Pop group backup dancers. What's the story there?
April 17, 2011 8:17 PM   Subscribe

What's the history of performers using backup dancers?

Pretty much any and every pop group now has some entourage onstage doing all this choreographed dancing in support of the singer(s). This has been going on for some time now, but where did it come from? Was it Madonna? Janet/Michael Jackson? Hammer? Who?
posted by holterbarbour to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sure this goes back at least to stage musicals, probably earlier. In lieu of better or earlier examples, here's Jackie Wilson on Shindig!.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:39 PM on April 17, 2011

Elvis, too.
posted by empath at 11:03 PM on April 17, 2011

Here's Cab Calloway and backup dancers, from 1934 (from 5:40 -8:00)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:41 PM on April 17, 2011

Slightly off-topic, but Prince mentioned that one reason he wanted to go in to show business was that he saw James Brown perform when he was a kid, and James had the prettiest girls dancing backup for him. It's clearly a self-perpetuating performance concept, and the ubiquity of group-dance videos on early MTV after Thriller accelerated it into a derigeur part of pop music spectacle by the end of the 80s. By contrast, even the elaborate shows of Kiss and P-Funk in the 70s weren't known for having dancers.
posted by anildash at 6:22 AM on April 18, 2011

If you look at YouTube clips of rock bands performing on TV in the '60s, you'll see they often have backup dancers. So it certainly wasn't invented by Madonna or Michael Jackson.
posted by John Cohen at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2011

Backup dancers go way, way back. I haven't got the time or resources to do research on this at the moment, but I'm sure someone who knows the history of show business better than I can point to examples from the nineteenth century and earlier. At any rate, now that AsYouKnow Bob has given an example from 1934, perhaps we can forget about Madonna and Michael Jackson?
posted by languagehat at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2011

Madonna...that's a good one!

My guess would be it goes back to minstrel shows, which are probably 200 years old. The shows were enormously popular all over the country, especially after the Civil War. It's where "Black Face" started and the term "Jim Crow" started I believe.

Most likely the genesis of everthing from Jerry Lee Lewis's stage antics to Elvis's gyrations to Michael Jackson's dancer's.
posted by PaulBGoode at 1:35 PM on April 18, 2011

What about the Greek Chorus in the ancient greek plays? Do they count as backup dancers?
posted by CathyG at 4:21 PM on April 21, 2011

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