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A pop, a sway, a sway and a pop, and now a little robot and a funky arm-flap.
Specific patterns, of course, move the body in specific ways. At the Monastery, these patterns, coupled with the buzz of adrenaline that comes with the sneaking suspicion that this is special, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that all will recall fondly to their grandkids, have created a few specific dances. One, the Left Right, is celebrated at the same time every week, 2:30 a.m., and is song-specific: When Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos drops Drama's "Left Right," the crowd gets organized and does the dance, which consumes much of the space and entails massive shifts to the left and right.
The other, the Mono (a.k.a. the Monastery, a.k.a. the Nina Pop, a.k.a. the Back-Back, a.k.a. the Chickenhead), started here and has evolved into a dance that's swept the club and hit the radio as lyrics to songs and is gradually moving its way from the heart of East St. Louis into clubs all over the country.
Ali of the St. Lunatics sings its praises in his hit "Breathe In, Breath Out," as do Da Hol' 9 in their new single, "Nina Pop" (and their regional smash "Urbody N Da Club Up" was a Mono anthem). Like the Twist, the Hustle and the Electric Slide before it, the Mono has exploded into bona fide dance craze.
The Mono started back in 1998 with a couple of guys. Others say it was a couple of girls. Mississippi is the final authority, though, because he was there: "The rumor is that a couple of girls started the dance, but for me and my experience, it was a couple of guys. It was, like, two or three guys that was doing that dance, but they knew the girls, so the girls would always do it with them."
One was Kevin Henderson, who, after five years, still goes to the Monastery every Saturday night. ("It's live, man," he says, "I love going there.")
"My cousin came to me one day," he says. "We were at the club, and he just started doing this little crazy thing -- it looked crazy to me -- and I noticed all the people were watching, watching how we started doing it. We had girls watching us -- we were called the 'little hot boys' of the club at that time -- and the girls started picking up on how to do the dance, like, 'Oooh, show me how you do it!' And they started doing it. As the dance evolved, people started different little moves and steps, but it was basically the same thing. We started that the summer of '98."
At this point, the dance is so ubiquitous at the club that it's sort of hard for an outsider to spot; everybody's adding his or her own accent. To describe it is nearly impossible, but it's a pop, and it's a sway, with a funny little arm thing going on, and it's goddamn sexy.
"It's a bunch of popping," explains Kaos. "It's like you're stomping your feet together, and then you're stomping away. You stomp in, you stomp out with your right foot, you stomp in, stomp out with your left foot, all in different motions to the beat. At the same time, you're working your back forward and backward, and you're pushing your arms. It's nothing but what we used to call in the '80s the Fag Pop."
Henderson has another comparison: "You know what? You remember the Funky Chicken? It's not much different than that."
The girls, he continues, sparked the Mono's evolution at the Monastery. "They twist their little behinds, and the men don't really do it like that."
When Henderson speaks about the Mono, there's a tone of wonder in his voice. He and his cousins -- Jason Brownlee and Wendell, Keith and Shawn Leachman -- were just doing their thing, just letting loose on the dance floor, just playing. And then a little echo over there. A few others sneaking peeks from across the way. Another girl spying from behind, trying to learn a funny little dance move to show her friends. A few months later, more copycats, more inspiration and variation. As in a game of telephone, in each translation a little variation.
And now, says Kaos, the dance is spreading farther. He travels a lot, he says, "and I also see what everybody else is on, and being from St. Louis, it's the first thing they say: 'Hey, show me how to Nina Pop. I've been at different people's video shoots, and they say, 'Man, we gotta have somebody in the video Nina Pop.'"
The first time it hit Henderson that the Mono was turning into a craze was about a year later. He started noticing it at other clubs, and it was evolving even more. "I was like, what in the world have we started? I used to talk to my cousins before they got locked up -- they're all incarcerated now -- 'Man, we got everybody doing this dance.' We used to say, 'If we could get a dollar for everybody we've seen doing our dance, we'd be rich.'