MC Hammer’s "U Can’t Touch This" holds a pivotal place in American history as the seminal '90s pump-up song that introduced parachute pants to the world. The staff at the National Museum of American History have recently decided to further immortalize the track with an interpretation of their own.
Given the weighty history of the artifacts they house, a misconception about museums is that they can be staid, conservative establishments—all tweed and no flash photography, no selfie-sticks. Not so, reveals When You Work at a Museum, a pithy Tumblr dedicated to celebrating the people who work in these time-honored instituions from curators to researchers, while also serving as a forum for museum staff to commiserate over common frustrations.
In addition to gif-filled posts that describe the immense annoyance of staff when patrons attempt to eat the fake foods in diner interactive exhibits, the site spearheads a popular annual competition that pits museums around the world head-to-head, against one another. And no, this contest does not involve anything in museum collections, but rather, the collective ability of their staff…to break it down.
The latest iteration of the Museum Dance Off included 28 participating members from around the world including the Cambridge Museum of Technology in the United Kingdom, the Fine Arts Museum Zanabazar in Mongolia and of course, the Smithsonian’s very own National Museum of American History, strutting to, you guessed it, "U Can't Touch This."
Project assistant Katharine Klein and Laura Duff, the manager of film and media, worked together to bring a buoyant, choreographed vision to life: featuring everyone from children at the SEEC preschool to members of the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability to the museum's director John Gray, who was given the crucial line, "Stop, Hammer Time."
"This was a great way to bring the museum together," says Duff.
Each participating museum created a video showcasing dancing and lip-syncing to their melody of choice. Official voting for Round One ran from April 20 through April 29, with three to four videos highlighted each day, out of which viewers chose one favorite. Those favorites continute to battle it later rounds, until only one is left standing. This week, the National Museum of American History was unfortunately edged out by a hair, losing by 200 votes to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, grooving to "Safety Dance."
"The final ten minutes were killer, they managed to get all over the media," says Duff.
While competition may have been fierce, we'll always have one home team contestant that we're rooting for. As MC Hammer would say, "This is a beat you can’t touch."