A Brief History of Locking: The Lock and Short of it

History of Locking - The Lockers, Campbell’s own dance group that he formed with the legendary Toni Basil, Greg "Campbell Junior" Pope and others

The History of Locking (Dance)

Decades ago, Dan Campbell made a mistake. The result was one of the most popular hip hop dance forms in the world today and for now, we’ll take you through the history of locking.

The Mocking that created Locking

One fateful day, somewhere around 1970, Don Campbell was performing the Funky Chicken (some say it was the Robot Shuffle1) in front of an audience when he suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember his next move. He had reached a particularly intricate point in the dance when he realized that he had forgotten his next step. He furrowed his brow and scratched his head2, but his brain would have none of it – it simply gave him the middle finger and refused to co-operate. He then did what most of used to do when a hot girl approached us in high school – he froze. And then a lady from the audience did what that hot girl probably did to you – she laughed. And then Campbell did something inspired by something that most of us never have – a flash of genius. Annoyed by his own failure, he simply showed her the finger – not the middle finger of course – he just pointed at her and that in turn caused everyone to look in her direction, giving them the impression that the pointing was actually a dance move.

Dan Campbell performing one of his signature moves. Who said it's bad manners to point fingers?
Dan Campbell performing one of his signature moves. Who said it’s bad manners to point fingers?

So Campbell did what most of us would give our right nut to be able to do – he converted his failure into a success – and the audience’s mocking created Locking – one of the most popular funk and hip hop dance forms in the world today.

What began as just a simple mistake in a fad dance became a whole phenomenon that swept the streets of LA and the world. Don Campbell became the don of street dancing and created an almost other-worldly sequence of moves and patterns that ensured his pace in the history books. I guess we know who had the last laugh that night! What a way to set the pace for the history of locking.

Campbelling the Cat

For many hip hop dance enthusiasts, the name Don Campbell certainly does rings a bell. But that’s where the familiarity ends, especially for the young ‘virgin’ dancers. They’ve heard of him somewhere, but they’re not sure exactly where. They clasp their fists and clench their teeth,  “Just give me a sec, I’ve got it…..

Everyone sees dancers simply pointing or locking movements with their hands, but not many know how it all started. Campbell was the original dancer who used to “lock up” the fluidity of the moves and “freeze” his arms in place. He then went on to create a pattern of such moves and institutionalized Locking. It was his clumsy signature freezing move that is the precursor to the lockings, freezings and pointings that we see today.

In 1972, Campbell released his song “The Campbellock” to accompany his high-flying dancing style. Campbell was one of the original dancing high-flyers, unlike many dancing experts today, who are really low flyers supported by occasional strong winds.

This campaign of ‘Campbellocking’, as it was originally called, gave rise to a number of dance groups specializing in the style, with the most notable among them being The Lockers, Campbell’s own dance group that he formed with the legendary Toni Basil, Greg “Campbell Junior” Pope and others.

The Lockers, Campbell’s own dance group that he formed with the legendary Toni Basil, Greg "Campbell Junior" Pope and others

They are considered the single most important group that “changed the face of dance”. If The Lockers didn’t exist, it would have been necessary to invent them. Which is exactly what Campbell did. They then went on to tour with Frank Sinatra, including being featured with him at Carnegie Hall, and made a humongous number of television appearances, including the second ever Saturday Night Live show, Soul Train, Carol Burnett, and The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. All shows that were very popular during their time, but now alas – forgotten. Except Saturday Night Live of course, which is the only one we really wish was forgotten.

The true lesson of Locking

Campbell and his mates have left behind a legacy that has made him something of a legend.  The entire world has now been locked in to the phenomenon of Locking. But there is something else about what Locking teaches us (apart from the fact that it is a sure shot way of impressing girls, or as the more florid among us like to put it – “a chick magnet”) – how a simple mistake can be converted into something that leaves the whole world captivated. After all, everyone makes mistakes. But what have we ever done about it3?

I hope you enjoyed our view into the history of locking. If you liked it, share and subscribe to our blog!

1. The lack of a definitive history about the early stages of Locking is rather shocking.?

2. Figuratively speaking of course.?

3. Making the same mistake again doesn’t count.?

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