"Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music." -George Carlin
Great sports traditions share common traits. They are organic in nature, as they derive from simple beginnings. They also spread through the surrounding culture in a spontaneous, natural way. And once the tradition has permeated that culture, those beginnings are easily traceable all the way back to the original incident. We respond best to stories, and stories are best when we know the facts. When this latter qualification can not be met, for reasons of time elapsed or bad memories, it leads to speculation, confusion, and myriad diverging stories. For instance, at least four schools, including my alma mater, claim to have created what we now refer to as "Homecoming" in the early part of the 20th century.
In today's instant media age, however, the source of any emerging tradition can be easily discovered and recorded for posterity's sake. Along the northernmost reaches of the Missouri Valley Conference, there exists such an emerging tradition, with humble beginnings and a known pedigree.
Northern Iowa student Tyler Wright first created what was called the "Gruff Dance," a series of movements performed to the song "Interlude" by Ohio-based metalcore band Attack Attack! "Interlude" is a synthesizer-laden instrumental track with a strong techno-style beat, a tune which easily lends itself to dancing. Wright taught the moves to friends Ian Goldsmith and Scott Connerley, and over the summer of 2010 the three refined the dance into a new creation named after the song from whence it came: The Interlude Dance.
The routine slowly made it's way around campus, performed mostly in dormitory lounges and classroom hallways as the fall semester gave way to winter. Soon, the creators of the dance wanted to do what all good creators do: share what they have made with as many people as possible. The original plan was small in focus. Goldsmith, Connerley, and Wright created a video on how to perform the dance and sent it campus-wide via e-mail. More and more students started to pick up on the trend, and the video "went viral." The next logical step in spreading the dance, they reasoned, involved Northern Iowa's basketball team. They approached UNI's Athletic Department, asking if they could perform the dance during a game.
Administration sat nonplussed at the request. A few kids dancing at a game wouldn't really mean a whole lot. Their response was a challenge: Bring a decent crowd of people to the next women's game and we will let you do the dance.
On January 21, 2011, 75 students performed the Interlude Dance for the first time at the McLeod Center during the Northern Iowa-Evansville women's game. Their humble plan had come to fruition. The dance, along with the students' effort, impressed Northern Iowa's Athletic Director Troy Dannen so much he asked for a repeat performance the next night when the men's team faced off against Drake.
A tradition had been born.
The Interlude spread like windswept wildfire. Soon other fans at the McLeod Center wanted to dance along with the students. It quickly became a staple at all UNI sporting events. Panther fans brought the dance with them to St. Louis for both the men's and women's Missouri Valley Conference Tournaments.
The fire spread beyond the campus as well. Soon other colleges, high schools, clubs, youth groups all started doing the Interlude as part of their gatherings. At the time of this writing, a Google Video search for "Interlude Dance" garners 324,000 results. (And if you consider yourself to be a true Mid-Majority fan YOU WILL want to watch this.)
Unfortunately, the original "How-To" of the Interlude has fallen victim to the Copyright drones who constantly patrol the web looking to keep us safe from evil college kids in Iowa who might, Heaven forbid, post a clip of a song online.
But the Interlude is still learnable simply by watching the other videos. Its simplicity makes the dance popular. The steps are easy to learn, fun to do, but somewhat difficult to describe.
Warming Up Around the Fire - Rock left and right on the balls of your feet, swaying your hands palms down in front of you, hip high, to the same movement. The name of the move itself conjures up the image of what you should look like, nice and toasty.
Claps - Add claps at the appropriate time. The song makes it fairly clear when those claps are to be done.
The Interlude - The key to the entire dance routine. This an overly simple description of it, but your parents called it the Monkey. If your kids watch the Wiggles, they call it the Monkey, too. Move your arms up and down straight out in front of you while running in place or even weaving around amongst your friends, if you have room. If crammed in a tight bleacher space, just the arm movement will suffice.
Sparkles - The easiest way to do this is to pretend you're making a traveling call, but you move those rotating arms up and down as you do. Increase your vertical range and add some flourishes (open hands, jazz fingers) as you get comfortable.
Robot Ninja - Self-explanatory. You know how to be a robot, you know how to be a ninja. Combine the two... voila!
Fist pumps - Again, pretty self-explanatory. Billy Idol loves doing them, Bruce Springsteen loves doing them, the dudes from Jersey Shore love doing them, too. (So I'm told. I don't watch it.) Start low and bring them up as the song builds to...
Revenge of the Interlude - Same as #3. Keep doing it until the end of the song.
My friend Wes first showed me the Interlude after he saw it during the MVC tournament, where he volunteered helping the media relations staff. I love dances, especially fun ones, and the Interlude hooked me at first sight. I would practice at home during the summer, watching as many videos of it as I could. The travel for this season gave me a reason to go to Northern Iowa and do the Interlude at its birthplace.
The dance comes during the first full timeout of the second half, be it from the media or from a coach's call. Before then, I sat in the seventh row at the McLeod Center, just a three-point shot away from the students themselves, patiently waiting while the excitement built.
The game tempered the excitement somewhat, a low-scoring affair at first between two middle-pack Valley teams. Both teams struggled to shoot 30 percent from the floor in the first half, and SIU came out ahead 22-21 at halftime.
