Think back, if you can, to a time where the world was quieter and calmer. Let your mind wander back to a bygone era, the sepia-toned past: 2015.
Barack Obama was president of the United States. “Uptown Funk,” Fetty Wap and Taylor Swift dominated the airwaves. And for a brief culture moment, when “dabbing” came up in conversation there was genuine confusion as to which dab was the topic of discussion — a cannabis concentrate or the viral dance move?
Concentrated cannabis has been around for thousands of years. It appeared first and foremost in the form of hashish, consumed in Hindu rituals in India and socially in the Middle East, particularly Egypt and Morocco, before making its way to Europe in the midst of colonialism. Basically, human beings have been eating or smoking concentrated cannabis almost as long as they’ve been eating or smoking cannabis flowers.
Cannabis concentrates as we know them, gooey and shiny and cannabinoid-rich, first hit the scene much more recently as extraction techniques advanced. The other kind of dab is also a newer invention, with origins that are easier to distill. It’s an uncomplicated series of movements that amount to more of a gesture than a dance: tilt your head down while, in one motion, you bend one arm in front of your face and fully extend the other, angled both about 35 degrees upward with your hands karate-chop flat. This is the cannabis-free way to hit a dab.
But the dab really found its way into the national spotlight during a series of contentious touchdown celebrations performed by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, according to Sports Illustrated.
Newton later told press his 16-year-old brother had encouraged him to include the move in his celebratory routine with a simple, soon-to-be iconic command: “Dab on ‘em folks.”
From there, the dab was vaulted into meme territory and became a pop culture punchline, often shorthand for victory and subsequent braggadocious behavior. Throw a crumpled piece of paper into a wastebasket and make it? Dab. Beat a friend at beer pong? Dab. Caught on camera at a sporting event or local newscast? Uh, yeah, definitely time to dab.
For certain sects of the populace — teens, rap fans, real heads, football fans and everyone in between — the identical wording was confusing. When a friend said they dabbed at a party or with their cousin over Thanksgiving, one follow-up question was basically inevitable: dabbing or dabbing, with some evocative hand motions thrown in for emphasis. Once that was cleared up, listeners could properly appreciate the rest of the anecdote, whether it be about a particularly lit playlist or a memorably hazy holiday dinner.
But as is the way with all cultural phenomena, especially culture phenomena lifted from black people and diffused into the mainstream (read: white) consciousness, the novelty of dabbing as a dance move was eventually wrung dry.
In this reporter’s opinion, the death knell of the dab as meme came when a congressman’s teenage son dabbed during his swearing-in ceremony, pissing off his family and then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in equal measure.
The dab itself is a masterclass in teenage disrespect, and it’s hard not to be a fan of anything that makes Paul Ryan upset. But the move made headlines and local news stations in a way that brought the dab as dance move to oversaturation in a way that even Hillary Clinton’s infamous “Ellen Show” dab could not (because it was eclipsed in our collective memory by “Pokémon go to the polls!” five months later). It was over. Dabbing was done.
Cannabis concentrates, on the other hand, are doing better than ever. Sure, the regulatory framework around them is varied and a little bit foggy, but from a numbers perspective, dabbing is hot: Researchers contend the global concentrate market could reach a value of over $13.78 billion in less than 10 years. That’s a lot of serious dabbing.
At the end of the day, the only competition between the dab and dabs was linguistic. In fact, one could even say the two practices share a symbolic tilt. They’re both flashy, dramatic and a little goofy — not a bad combo at all.
TELL US, did you buy into the dab dance craze?