The Spark and The Breakdown

The Spark and The Breakdown

It is hard to predict how dancing will happen at any hardcore show. Sometimes certain  regional scenes (California shows, for example) will affect how people dance, for example. Most hardcore songs, whether Straightedge-inspired or not, have set structures. In most cases, there is a part of the song known as the breakdown, which occurs either in the middle or at the end of a song. Prior to the breakdown, the song builds in intensity, which can be felt by dancers and seen in the intensity of the dance. The breakdown provides all of the potential energy needed for intense dancing to occur, but, like a stick of dynamite, it requires activation energy to make it kinetic. This “spark,” which lights the fuse, so to speak, occurs usually at the onset of the breakdown. It is important to note that the spark may occur once the song begins and/or at the breakdown, depending on the song’s pattern of intensity.

The spark is usually provided by one person who decides to dance (more) intensely before anyone else. This person often enters the center of the pit or dance floor and, almost immediately, others follow suit. “Jeremy,” a Straightedge dancer, describes a spark at the onset of a song: “Commonly, to relieve the tension and ignite the “spark,” kids will start dancing as soon as the band starts playing…People will start running back and forth and getting other people fired up. For most people, heavier parts (breakdowns) will excite people and make them get more into it.”

At most shows, the spark can be observed with a careful eye on the crowd and ear on the music. One can feel the music and crowd energy building in intensity, as evidenced by the speed and/or style of dancing and the rhythm of the song. This came through in the participant observation area of data collection. In addition, since dancers are often familiar with the songs being played, he or she who decides to provide the spark usually knows as well as feels when to begin. Once the spark occurs, the mass of dancers seems to take on a life of its own, much like the coalescing tightly bound shoal of minnows rising within a convection current. Viewed from afar, they both seem to act as one larger organism.

The spark is quite a powerful phenomenon. Tensions vary in quality and quantity from show to show and within a show, as do reactions to sparks, as “Chris,” a non-Straightedge dancer explains: “I think that most of today’s “moshers” are always waiting for the same two people to start of the pit and get things moving. It’s a shame that at heavier shows that same “spark” will usually bring out a fight or two.” The above quote demonstrates that sparks do not always yield the same results and therefore can be indicators of a change in intensity of activity, but not exactly what nature of activity one can expect.

From “Identity Maintenance Through Emotional Release and Rejuvenation: A Link Between Hardcore Dancing and the Straightedge Collective Identity” by Michael Lance.  Michael submitted that as his Master of Arts thesis in 2007 at Wayne State University, and I was interviewed for the thesis. I had pulled it up the other day randomly and though the above was interesting. Those who have been to hardcore shows can relate to “the spark.” You can view/download the thesis here.

Photo: Joey Houle