At halftime, I looked around to assess where I was sitting for other possible dancers. The student section sat only half-full, somewhat disappointing but somewhat expected considering the lackluster status of that night's opponent. I actually considered just going down there and sitting with the students, but didn't want to end up doing something that could jeopardize my dance chances. My section consisted of an older-looking crowd, and I hoped it might end up a lively one. I was going to dance regardless, but I thought about how it would look if I were the only one in my section going at it.
The UNI dance squad (Title R Compliant, I might add) used a snippet of the song in their halftime routine, which drew a cheer from the crowd and added to my anticipation as the time drew near.
I watched the second half clock start its march from 20:00 with the most intent as I've shown this season. The general wish for this season stands for the clock to move as slowly as possible, to draw out the time enjoying the game as much as possible. This time, I wanted the opposite. When the clock finally ticked under 16:00, I sat straight up in my seat. With the next dead ball, we would dance.
With 15:17 left, UNI's Seth Tuttle drew a foul on a lay-up attempt which casually dropped into the basket. The horn sounded as at least half of the people in the McLeod Center, me included, collectively rose to our feet as the synth beat kicked in.
With hands held out in front of me, the swaying began - left, right, left, right, quick back and forth. Although briefly interrupted by two men who decided NOW would be a good time to leave, I could almost feel the imagined warmth of the campfire. The claps came right on cue. And the arms moved up and down in perfect unison.
All of us, each of us, students and little kids and older men, we danced the Interlude.
I can't fully describe what the next two minutes were like. I know I did all the moves right, and I can remember looking around in a mixed state of joy and disbelief in that we were actually doing it. I think I might have scared the straight-laced looking couple sitting next to me. I know I heard them chuckle a couple times. My fears about being the only one in my section dancing quickly dissolved as I glanced over my shoulder and saw at least two dozen more dancing as well. I cheered along with the students as we moved into the last part, the Revenge of the Interlude, and let out a whoop at the end of the song as we all returned to our seats.
As I started to catch my breath and settle my quivering legs from what we had just done, my phone went off in my pocket with the following message from my friend Drew, watching the game in southern Illinois:
"U R ON TV INTERLUDING!!!!"
Surely enough, a TV camera had captured me mid-Interlude, wearing the Northern Iowa shirt I had purchased shortly after UNI and Ali Farokhmanesh had slain 2010's Goliath, the hated Jayhawks.
Soon I recovered from the dance itself and the excitement from realizing I was on TV doing it, and went back to enjoying the game itself. Northern Iowa slowly shot out of their funk and slowly pulled away from the overwhelmed Salukis. I can remember a point looking over at SIU coach Chris Lowery late in the second half and seeing a look of utter confusion on his face as his team struggled to move the ball on offense. I've seen coaches puzzled, but rarely as confused and frustrated as I saw Lowery then.
But my thoughts moved back to the moment we all had shared during the first media timeout of the second half. I know many of you want to ask me why I am so obsessed with this dance. Believe me, much of the five-hour drive up to Cedar Falls was dominated by me asking the same question of myself.
The long answer involves a longing for college days, for the familiarity inside the academia bubble shielding students from the reality of life off-campus. It's the period when one is not quite a child and not quite a grown-up, the rosy dawn of the adult persona. It's a longing for days when doing something like creating a crazy dance, teaching it to your peers, performing it at a sporting event, and ultimately watching it bloom into a small sensation becomes more than expected, almost encouraged and welcomed.
The simple answer, though: I just love to dance.
(Author's note: Much of the information for the origin of the dance comes from the article "Interlude Dance Becomes a UNI Phenomenon" on the Northern Iowan newspaper website by Danielle Krull, dated January 27, 2011.)
at NORTHERN IOWA 58, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 49 01/31/2012
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 7-16 (4-8) -- D. Jackson 1-11 0-0 2; M. Seck 5-11 0-0 10; J. Early 6-10 0-0 13; T. Lindsay 3-7 0-1 9; K. Goff 1-2 0-0 2; D. Daniels 1-5 7-9 9; K. Brown-Surles 1-4 0-0 3; H. Whitt 1-6 0-0 2; J. Bocot 0-3 1-2 1; T. Setty 0-1 0-0 0; D. Taylor 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 8-12 49. NORTHERN IOWA 15-9 (5-7) -- J. Moran 4-7 0-0 9; M. Sonnen 2-5 1-1 5; D. Mitchell 3-11 10-13 17; C. Rank 4-4 3-5 13; S. Tuttle 3-4 3-5 9; J. Koch 0-3 0-0 0; M. Morrison 0-4 3-4 3; M. Martino 0-2 0-0 0; A. Pehl 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 17-41 20-28 58.
Three-point goals: SIU 5-16 (J. Bocot 0-3; K. Brown-Surles 1-3; J. Early 1-2; T. Lindsay 3-6; T. Setty 0-1; H. Whitt 0-1), UNI 4-13 (J. Koch 0-2; J. Moran 1-4; M. Morrison 0-1; M. Sonnen 0-1; M. Martino 0-1; C. Rank 2-2; D. Mitchell 1-2); Rebounds: SIU 30 (M. Seck 8), UNI 27 (J. Moran 6); Assists: SIU 8 (K. Goff 4), UNI 11 (M. Sonnen 3); Total Fouls -- SIU 22, UNI 14; Fouled Out: SIU-None; UNI-None.