The ring shout was a holy dance whose roots can be traced directly to West Africe. Although the ring shout occurs spontaneously at first, it emerges into a kind of choreographed dance of men and women moving in a circle counterclockwise, shuffling their feet and gesticulating with their arms. Historian Sterling Stuckey suggested that in his mature career, when Monk left the piano bench to dance while his sidemen soloed, he was echoing the ring shout. His “dance” consisted of a peculiar spinning move, elbow pumping up and down on each turn, with an occasional stutter step allowing him to glide left and right. It was a deliberate embodiment of the rhythm of each tune: Every drummer interviewed who played with Monk said that he liked to get up to dance in order to set the rhythm; it was a form of conducting that required complete attention from the drummer. Was it also a sacred expression? Perhaps.
(The above from p. 46 of the paper edition of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley.)
The bit of concert footage which appears at (or near) the beginning of the biopic Straight, No Chaser shows Monk engaged in just such a dance.
On a personal note:
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