. It made great wings as he rolled his eyes, clucking, crowing. scatting. I read about Thomas's famous performance at Wattstax, a Los Angeles festival in 1972 to commemorate the Watts riots. He led a crowd of 40,000 there in the "Funky Chicken."

Jon's been dead more than a decade now and Rufus dead since 2001, but I'm still dancing. Since I realized that dancing is a particularly pleasant way to rack up steps on my pedometer, I dance nearly every day. I'm delighted to know that when I dance, I'm part of this impressive tradition. After watching Thomas in action, I'm thinking of adding a red cape and sound effects. Definitely clucking and scatting. Maybe even scratching the floor.

You can listen to and watch Rufus here.

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