5 Rock Songs to Dance to Onstage

image of jack white onstage with acoustic guitar
Teresa Sedó under CC BY-SA 2.0 License – No changes were made to the image.

We are meant to break traditions onstage. Street dancer and choreographer Duwane Taylor and violinist Sarah Sarhandi illustrated this perfectly when they collaborated in a London performance in which the dancer dictated the musician’s notes – instead of the other way around. In a more political vein, classically trained female ballet dancer Eisa Jocson’s reinterpretation of old school male-only macho dancing in the Philippines is a form-driven exploration of economic and gender roles in a primarily masculine society.

Of course, such brilliant ideas simply don’t come around on a daily basis. And if you’re a performer struggling to find ways to break from tradition, here’s a potentially spectacular concept for playing with form, content, or both: combining contemporary dance with new school rock. There’s no shortage of contemporary rock songs that can inspire you to take your onstage presence to the next level.

I’m Shakin’ – Jack White

Dancer and choreographer Ogg has a fair amount of videos on YouTube in which he dances to different contemporary songs. Arguably the best one is his choreography for Jack White’s I’m Shakin’, which captures not just the song’s playful energy but also White’s inherent old school sound and style. One of the few new school rock songs that’s equally at home on break dancing cardboard as well as the Lindy Hop dancehall.

Future People – Alabama Shakes

As much as the illustrious Brittany Howard kills it with her vocal and guitar skills, Future People would not be possible without the rest of Alabama Shakes, arguably the greatest active blues-rock band of this century. Apart from being an awesome song to use for dance choreography, the inspiring feel of Future People is also perfect for running, going to the gym, or simply cleaning your house. And if you like what you’re hearing, their multi Grammy award-winning Sound & Color album is actually filled with similarly danceable blues-rock tunes.

Brianstorm – Arctic Monkeys

This is the song that first endeared old school rock ‘n’ roll fans to Arctic Monkeys’s decidedly modern sound. Apart from being obviously danceable, the music video for Brianstorm features several dancers to match the song’s hi-octane energy. In fact, this song proves once and for all that the Ibanez TS808, which guitarists lovingly call the Holy Grail of Tube Screamers, is equally at home on the mosh pit as well as the dance floor. The combination of Alex Turner’s infectious voice, his screaming guitar riffs, and Matt Helders’ 165 bpm drumming means that you definitely can’t skip stretching and warming up before choreographing this song.

Lies – The Black Keys

Although Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are better known for their energetic hits, singer-guitarist Auerbach’s obsession with early 1900s emotional blues-rock produces some of the best somber tunes from time to time. Lies is arguably the peak of this creative direction. As opposed to the other songs on this list, Lies is better suited to slow, meandering choreography with a perfect heart-wrenching build up.

No Joke – PENGSHUi

“Rock” is a lacking term to describe the grimy EDM-driven punk and hip hop flavor that is PENGSHUi. Powered by legendary dubstep bassist and guitar effects pedal hoarder Fatty Hargreaves, DJ Pravvy Prav on drums, and Illaman, the self-styled hardest working emcee of the UK, PENGSHUi’s No Joke is a fun challenge for any contemporary choreographer. This includes the opportunity to choreograph moves with rap bars, trap and dubstep beats, or to simply dance with full abandon. If you’re looking for something complex and totally out of the ordinary, this song is No Joke.


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