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Dance, baby, dance!

The lineage and evolution of the Infield Win Dance

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Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers
and a five, six, seven, eight!
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

You may have noticed a particular ritual taking shape on the infield grass directly after each of the Mariners’ recent wins- the national media’s even starting to catch on. The Infield Win Dance is widely believed to have arisen in response to the Mariners outfielders’ victory celebration, which they’ve been perfecting since at least the home opener. The infield version is more complex and changing quickly, so I’m here as your resident dance expert to give you the breakdown.

The first recorded instance of the Infield Win Dance dates to July fourth, the third win in the Mariners’ current fourteen-game streak, and J.P. Crawford’s first game back from his brawl suspension. Coincidence? I think not! The Dance starts small, lasting only three or four seconds, with only the four infielders participating in this first instance. (I will note that, like most social dances in the U.S., this has its origins in shared expressions of joy among Black Americans and immigrants of color)

Several persistent features of the dance appear from its inception, including its circle formation (more on that later) and the shoulder hold, which is common in folk dances from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. It does appear that Abraham Toro, Carlos Santana, and Eugenio Suarez are following Crawford’s lead as the Dance begins.

The Infield Win Dance then appears after every game since July fourth, with the exception of July eighth’s walk off home run (walk offs requiring a different sort of post-game celebration, of course). Few changes appear until July ninth, though the fifth does represent peak form of the shoulder hold. By the ninth we see the kick step begin to gel, though Crawford and Santana are kicking out to the side in between steps, while Toro and Suarez kick forward.

At this point it’s giving some Lindy Hop vibes; notice the similar kick steps at second ten below:

On July 10th all four infielders adopt the externally-rotated leg kick, but this begins to shift during the July 13th doubleheader, when the circle widens. After game one, Santana joins the infielders; he was DH for the game, but had plenty of experience with the dance as one of its originators. In game two we see the battery join the fun for the first time, as Paul Sewald and Luis Torrens widen the group to six for the first time:

With a wider circle, the sideways kick becomes more treacherous, and only France and Santana retain that rotation in the video above. At this point the shoulder hold and footwork are fairly consistent, and we’re starting to see the circle rotate. In the above clip the dance moves counterclockwise for the duration of eight kick steps and then breaks up. It remains much the same the following night, when Diego Castillo and Cal Raleigh make their debut in the circle.

On July 16th we see the final choreographic changes (so far):

Not only do we reach our peak of seven participants (infielders, battery, plus Santana joining off the bench) and finally see the unison coalesce in the footwork, we also see the introduction of a directional change. Instead of eight kick steps counterclockwise, the players take five and then change the direction of their rotation, performing five additional kick steps in a clockwise direction. What’s remarkable is that there doesn’t seem to be one ringleader tugging everyone else around; either they’ve practiced, someone is verbally directing, or they’ve achieved such a prescience for one another’s movements that they may just never lose again.

Yesterday’s dance doesn’t show any changes, but rather further mastery of the form: still seven participants, still five kick steps in each direction, but this time with even greater synchronicity of rhythm and everyone always on the same leg. In the video below you can hear some chanting that seems to be keeping the rhythm; I’m hoping to get clearer audio for that in the future (or ask the players about it).

Though the Infield Win Dance maintains Lindy Hop/Charleston/Swing Dance elements in its footwork and shares many formal features with Bulgarian folk dance, several astute viewers have noted that its evolution approaches the traditional Hora (which has many forms, the most commonly known being traditional Jewish forms and some Eastern European cultural forms). The resemblance is certainly notable in this footage of Ukrainian Jews dancing a Hora in the 1930s:

So, what is the Infield Win Dance? Scholars categorize dance in multiple ways, but a common breakdown is Ceremonial Dance / Folk Dance / Concert Dance / Social Dance. Ceremonial Dance is sometimes known as Ritual Dance or Religious Dance, and describes those dances performed as part of a ceremony or ritual in order to generate an outcome. While the Infield Win Dance is certainly ritualized, it responds to rather than generating an outcome, and can’t be appropriately described as ceremonial. Folk Dance exists within a specific cultural context and carries features of cultural identity. Folk Dance is also inherited rather than innovated (changes may occur, but they do so more like a game of telephone than like the riffs of a Jazz artist). Clearly, given the above, the Infield Win Dance is innovated, so that’s out. Concert Dance is that which is created to be performed for an audience, often in a theater setting. Social Dance, on the other hand, is created for participation and collaboration, rather than to be watched, and serves a social function for those participating.

One could make a case for the Infield Win Dance fitting in either of these categories. I can imagine someone saying that the celebration was created to be witnessed by an audience of fans (and the opposing team), just as all of an MLB game is a commercial performance. I lean, however, toward the Social Dance classification. The Infield Win Dance is watched, but its evolution has been collaborative and moved consistently toward greater participation. It serves a clear social function- expression and celebration of the joy of a win- and it does so with exuberant clarity. Circles are a common form in Social Dance, symbolizing unity and inclusion, and circle dances are infinitely scalable. Two people can perform a circle dance if needed, as can a thousand. Part of what’s fun about the Infield Win Dance is imagining its future- will the outfielders be subsumed? Will the bullpen join in? What if we got to the postseason and a thousand fans performed it before the game, surrounding T Mobile Park? I jest, but also I kind of don’t.

For a while, we and others were talking about this team as one struggling to find an identity. We’re still seeing clubhouse leadership shifting some week to week and day to day. There’s not a single word or phrase or leader that’s top of mind for all M’s fans. But it’s starting to look like part of this team’s identity might be... happiness? Ironic for a team sparked into winning by an epic brawl that left several players injured. But that’s what I’m hearing from staff writers who’ve been in the clubhouse and in the press box these last weeks, and that’s what I’m seeing with the dancing: this is a team that’s eager to be happy and share their happiness outward. So of course they’re dancing: Austrian writer Vicki Baum writes that “there are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.”

...winning fourteen in a row probably doesn’t hurt either.