Part of: Home Dance
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Essay

Essay: Home Dance

by Josh Sims on 10 November 2000

Writer Josh Sims celebrates the passion of the Northern soul scene.

Writer Josh Sims celebrates the passion of the Northern soul scene.

Still from 'Home Dance' by Elaine Constantine (2000)

'I'm obsessed by people's passions. When most people get on the dance floor they know how to dance. It's about appreciating something for the ultimate, giving the ultimate. There's so much irony around and it doesn't do anything for me at all. It's important to be able to say: "This is cool and I really believe in it." ' - Elaine Constantine.

This is ballet meets break-dancing. It splits and spins, drops and dives and high-kicks. This is Northern soul, the passion of the movement - both literally and collectively - as captured by fashion photographer, Elaine Constantine. These are the anonymous devotees of a foot-flipping cult that lived in the rhythm n' blues of late 1960s Chicago and Detroit, and faded at an all-nighter in Wigan Casino before the volatile, explosive energy of mid-1970's punk. But in these jigging, flipping, high-flying fans, Northern soul finds a continuum a quarter century later.

Too young to remember the dance-downs at Cleois in Great Yarmouth, or the Motown Nights at Tiffany's on Wednesdays - events around which their parents might have centred their weeks, excitement and pay-packets - Constantine's characters stay true to the cause through the music, the jive and the lindyhop-based moves they cut, but also through their dress and dedication. The loose denims, turn-ups, short-legged dungarees, cheesecloth shirts, white socks and loafers - the US workwear-derived uniforms of northern soul, worn loose to allow the skin to breathe and ankles to twist - are all represented here.

This is the excitement of teenage years sustained, focussed in the un-jaded anticipation of a night on the town.

Constantine's fluid, photo-realistic fashion eye captures the threads as acutely as the unpretentious, honest and fun moments these dancers enjoy against the big snare sound and reverb of their chosen tunes. But it's in the sincerity of the voices laid over a single soul track - Silky Hargreaves' Keep Loving Me Like You Do and in the details of the dancer's surroundings that the real passion lies. This film isn't so much about Northern soul as the need for escape from the dullness of an existence without the commitment and a mundane environment. Behind their twists and turns on bedroom and living room floors cleared for back flips, lies the debris of standard lives: the portable TV, the fern, the sports bag, the soft toy and other domestic clutter.

One soul fan dances against a backdrop of an open window. Outside is the suburban street his Northern soul transcends. This is the excitement of teenage years sustained, focussed in the un-jaded anticipation of a night on the town. The cutting from one dancer to the next expresses the endless tension between a sense of belonging fused by shared passion and finding personal identity through that belonging.

'Just for those two-and-a-half minutes, life is fantastic,' says one. 'And just for that short time, I'm a peacock on the dance floor. Nothing can stop me.' This is dance as a metaphor for doing something which truly has meaning, and has integrity simply because you believe in it. For all the faddy, transient takes on the Northern soul scene that the fashion-fixated have played with tongue in cheek - this is the real thing.'

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