• Batman (Adam West) does The Batusi in Batman (SBS)Source: SBS
“You shake a pretty mean cape, Batman.”
Sarah Ward

24 Jul 2017 - 3:15 PM  UPDATED 12 Dec 2017 - 11:46 AM

Batman’s first screen appearance was a memorable one. The premiere episode of the 1960s TV series featured an exploding cake, spiked orange juice, a potentially identity-revealing lawsuit, the Bat-Signal, the Bat-o-stat Antifire Activator and riddles aplenty; however it’s the trip to dance club What A Way To Go-Go that will go down in history. Batman causes a stir when he walks across the dance floor, but that’s nothing compared to the reaction when he decides to strut his stuff. His body moves in time with the go-go music, his hands lift to his face and his fingers make a horizontal V-sign as they move away from his eyes. Behold: The Batusi.

“You shake a pretty mean cape, Batman,” is the response from his dance partner — and The Riddler’s assistant — Molly, who voices the words that everyone is thinking. The Batusi would only feature in one other episode of the show, but its impact lives on. Dance fads come and go, but there’s something special about the dark knight’s signature moves. Is it the best dance fad ever?

A go-go groove

When is a dance fad more than just a dance fad? When it takes an existing craze and makes it its own. The Batusi both looked and sounded familiar in the ‘60s, drawing both its style and its name from the Watusi. No one waved their hands in front of their face in the Watusi, but the bobbing, shuffling and arm flailing otherwise remains. The Watusi came with its own song, ‘The Wah-Watusi’, which was originally a hit for The Orlons before being covered by Chubby Checker and Smokey Robinson. It also made an appearance in The Addams Family.

As for the origins of the moves in Batman, Adam West takes credit for them, though his claim has been disputed. In a 2005 interview, he explained, “I worked it out on my own, made it a singular moment of madness inspired by the ongoing debate in the media about whether drug use was mind-expanding or debilitating.” He continues, “I wasn’t trying to make a social statement. I just felt it would be funny and abstract to have Batman slightly out of his well-trained mind, losing control as a result of the drug.”

Everybody wants to be Batman

Where Batman goes, everyone else wants to follow, with the Batusi enjoying a number of high-profile revivals over the years. Fox Mulder broke out the Batusi in the latest season of The X-Files, Xena once gave it a whirl because warrior princesses still have time for iconic fad dances, and it even popped up on an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond — which has to be the show’s best moment. Antz and Scooby Doo both tried their hand, and, in animated form, Adam West himself introduced the dance to Homer, Bart and Lisa Simpson.

There’s no stronger display of Batusi love than at the world famous Jack Rabbit Slims’ twist contest, however. As Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta and Uma Thurman took to the dance floor, unleashed their finest footwork, then segued from the twist to the swim to the Batusi. In fact, for those unfamiliar with Batman’s ability to cut a rug, it became the hand-waving gesture’s landmark outing. Quentin Tarantino has discussed showing Travolta the right moves, and we’d like to think they included nodding to Gotham City’s favourite superhero.

The challengers

As Pulp Fiction’s blend of dance fad highlights demonstrated, the Batusi is just one fad dance in a hefty list of fun grooves — some of which have stood the test of time, many of which haven’t. Everything from the tango and the samba to the Charleston and the foxtrot were initially considered dance crazes, but have now long since become standard styles, along with the likes of the jitterbug, rumba and salsa.

Perhaps the most famous — or, most insidiously pervasive — fad dance is the one everyone has been forced to participate in at a wedding at least once: the Chicken Dance. As far as its reach, the accordion-based song likely has every other dance craze well and truly beaten (as far as its ability to haunt your dreams as well).

Like the Watusi, many others have sprang from songs, be it the Nutbush, the Loco-Motion or ‘Y.M.C.A.’, or the likes of the Macarena and ‘Gangnam Style’ more recently. They’ve all become household names, though dances emerging from the stage and screen haven’t always shared the same fate. Sure, everyone knows the Time Warp, but the less said about the Urkel the better. The Roger Rabbit hardly gets a workout now, and the Bartman has faded into memory.

Dance fads will keep coming and going, but the Batusi has one thing going for it that no other dance does. A superhero busting a move — who doesn’t want to replicate that? It also benefits from the gift of sheer simplicity, requiring nothing more than a wave of the hands. It really couldn’t be easier, and coupled with just how much fun Adam West seems to be having when he shows what he can do (especially when using it to defeat King Tut in the Batusi’s second outing), how could anything top it?

Watch Batman every Friday night at 7:30pm and listen to the BATMANLAND podcast discussing the show each week. Episodes of the show are also streaming at SBS On Demand:

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