Moves Like Gahan: The Evolution of Dave's Dancing
February 21, 2021
He's been called a "gimpy" dancer, a "bum wiggler," and an "overpaid stripper." So, what is it about Dave's dancing on stage that is so captivating and noteworthy? And how has his stage moves evolved over the years? Put on your favorite danceable track (and it better be Depeche Mode!) and let's take a trek through the history and evolution of Dave's dancing, including full-motion GIFs!
1. In the beginning...
Dave was not much of a dancer in the very beginning. In fact, he hardly moved at all during those early Depeche Mode shows, or if he did, his movements were somewhat rigid and/or awkward. The GIF above from his performance of "New Life" on Top of the Pops shows one of the more vigorous moves he had during the time. But it appears that he wasn't at all sure what to do with his limbs. Usually this early on in a career, one tends to copy the moves of someone they idolize, and during this time we knew that Dave was a big fan of David Bowie, The Damned, The Clash, and Slade to name a few. Their movements were more suited for punk rock, though, and would not have fit with the poppy sound Depeche Mode were producing at the time under Vince Clarke's musical direction, or they were playing other instruments whilst singing which Dave wasn't doing. He was already well on his way to becoming a good singer and performer, though, but he just hadn't found his groove yet!
2. Dancing like nobody's watching
Just a year or so later, Dave appeared to find his groove. Well...I'll say that it was a groove. It was still pretty haphazard, though, and quite a bit silly, too. If he didn't know what to do with his limbs a year before, now he was just flailing them around all over the place, and dancing like nobody was watching. But the press was watching, though, and they described his dancing during this time as "gimpy."1 Ouch. At least Alan Wilder said he liked it, though.
3. Bouncing off the walls (or speakers)
Despite all of the changes in the way Dave moves around on stage, one thing that has remained constant even up until today is the sheer amount of energy he displays. One example of where he really turned up the notch on this was during a show in Hamburg, Germany in 1984- in particular while performing "Told You So" as seen on The World We Live in and Live in Hamburg. This was before he started playing with his mic (and no, I don't mean that in a dirty way! Okay, maybe I do a little bit). However by this time, he really seemed to have control over his moves- less aimless flailing around and displaying more athleticism. He did a lot of bouncing around from foot to foot kind of like how a boxer might do with what's called a "pendulum step," which is a great way to maintain timing and agility during a fight, so it's no wonder Dave employed this kind of move on stage, whether he did it consciously or not. Because boy, was he a big ball of energy. When this guy gets loose, you don't know what's going to happen! Check him out banging his head on a speaker above!
4. "Accomplished bum wiggler"
"Gyrating hips," "bum wiggling," "twitchy tushes," whatever you want to call it...by 1984, magazines were buzzing about Dave's pelvis movements on stage2, and it was originally on the pages of Smash Hits magazine that Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys bestowed the title of "accomplished bum wiggler" on Dave once and for all.3 And this title and these moves have stuck with him well into the present day such that no matter what happens, he will forever be known as "bum wiggler extraordinaire." Not bad for a career achievement, huh?
5. You spin me right 'round
Now that we're talking about titles and signature moves and all that, you know what else Dave is well-known for? Yep, you guessed it...it was not too long after the receiving the "accomplished bum wiggler" award that Dave added another signature move to his arsenal- spins! He may have started doing them earlier, but the earliest I remember and the most notable was when he did it in the "A Question of Time" video. Spinning in place was such a simple move but it was so fun and joyful-looking that you couldn't help but let out a gleeful scream every time he did it, and the crowds sure did. This is a move that has stuck with him for the next few decades and is so iconic that it just wouldn't feel like a Depeche Mode show without Dave performing a ballerina spin every now and then- especially during the aforementioned song that started it all.
6. Gahan wild
One never would have even known that Dave's dance moves were once called "gimpy" if one saw him during the Music for the Masses Tour- in particular, on 101. In Pasadena and beyond, Dave turned up the notch and delivered one stellar move after another from his arsenal, keeping the hits coming song-after-song. There was lots and lots of bum-wiggling, pelvis-thrusting, spinning, stomping and clapping, and...whatever was going on in the GIF above. And it's not like Dave invented these moves himself, but he sure put his own spin on them (pun not intended). He was very agile and confident, as his moves were definitely more swoon-inducing than cringe-inducing by this point.
