The Ursine Rhythm of the Dancing Bear

grateful dead teddy bear online

A lot of things are somewhat endearing; but, a trained bear will dance his way into your heart… although they prefer to use their teeth and claws to get at that particular organ. There is something about watching a small, toothless malnourished bear shift from foot to foot like a teenager buying condoms at a drug store, that makes us reevaluate extincting the human race utterly. Sadly, you can’t see dancing bears just anywhere in the world, anymore. Most nations have standards of cruelty that make bear torture impossible even though these same countries still allow veal and blowing into your dog’s face to make it sneeze…

So, where did the practice of dancing bears originate? I’d like to say it came organically. I’d like to say that someone was playing music and that bears have an extraordinary sense Tame bear - Wikipediaof rhythm and did what came naturally. I’d like to also say that I have just as much hair as I did as a teenager. Grow up!!! I’m going bald and bears do NOT have a sense of rhythm… that’s one of the reasons being mauled by a bear is worse than being mauled by a mountain lion: The mountain lion settles into a rhythm so you know what comes next. Bears are haphazard and any pain you might feel is magnified by how irritated you get at its random timing. After a while, you are hoping the bear will give you another injury just to end the suspense…

How were bears trained to dance? A metal plate was put over a fire and the bear was put on the metal plate. As the plate got hot, music was played and the bears shifted from one foot to the other to keep from being burned. Certainly, it was a barbaric way to teach someone to dance; on the other hand, it was how Gene Kelly trained Debbie Reynolds…

Among the earliest to write about dancing bears was Greek orator Isocrates, who described tamed bears that danced, wrestled or otherwise made nuisances of themselves. There are rumors that it was a dancing bear that discovered the Golden Ratio; but, most scholars think it was just a discarded marshmallow. Later, dancing bears could be found in classical Rome, home of Cicero, the toga and street pizzas that taste like car exhaust. The father of the Roman empress, Theodora, was a bear-keeper. Historians don’t mention any dancing in his case; but, I’d imagine, with all of those bears about, you’d give into the temptation to dance with one, eventually.

In the Middle Ages, bear entertainment hit its apex. You could watch bears dance, somersault and get torn apart by vicious dogs. If there was a witch-burning nearby, you could make an afternoon of it. No one complained because society had given up the concept of cruelty when feudalism was implemented. Basically, entertainment in the Middle Ages was like living in the movie Hellraiser without the puzzle-box…

In modern times, great strides have been made in taking dancing bears off the streets. In Russia, they have a program where former dancing bears are surgically modified to be Dumneazu: The End of the Dancing Bearsgrandmothers. In the twenty-first century, most vestiges of bear-related entertainment have been eradicated. In 2007, Bulgarians rescued the last of the dancing bears in that country. Still no word on who’s going to rescue the Bulgarians. In 2012, the last Serbian dancing bear was rescued and given his own morning talk show.

Siberia still has dancing bears in its circuses but that is no more cruel than living in Siberia. In Pakistan, anything goes. Pakistan is the Las Vegas of the Middle East… except prostitution is illegal, gambling is illegal and there isn’t a showgirl to be found in the entire country. Let’s face it: In Pakistan, bear-torture is the least of their problems. India probably still has a few dancing bears performing in rural areas, but most have been resettled in wildlife preserves and call centers.

The last dancing bear in the United States was named “Dancing Bear” and performed on the Captain Kangaroo Show. It looked suspiciously like a man in a mask and bear-colored pajamas. I don’t think anyone ever confronted the man. Sometimes, delusions are better left unchallenged…

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