Viewpoint: The origins of a tradition

BY RON AND DENISE LANCE

Published January 25, 2012

These days the "Blues Brothers Dance" is everywhere Michigan sports seem to be. And isn’t it great fun to see everyone, including sports greats like Denard Robinson, having such a great time going crazy for those brief minutes? No doubt it has quickly become the latest in a long history of Michigan traditions.

Traditions are truly wondrous things, and having left the Ann Arbor campus ourselves almost 35 years ago, it's become ever more curious to us just how they seem to acquire a life energy all their own. But how many people really know how this zaniness got its start?

Sadly, we believe that all too often, after a few short years, no one remembers. Classes graduate and no one pauses to commit the story to writing. Far too many of today’s deeply rooted traditions lack what journalists might call the “back story” on how they came to exist. For the past few years, we’ve had the pleasure of watching a new tradition be born at the University, and watch it spread across the various sporting events. This time, however, we felt that the “back story” should be written down and documented.

The birth of the "Blues Brothers Dance" mania is recent enough that many people know its genesis is rooted in Yost Ice Arena with the Michigan hockey team. Go to any Michigan hockey game and it’s the highlight of the second intermission — it has been for several years. In the past year or so, the Big House has been rocking as the band blares out the song and throngs of students and even arena staff and the crowd, pump their fists and dance with delight. But just how many remember how and when it started? Well, here’s that answer.

The atmosphere in Yost on any Friday or Saturday night the hockey team is in town has long been unique. Just ask the parents of any visiting team’s goalie. The cheers are special, the student body is bursting to let off steam and the Hockey Pep Band has always been more than willing and able to spice up the mixture. But in the 2008-09 season, a core of the student section seated in Section 17 added a new member, and it brought something new to Yost. The hockey cheers have long colorful histories, but this new group kicked their game up a notch as they began egging on the band and its newly dancing director to add even more frenetic accompaniment to the antics. Visiting goalies, parents and referees are the long-standing targets of the student section.

The experience of being in Yost at game time is special to those who follow Michigan hockey. Even the Wall Street Journal took notice, voting the crowd in Yost one of its notable “best.” But this small core of students worked hard each night to arouse and involve others around them, and with their success came the participation of even the working event staff. The pep band had long played a spirited rendition of the Blues Brothers song, but it became the channel of this energetic student group for some newly invented craziness. The new "Blues Brothers Dance" was introduced into the student section repertoire by one student who convinced his brother and others seated around him to join in during this 2008-09 season resurgence. It shortly became an event with a life of its own, and thankfully intermission lasts only 20 minutes, or there would be no telling to this day just how long it might go on.

Who were these kids? Well, the hard core membership includes Jeff Lance and Mandy Siegle (an alumni hockey pep band member). The important new ingredient in 2008, however, was Kevin Lance, Jeff’s younger brother. It was Kevin who introduced the punching hand motions and the rest of the dance routine to the Blues Brothers music the pep band had long been playing. In the earlier versions, there were words to the dance but they were soon dropped due to the frenzy taken on by the dance itself. In those first days some called it “Punch the Giant” as coined by Kevin, its choreographer. It was quickly way beyond being identified with any one person, however, and the effort of this small initial core was swallowed up as all of Yost began to feel that rush the minute the band fired up the tune.

Looking back, I wonder if perhaps this is what happened with so many of Michigan’s other fine traditions. After all, some one individual had to do it for the first time, and many of those names are now lost to us. From Yost, it took only a couple of seasons for the dance to find its way to the Big House in a big way on the shoulders of the band and some of these same hockey dancers. There is no question the Big House and Crisler Arena versions are fun, but for purists there is nothing like the original being belted out in Yost by the hockey pep band and the fans in Section 18.

Ron and Denise Lance, 1976 University alums.

Correction appended: A previous version of the article misidentified the students as members of Section 18.