Why Do We Applaud Kicklines?


Months ago, I was watching a musical that included some very impressive choreography. It didn't hurt that this local production also had quite a number of talented dancers in the ensemble. 

One moment in particular that I found most impressive was a group tap number, but even when the company did synchronized wings, the audience hardly reacted. However the moment that four characters did a kickline, you would have thought they were receiving a standing ovation. 

So this got me thinking, why do we applaud at the sight of a kickline as if it was some sort of Pavlovian conditioning technique?

I've sat in countless shows where the moment anything that resembles a kickline begins, the audience begins to clap like trained seals. Full disclosure: Most of the time, I'm one of those seals. 

So why do we do it? Is it that we're impressed with the synchronization? If that's the case, then why don't we applaud after every section of every choreographed number? 

Well the first answer is easy: it's that some people find a kickline, very impressive. No joke, I've been told this many times. 

However, interestingly enough, it might have to do more with what you're hearing rather than seeing. If you notice that most kicklines begin with a slow tempo then building up to a crescendo. The crescendo was created due to 17th Century composers wanting more control over how their music was to be performed. So through a series of dynamic markings, they could signify when they wanted to affect their audience with the volume of the music. 

So in musical theatre, by timing kicklines to the slowing of tempos(Sostenuto) and then accelerating it to a culmination, the natural response most people are going to give, is a thunderous applause. 

For example, check out the video to the right. Listen to the thunderous applause when the kickline is revealed and all the performers are doing, is literally a Nazi march. Yet, people in the audience are losing their s**t at the site of synchronized kicks.

To be clear, I'm not saying that kicklines are bad(I can't believe I just typed that sentence). But I find it interesting as to why audiences have such a visceral reaction to seeing it happen. 

If you don't believe me, the next time you go to a musical and see a kickline begin, just watch the audience or notice yourself instinctively want to applaud. I swear to God, it will happen. And if it doesn't, you're going to be thinking to yourself, "Shouldn't I applaud right now?" 

Photo by Diane Sobolewski