7. Partner in crime
It was Alan Wilder who described the predicament best: "It's alright for Dave as he can move around but we're stuck behind the keyboards like robots."1 Well, with Dave doing all that moving about on stage by himself, he was bound to get lonely...wasn't there somebody out there who could dance with him? I know some of us would gladly volunteer, but sorry...the position of Dave's dance partner has already been filled...and he goes by the name, Mr. Mike Stand! Um, yes, that's right. The yin to Dave's yang has been with him from the beginning and he just didn't realize its potential until later! "I was down in front on my own," Dave said. "So I had to create my own little world. I mean, it was fine when we were playing little clubs and theaters. But all of a sudden it was, like, 200-foot stages that just felt so empty. That's when I started to go into my own world and act out each song physically as well as with my voice. So the microphone stand became my partner...my dancing partner."4 Awww, how sweet. Well, let's just say that incorporating Mr. Mike Stand into his repertoire was probably the best and most iconic thing he's done since the ballerina spin. In fact, when he mixes the two together (i.e., spins with his mic), it is a spectacle for the ages and it doesn't get much more Dave-Gahan than that.
8. To become a rock god
The Devotional tour was no ordinary tour; to many, it was a religious experience. That's because Depeche Mode were absolutely at the top of their game performance-wise. Though, ironically, the band were at its lowest point personally. While we know that Dave was especially struggling, you never would've known it because on stage, he was on fire. And we have to remember, at this point, this was a man hell-bent on becoming the next Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop or whatever, as he said, "I actually consciously thought, 'There's no f---ing rock stars out there any more. There's nobody willing to go the whole way to do this. So what's needed? What's missing here? What am I missing? It's one thing singing the songs, but does anybody really mean it?' So I created a monster. And I made the mistake of thinking that meaning it meant you had to take yourself to the very depths of hell. So I dragged my body through the mud, to show that I could do it."5 And drag it through the mud he did. A prime example of this is when he performed stage dives during shows, jumping straight into the sea of people in front of him, even missing them in one instance and ending up in the hospital with smashed ribs. Dave tried to go full-on rock n' roll with everything in his life- from the music, the performances, and even his lifestyle. And it very nearly cost him his life in the end.
9. Let me see you stripped...
Dave has pretty much been stripping on stage since the very beginning. Of course moving around as vigorously as he does, one is bound to get very hot and sweaty, so the less clothing the better in this situation. But Dave didn't start stripping all the way down to his skin until the Devotional tour. Again, maybe this was because he was trying to be a rock god? However, this stripping-down-to-nearly-the-bone thing didn't really take off until the Exciter tour, where he would perform nearly the whole night shirtless. This was not the same pale and gaunt, drug-addled figure of the mid-1990s, though. At 40, Dave had become a clean and rejuvenated man, with a body so healthy and fit that Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire, would've been jealous. And he was not at all shy about showing it off, which he did for much of the two decades following. This combined with his signature suggestive movements that he was already a master of only served to turn the heat up even more on an already sizzling spectacle, which leads me into the final element I want to focus on with Dave's dancing...
10. The way you move has got me burning
Imagine someone walking into the middle of the show and seeing the above. They'd probably think they just walked into Chippendales perhaps...and well, that's not too far from the truth. Dave has declared himself as an "overpaid stripper."6 I guess if this Depeche Mode thing ceases to work out anymore, then we may see him in such venues? Ah ha, kidding...But really, Dave must have taken pointers from strippers because there was a lot of shenanigans like stripteasing, crotch-grabbing, treating Mr. Mike Stand like a stripper pole, and I could go on...but you get my point.
Bonus: Honorable Mentions
Dave has had so many iconic stage moves over the years, that I could go on forever listing them all. These ones didn't quite make the list, but they are still certainly worth mentioning.
Dave doing his best "Energizer Bunny on steroids" impression.
The chemistry that Dave has with his inanimate dance partner is so hot that he gets pretty handsy with it. I'm not even going to mention the other body parts he likes to rub against it!
Sometimes during "I Feel You," Dave likes to take a break and do some yoga.
Introducing graceful ballerina Dave.
- "Depeche Mode — Almost There", Smash Hits (March 16, 1983)
- "Swanky Mode", No. 1 (October 20, 1984)
- "Depeche Mode STRANGE BUT TRUE!", Smash Hits (November 22 - December 5, 1984)
- "Dave Gahan", Interview (July 6, 2009)
- "Dead Man Talking", NME (January 18, 1997)
- "Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan: 'I'm An Overpaid Stripper'", HuffPost (March 14, 2013)
So, which of Dave's dance moves are your favorites? Are there any that you can think of that didn't make this list? Finally, how do you think his dancing has changed over the years? Please comment below!