Freak Dancing (1998)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Jan 12 00:45:07 UTC 2005

On Tue, 11 Jan 2005 09:08:59 -0500, Grant Barrett
<gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG> wrote:

>On Jan 11, 2005, at 00:49, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>> But this all goes back about 15 years earlier to the disco dance craze
>> called "the Freak", immortalized by Chic's 1978 hit "Le Freak". From
>> an interview with Chic's Nile Rodgers:
>Which in turn seems to be a natural off-shoot of  the various sexually
>related forms of "freak" which predate the song. I'd be interested to
>see if we can uncover a freaking = dancing before Chic's super disco

Chic's song came out in Nov. '78, by which time the "Freak" dance craze
had been spreading around the East Coast for several months.  Cites over
the course of 1978 trace how "the Freak" bubbled up from the disco
subculture in various cities.  The earliest cite I've found is from March
'78 in Boston's _Bay State Banner_ (included in Proquest's "Ethnic
NewsWatch" database).  That cite and several others below appeared in
Arthur Baker's "Breakdown" column, a good source on Boston's disco scene.
An April '78 Banner cite and a Washington Post feature in October indicate
that the Michael Zager Band was the first to capitalize on the dance craze
with a song called "Freak".

Bay State Banner, Mar 30, 1978, p. 15 (Proquest)
It looks as if dancing fever has truly caught our city by its kicks. Such
disco steppin' stompers as "the worm" and "the freak" have made an
appearance and Boston has broken out in a rash of dance contests.
Bay State Banner, Apr 13, 1978, p. 16 (Proquest)
The Michael Zager Band: the "woo-woo" people have released their first lp
on Private Stock Records, which features ... two cuts that have been
making some noise at Boston's discos -- "Music Fever" and "Freak."
Bay State Banner, Jun 15, 1978, p. 20 (Proquest)
For those of you who are more in tune to LTD's funk offerings, there are
three tunes that'll have you freakin' in a second.
Washington Post, Aug 4, 1978 (Weekend) p. 1 (Nexis)
[Review of Tiffane, a disco]
Dancing is effortless and evocative, technique is de-emphasized. The
unorthodox "freak hustle" is a favorite.
Bay State Banner, Aug 10, 1978, p. 10 (Proquest)
And, together, they began the "freak line." Falling right in line, Sharon
Van Allston freaked with the other models and also wearing a pegged pant
outfit which featured a one-shoulder qiana big top. Not one to see a lady
freaking alone, Levi Downing, Jr., joined the fun modeling a leather
pilot-styled jacket that cinched at the waistline.
Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), Sep 12, 1978, p. 24
[Earl Wilson's syndicated NY Post column]
Right now, millions are dancing the Disco Freak without knowing it. The
word freak is used as in "freaking out." It's a form of free-style
dancing. One expert said to me, "I'll explain it." Then he said, "You
can't explain it."
"It's nothing," he said, "but two people facing each other making sexual
movements and gyrating in time to the music as if they were trying to
seduce each other without touching each other. Not a bad trick!
"The hippies used to freak out to rock and roll. Freaking out hasn't
changed, just the disco music is different and louder than the rock
Washington Post, Oct 10, 1978 (Style) p. B1 (Nexis)
Under the blast of strobe lights, here at Tiffane's, wrists rub ribs,
nylon knees acquaint themselves with gabardine thighs, fingernails rake
necks, so slowly, slowly in these heavy-lidded heavings and twitchings
which are the hottest new dance in town. It's called The Freak. ...
Let them do The Freak, a huge animal convolvulus down there - accompanied
by strangely torpid faces, the sinking lids, the pouting lower lips - it's
like the ultimate 1950's dirty boogie. ...
In Baltimore, at Star's disco, they call it Body Language. In
Philadelphia, at The Library, it's the Freaky-Deaky. Boston's Boston
Boston disco is throwing a Freaker's Formal party...
Staring at the dance floor of Georgetown's St. Tropez, for instance, you
can see the razor-cool formalities of the cocaine '70s giving way to,
well, a couple closing on each other while the translucent floor pulses
red and the sound of a song called The Freak by the Michael Zager Band
rattles through the beige palm trees...
At Plum, manager Mike Parrish says they get a lot of Freaking "when things
get a little rowdy at the end of a Saturday night."
Washington Post, Nov 16, 1978, p. DC2 (Nexis)
Announcements of disco parties punctuated the blaring music. As the sound
began to shake the gymnasium, the college crowd sprang to its feet,
discoing and "freaking" in front of seats and against the walls to songs
like "Don't Hold Back if It Feels Good."
Bay State Banner, Nov 16, 1978, p. 17 (Proquest)
The disco scene has gone through some changes over the past month--from
the freakin and rockin' on the dance floors to a new above-ground
after-hour club.
Bay State Banner, Dec 7, 1978, p. 17 (Proquest)
He took the acetate plate to the club with him one night and the place
went wild. "The feeling was better than going number one, says Rodgers
recalling his elation and pride at seeing dancers screaming and freaking
to his songs.
Bay State Banner, Dec 28, 1978, p. 1 (Proquest)
"Le Freak" is a joke and also a lie because the Freak is not "a new dance"
as it proclaims -- black kids are now doing the Rock, and only white kids
think the Freak is new. Nonetheless "Le Freak" was a number one hit.

By May '79 "the Freak" had been elevated to public menace, according to
_Parade Magazine_, the Sunday newspaper supplement...

Syracuse Herald Journal, May 6, 1979 (Parade) p. 18 (N-archive)
Police say the "Freak," which is sweeping the nation's discos, is the most
dangerous new dance in a long time. Some call it "the dance of death" or
"the sex dance," others "the dance of jealousy" or "the trouble dance."
When Jim Moore performed the Freak in Detroit with his girlfriend, an
incensed young man named Jimmie Rogers allegedly shot him in the chest
three times. Rogers has been charged with first-degree murder.
In the same city, Oscar Ross is [illegible] Sharon after watching her do
the Freak at a neighbor's house.
The Freak is danced by partners who bend their knees, spread their legs,
advance upon each other with whirling hips until they touch. At this
point, some couples retreat while others improvise.
[Photo caption:] Freaking couples on the disco floor.

--Ben Zimmer

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