A winning online dance

The Baltimore Sun

Judson Laipply thinks the universality of dance - its lack of language barriers, its appeal to all ages - is what's made it so popular on the Internet.

And he should know.

His Evolution of Dance routine is the most popular video ever on YouTube, with 67 million views. His mildly amusing tour de farce of various dance styles dating to Elvis wasn't especially novel or extraordinary. But he posted it at an opportune moment, just as YouTube began to soar. The attention it gained cemented his status as a motivational speaker, pushing him beyond the sphere of, say, the Greg Kinnear character in Little Miss Sunshine.

"The dance video catapulted me to the point where I knew I could do this full time," says Laipply, 31, of Cleveland, who says he expects to do 50 to 75 speaking engagements next year at $5,000 to $11,000 per. "I was no different than the day before I posted the YouTube video, but then it was like, 'Oh, yeah, we know that guy.'"

It's not the first time that dance, one of the oldest forms of human communication, has been propelled by the newest. The nascent medium of television in the '50s and '60s discovered the public's infatuation with dance on American Bandstand, Soul Train and the local dance shows immortalized in Grease and Hairspray. As dance becomes an early mover on the interactive Web, the trick is in finding a way to make it pay.

It certainly has for two of the hottest dance acts in America, who visit Baltimore tonight, their fame enhanced by the millions who've replayed their routines online.

Chris Brown, the headliner at the 1st Mariner Arena tonight with rapper Bow Wow, has become the most anticipated pop dancer since Michael Jackson. His inventive routines at major awards shows, such as his Charlie Chaplin-inspired hip-hop at the MTV Video Music Awards this fall, have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Tonight's opening act is Soulja Boy, otherwise known as DeAndre Cortez Way of Chicago. The rapper launched a fan base from his MySpace page in 2006 and now owns the biggest dance phenomenon in years with his song "Crank That." Four different versions of it rank among the top 50 videos ever on YouTube, including a bizarre mashup of clips from the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants shaking to the rap beat. They've been viewed a total of 80 million times. The motivational speaker Laipply says the request most e-mailed to him now is to add a Soulja Boy send-up to the Evolution video.

Maybe it's self-evident that if anything was ever suited to online video-sharing, it's dance. When the cable network MTV retreated from airing music videos round-the-clock a few years ago to capitalize on reality TV, it may have been a sound business decision, but it wasn't because young people had tired of seeing pop artists strut around.

From the elaborately choreographed treadmill dance routine of the rock group OK Go to clips from the Disney hit High School Musical, professional music videos - not sports highlights or even stupid human tricks - make up most of the top-viewed clips on the Web. Even dance clips without professional polish are hugely popular: Noodle-bodied teenagers captivating the audience at the Korean-American talent show known as Kollaboration have been viewed 12 million times on YouTube.

There are numerous other dance resources online, from Dance.net, a group of community forums for students, dancers, instructors, coaches, choreographers and studio owners, to Sapphireswan.com, which provides links to more than 30 styles of dance.

The Web's shift from a passive medium for dance to a more active tool is the next stage, although music copyright protection and other issues remain to be worked out.


Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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