Who Should Have Won the Great Museum Dance-Off?

No nudity, but a lot of rolling and spinning.


Video still from Muse Science Museum, Trento, Italy

Video still from Muse Science Museum, Trento, Italy

Twenty-two contestants enter. One leaves. Dancing. 

That was the idea of an contest sponsored by website WhenYouWorkAtAMuseum.com, which invited museums around the world to submit a staff music video. Nearly two dozen institutions in nine countries have complied over the past few weeks, many filming intricately choreographed dance numbers featuring costumes, native folk dances or homages to Broadway. (For some reason, many entrants included dance solos by a grinning security guard and the game-for-anything staff librarian.)

Through round robin voting on the site, the entrants were winnowed down to three and the announcement came June 18.

Museo Nacional de Escultura (The National Sculpture Museum of Spain) won Thunderdome handily with 51 percent of the vote for its staff-shimmy to Rafael’s 1970s hit “Mi Gran Noche.” (All told, more than 325,000 votes were cast over the length of the contest.) Second place went to Indiana State Museum with a giddy take on Pharrell’s “Happy,” and third went to the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology’s witty “What Does the Pump Say?“, which had its Ontario, Canada, employees acting as pistons and explaining scientific concepts while sporting steam-punk gear.

Along the way, there were other highlights: The Menil Collection saluted Moby; LA’s Hammer Museum opted for disco: Winston-Salem’s Reynolda House, an early entrant, did “Footloose”; and the Idaho Falls Arts Council were dancing queens, vacuuming. The employees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, who were arguably robbed, submitted a “Shark vs. Jets” number from West Side Story performed at their 2012 Christmas party. A couple of staffers even donned animal costumes.   

Many of the videos featured 30 or more employees dancing on roofs, on tables, in gardens, in lunchrooms, in elevators, and in conservation labs. There was an inordinate amount of rolling and spinning on office chairs in time to a beat. No nudity, but the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art was “Sexy, and I Know It.” 

The rules were simple: “Basically, if your organization cares for artifacts and objects of scientific, cultural, historic or artistic value and importance, and you deal with the crap we complain about on this blog every day, you’re qualified to enter . . . Make a video of the staff at your museum dancing, singing, awkwardly shuffling around, whatever, to the song of your choice.” Videos were emailed or uploaded to YouTube, and then the voting began.

There were charges of cheating, of course, surfacing on Facebook. Voting was run on the honor system (once only per person was requested), but there was no oversight. However, the vote leaders were generally ones who took to social media to garner support.  

For those museums who missed out on the top prize, or missed out on the competition completely, the organizers promise there will be another contest next year, this one to be called: Museum Dance Off 2: Electric Boogaloo.

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