"The Safety Dance" is a song by Canadian new wave band Men Without Hats, released in Canada in 1983 as the second single from Rhythm of Youth. The song was written by lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing.
The song entered the Canadian top 50 in February 1983, peaking at no. 11 on 14 May. In the meantime, "The Safety Dance" was released in the US on March 16, but did not enter the US charts for a few months. When it finally did, the record became a bigger hit than it had been in Canada, peaking at no. 3 in September 1983. It also reached no. 1 on Cash Box, as well as no. 1 on the Billboard Dance Chart. "The Safety Dance" similarly found success in other parts of the world, entering the UK charts in August and peaking at no. 6 in early November, and entering the New Zealand charts in November, eventually peaking at no. 2 in early 1984.
Meaning of the song
The writer/lead singer, Ivan Doroschuk, has explained that "The Safety Dance" is a protest against bouncers stopping dancers pogoing to 1980s new wave music in clubs when disco was dying and new wave was up and coming. New wave dancing, especially pogoing, was different from disco dancing, because it was done individually instead of with partners and involved holding the torso rigid and thrashing about. To uninformed bystanders this could look dangerous, especially if pogoers accidentally bounced into one another (the more deliberately violent evolution of pogoing is slamdancing). The bouncers did not like pogoing so they would tell pogoers to stop or be kicked out of the club. Thus, the song is a protest and a call for freedom of expression.
In 2003, on an episode of VH1's True Spin, Doroschuk responded to two common interpretations of the song. Firstly, he notes it is not a call for safe sex. Doroschuk says that is reading too much into the lyrics. Secondly, he explained that it is not an anti-nuclear protest song per se despite the nuclear imagery at the end of the video. Doroschuk stated that "it wasn't a question of just being anti-nuclear, it was a question of being anti-establishment."
The music video for the song (which uses the shorter single version), directed by Tim Pope, is notable for its English folk revival imagery, featuring Morris dancers, Mummers, Punch and Judy and a Maypole. It was filmed in the village of West Kington, in Wiltshire, England. Ivan Doroschuk is the only member of the band actually to perform in the video. Doroschuk, and others in the video, can be seen repeatedly forming an "S" sign by jerking both arms into a stiff pose, one arm in an upward curve and the other in a downward curve, apparently referring to the first letter in "safety". The Morris dancers seen in the video were the Chippenham Town Morris Men, performing a dance called Monkton Park. The dwarf actor is Mike Edmonds, whose T-shirt in the video shows the Rhythm of Youth album cover. The identity of the young blonde woman dancing in the video remained unknown until 2013, when she was identified as Louise Court, a journalist who served as editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan and is now a director at Hearst Magazines UK.
In popular culture
In 2010, a Lipton iced tea commercial featuring Hugh Jackman included The Feeling's version of the song playing in the background.
The song is performed in "Dream On", season 1 episode 19 of the TV series Glee. In the episode, wheelchair-bound Artie (Kevin McHale) fantasizes about being able to dance and leading a flash mob performance of the song in a shopping mall. Ivan Doroschuk credited this version with "reaching a whole other section of people" to appreciate the song.
"The Safety Dance" was featured in Season 19 of South Park, Episode 2 "Where My Country Gone?".