Refracting the blacklights inside the Hollywood Palladium, a pair of phat pants covered in twisting flames tornadoes across the floor, moving at 150 beats per minute. Inside those billowing, fiery trousers is one Alex Bazaar, fittingly known by his peers as “Twisted.”
Twisted is engaged in a particularly gob-smacking version of an action many hardstyle dance music aficionados perform yet few perfect: the Melbourne Shuffle. You will see this dance and its permutations primarily at raves and concerts like this one at the Palladium, Basscon’s Wasteland, which feature high-energy electronic dance music subgenres like hardstyle or psy-trance.
“Shufflers” have two basic moves, the Shuffle and the Stomp, from which a wide-ranging vocabulary of unique moves arises. The Shuffle is supposedly derived from a centuries-old Celtic dance done in wooden clogs wherein the dancer moves sideways. The Stomp goes back millennia, according to legend. It’s a ritualized imitation of a stomping horse performed by Druids in early Celtic culture.
Like most electronic dance lore, no one actually knows or can explain how these folk styles suddenly popped up on Australian dance floors in the early 1990s, but there they were. As new-age electronics pounded out a primitive beat, the ravers of Melbourne inadvertently constructed a laboratory of dance whose inventions would eventually touch every corner of the EDM world.
Virginia Beach, 2011: Alex Bazaar had just come home from his high school graduation when a friend clicked play on a lo-res YouTube video that had sent shockwaves across the planet. It was a mysterious shuffler known simply as “Francis,” shuffling across rain-soaked pavement in what may or may not have been his backyard. The blurry video has been uploaded, taken down, transferred, re-edited and shared so many times that its true origin is now an open source of debate. Bazaar was transfixed by the physics of Francis’s dance, which led to his adoption of a new life in the state of California, new clothes and a new name, Twisted.
“It took about two years to become decent. Four years to master perfectly,” Twisted explains. “Nowadays, I am tweaking and changing styles. I have a signature technique that I haven’t seen anyone else do. My spins are extremely fast and I have grown to call them 'Twisted Flames.' The name came from my phat pants with red and yellow flame designs. When I spin, my pants radiate flames when they glow in blacklight.”
Like most shufflers, Twisted spends the majority of his shuffle time at home, perfecting his technique before he rocks his shuffling vocabulary at one of the local hardstyle massives put on by Basscon or Fresh Entertainment. But he's shuffled on a few other memorable surfaces, as well: “I shuffled on an aircraft carrier deck off Dubai when I was in the Navy.”
You will rarely see shufflers in Navy fatigues, however. Wide-legged pants made by companies like JNCO, hoodies and dangling suspenders are more the norm, but there are no strict rules. “Some go for comfort while others go for style. The clothes can dictate what the dance looks like or symbolizes,” Twisted explains.
The shoes, however, are a different story. After decades of debate, trial and error, shufflers seem to generally agree that sneakers with a worn bottom are optimal footwear to assist the gliding look of the shuffle on a variety of surfaces.
Having such footwear more by necessity than choice one recent Friday night at the ARIZR! Harder Styles monthly in Gardena, I figured I would give shuffling a try. I clumsily imitated the shufflers around me with little success until I was fortuitously spotted by Haley McMann of the FTS Shuffling crew.
FTS stands for Forever Together Strong. Just as Hells Angels are obligated to give roadside assistance to distressed motorists, true shufflers are inclined to assist those struggling to learn the Stomp or the “T-Step” (the most common form of shuffle). Within minutes, under McMann's tutelage, I had picked up the Stomp and I was well on my way to T-Stepping. Not on beat yet, though.
A popular form of the Stomp is the Running Man, which is often cited as the basis of the controversial “Cali-Style” of shuffling. Just like Angelenos mashed a burrito, hot dog and pastrami sandwich into an Oki-Dog, Cali-Style shuffling goes heavy on the stomps and jams various freestyle and hip-hop dance moves into the otherwise traditional Melbourne Shuffle, much to purist chagrin.
Says Steven Morrow, aka “Xero” of the Hardstyle Revolvers shuffling crew, “Cali-Style is basically a different twist of all the styles like Melbourne and Malaysian” — another shuffle variation — “but with more freestyle. It never caught my eye, but the style is still around.”
“Most of them like to take wide steps and do hat tricks,” Twisted says. “Hat tricks” are exactly that: dance moves that incorporate the manipulation of a baseball cap while dancing. Twisting it, rolling it from arm to arm, spinning under it — basically more of a Harlem Globetrotters, razzle-dazzle approach to shuffling.
As shuffling increases in popularity, Twisted only sees it expanding, “I believe that people will continue to evolve the style into bigger and better things. New generations tend to take a concept and revolutionize it. They did it with the old-school hardstyle music, where they evolved the bass and sounds due to improvements in technology. Shuffling will be around for a long time.”