Dance Dance Evolution - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Dance Dance Evolution

Dance Dance Evolution

By Datwon Thomas

Ken Canevari performing the NaeNae dance after win


Because Chubby Checker’s Twist was a long, long time ago.

By Datwon Thomas

I’m losing my cool juice.

There was a time you couldn’t get a single hot moment that happened in the streets or pop culture by me without my knowing about it. The time has come when my personal youth focus group, aka my three daughters, save me from my occasional cool cup spill. In mid-January, they approached me with this:

“Hey, Dad. Check this new dance called the ‘Nae Nae’ that’s out on YouTube,” says my smiling 13-year-old. “Dwight Howard is in it and he’s talking about doing this dance at the [NBA] All-Star game,” said my 11-year-old.

Dwight in white tshirt dancing in front of group on basketball court

Dwight Howard and the NaeNae dance

I am too enthralled with the latest update ticker on ESPN to even really pay attention. Yet, I turn to the laptop and see 28-year-old, 6-foot-11 Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard slightly bending his knees, arching his back, raising his right arm in the air and wave his hand to the bouncing beat, like he’s trying to hail a helicopter. I immediately burst out in laughter, but the big man wasn’t done. He kept waving his arm and swaying his shoulders and let out a vicious, lionlike “Yaaaah!” to complete to move.

I’m stunned, but in a good way. The full-body dance created by Atlanta rap group WeAreToonz made me move to try it out. Well, actually, my daughters made me move as they find it funny to see me try any type of dance. During my first few attempts, I wasn’t that good at it. But after a few moments, I was doing the trademark “Yaaaah!” like a pro.

Speaking of pros, the dance has swept the country since then and really made its coming-out party during this year’s NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans. We knew DHoward was going to attempt it at some point, but it was during the Slam Dunk competition that Washington Wizards’ John Wall snatched the shine away from DHoward (see his rushed version of the dance on the TNT cable network after a rim-rattling dunk). That set it off for the nation to follow.

The wave has only gotten bigger, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Saturday Night Live’s Obama and the pope … No one is safe from doing the famed dance in the public.

After that weekend in February, I started seeing the dance on the bus, on the train, kids doing it on the street in Manhattan. Then the NCAA tournament comes around and every team that won their game during March Madness, one, at least one player hit the cameras with the Nae Nae. But none did it better than Mercer’s Kevin Canevari. His school, seeded No. 14 in the tournament, did the unthinkable in beating basketball powerhouse No. 3 seed, Duke University, in the first round, ultimately wreaking tournament brackets worldwide. To celebrate, Canevari dropped that Nae Nae on the national television audience with WeAreToonz member precision.  

Since then the wave has only gotten bigger, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Saturday Night Live’s Obama and the pope … No one is safe from doing the famed dance in the public. I’m hoping the funky floor craze ends soon.

See how it all started for me with WeAreToonz and Dwight Howard’s video for “Drop That Nae Nae.”

Because personally it’s kind of hard to keep hearing the title of a dance that also shares your daughter’s nickname. “Dad, I have my own dance now,” my Nae Nae says. “Really? If only we could make some money from it somehow,” I reply. Maybe I’ll make up my own dance … and call it the Dae-Dae.


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