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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

Walk Like An Egyptian? Not Where I Come From

By J. Basil Dannebohm

The year was 1986. I was five years old. Births included my personal favorite, Lindsay Lohan, the Olson twins, Amanda Bynes, and Tahj Mowry. Deaths included jazz legend Benny Goodman, Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard, and Desi Arnaz, spouse of Lucille Ball. Elie Wiesel (author of "Night") won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Twenty years later, Oprah has finally read "Night" and it's now in her "Book Club.")

It was the year of "Hands across America." Geraldo opened Capone's vault only to find a bottle of shine. The New York Mets won the World Series. Pan-Am flight 73 was hijacked. Halley's Comet soared by planet earth. Speaking of space, NASA had a year of milestones but also suffered the loss of the Challenger crew. And Chernobyl blew up, causing the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Yes, 1986, a historical year indeed. Oh, and The Bangles released a number one song ... "Walk like an Egyptian." (Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh.) What exactly was "walking like an Egyptian?" I'm not really certain; I grew up in a small Kansas town, and nobody to my recollection did any such walking. Nonetheless, we shall try to shed some light on the subject and apply some personal history as well. Perhaps by the time I complete today's column, I will know for certain what "walking like an Egyptian" was all about.

Liam Sternberg was riding the ferry one day and noticed his fellow passengers having a hard time keeping their balance as they walked about, and the rest, as they say, is history. Keep in mind, this was before Sternberg wrote the theme song to "21 Jump Street," and was still coming down from his high on the Akron scene, so it can be assumed he was certainly looking for a muse. Apparently, the passengers reminded him of ... brace yourself ... Egyptian reliefs, similar to those we associate with the artwork adorning the ancient pyramids.

Thus the birth of Walk like an Egyptian's opening line: "All the old paintings on the tombs, they do the sand dance don't you know, If they move too quick, oh-way-oh, they're falling down like a domino"

The "sand dance," also known as the "King Tut Strut," was made popular in the early twentieth century by Wilson, Keppel, and Betty. It was somewhat revived in the later part of the century by comedian Steve Martin. But what exactly is this "sand dance?" According to the Bangles, everybody was doing it ... but, as I said before, not where I came from.

Allow me to break it down.

"The blonde waitresses take their trays, they spin around and they cross the floor, they've got the moves, ohway-oh, you drop your drink then they bring you more."

Growing up in Ellinwood, Kansas, a town of roughly 2,000 people, we only had a few dining establishments to choose from: a bakery, three or four bars, a pizza café, the Dairy Queen, and one real "restaurant." After listening to the song, I think we may have been missing out. While Waxy's did have great pie, and one fine buffet, the joint clearly lacked blonde waitresses who spun around as they crossed the floor. Actually, come to think of it, Waxy's lacked any waitresses under the age of 55, and there were certainly no blondes-a few purple bee hives-but no blondes. However, if you dropped your drink they were always happy to bring you more. (Just don't expect any spinning.)

"All the school kids so sick of books, they like the punk and the metal band, When the buzzer rings, oh-way-oh, they're walking like an Egyptian."

Not at my school. First of all, we didn't have a "buzzer," rather we had a nun with a brass bell who walked down the hall ringing it when the school day was complete. As for punk and metal bands, get real. We were country when country wasn't cool. While the city kids rocked out to Twisted Sister, we square danced to the Mandrell Sisters. As best as I can recall, there was no walking like an Egyptian.

"Slide your feet up the street bend your back, Shift your arm then you pull it back, Life is hard you know, oh-way-oh, So strike a pose on a Cadillac."

Whoa now wait a minute. This sounds complex to me. What ever happened to a jump to the left, and then a step to the right, with your hands on your hips, you bring your knees in tight? If you have to do all that sliding and shifting to walk like an Egyptian, I'm sticking to the time warp. Besides, why ruin a good paint job on a Cadillac?

"If you want to find all the cops, they're hanging out in the donut shop, they sing and dance, oh-way-oh, they spin the clubs, cruise down the block."

Only half correct. In my hometown, admittedly the cops did hang out at the donut shop. But who the hell didn't? The donut shop was THE place to be every morning except Sunday. Not only did they have the world's best chocolate donuts, but it was also the distribution point of essential county-wide gossip. The past is always a bit fuzzy, but I can safe say I never recall seeing our police force sing or dance in the donut shop. Eat and cuss yes. Sing and dance no.

"All the Japanese with their yen, the party boys call the Kremlin, and the Chinese know, oh-way-oh, they walk the line like Egyptian."

I can certainly call bologna on this one! My hometown had one Japanese-American family, sadly no Russians, and one Egyptian family. Don't knock it-for central Kansas, this was ethnic diversity. Anyway, out of all our fine citizens, you would expect the Egyptian family to walk like Egyptians. I am sorry to report this is simply not the case. I observed, trust me on this one, they did not walk like Egyptians. As a matter of fact, they walked like pretty much everybody else. Was it because they lived in Ellinwood, Kansas? I don't think so. As I said in the beginning, I think the Bangles lied.

In conclusion, I have the following to say to the Bangles (except you Susanna): Clearly you are full of bologna. Yes, you read that correctly. For more than three decades, I have believed that Ellinwood, Kansas was missing out on something big. Never once in my childhood did I encounter somebody walking like an Egyptian.

As a sheltered boy from the Midwest, I never made it to the "big city", where this walking was apparently going on. But in my older age, I have done research, yes, research, and now, I can say with absolute certainty, nobody, at least in the Western Hemisphere, was walking like an Egyptian. Not even the Egyptians themselves.

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