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Dancing with Urkel

Jaleel White, aka the artist formerly known as Steven Q. Urkel, is on the latest season of Dancing With The Stars.

I admit, I don’t follow the show, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited to hear that White would be on.

I thought, “Maybe, just maybe, after 21 years it means the return of….’The Urkel Dance.'”

“If you want to do the Steve Urkel dance,
All you have to do is hitch up your pants,
Bend your knees, and stick out your pelvis;
(I’m telling you, baby, it’s better than Elvis!)”.

It’s 1991,  Family Matters, Season 2 Episode 18; “The Life of the Party.”

Those somewhat provocative lyrics are from “The Urkel Dance” sung by The Urkman himself (with background singers to boot).
Laura’s best friend Maxine is celebrating a birthday on some rooftop in Chicago. 
Urkel, of course, gets an invite. Aunt Rachel is there too as she was nice enough to cater and chaperone the affair. Also there, Willie (Larenz Tate, who went on to a modest film career after this), a school bully who actually boxed and lost to our hero Steve in a previous episode. 
Willie’s sidekick at the time?
Waldo Geraldo Faldo, in his “heel” phase. (He would later “turn” and become Eddie’s best buddy and Maxine’s boyfriend.)
Even though they’re high school kids partying on a freakin’ rooftop, the guests are having a so-so time. As if cooties were real, boys were on one side, girls on another.
And rule #15 in the world of teen or family sitcoms is that a party is a failure unless people get down on the dance floor.
But have no fear, Urkel is here! (I’m pretty sure that line was used during the show’s run. How could it not?)
And he unleashes this making him the life of the party…
Incredible!

Steve Urkel, mocked thousands of times for being a nerd, loving science and being a cheese connoisseur has his own dance and a song with lyrics and everything. The DJ conveniently had the song on file, and the kids happen to be great dancers.

Willie of course hates that Steve stole the show. He too was going after Laura at the time so to be one-upped by Urkel again was unbearable.

So, knowing teen or family sitcom Rule #352: You don’t make friends with alcohol, he and Waldo give spiked punch to Steve who gets wasted.  Urkel gets so drunk he falls off the roof but hangs on the ledge.

Is this the end of Urkel?

Would the voice be silenced by the perils of accidental underage drinking?

The answer is, of course not. Many characters don’t die in ’90s teen or family shows.

They may come close but they always live to see another day. It isn’t respected police officer Carl Winslow who comes to the rescue but Aunt Rachel. Desperate times call for desperate measures so if she has to walk a tightrope to save the next door neighbor then so be it. Facing the fear of falling to her death, she does it and pulls the Urkman to safety.

Willie is taken away and never heard from again. Carl wasn’t on the rooftop that night but I’m assuming he used his police connections to put Willie away for a long, long time.

Life went on for Steve and the Winslow family but the big story is the emergence of The Urkel Dance.

Sure, it never hit Macarena status, but if you grew up in the 90s, you know Urkel, you know Family Matters, and you know the dance.  A certain Golden Girl even got in the act…

They also tried to push the song and dance on Miller-Boyett sister show Step By Step during the second episode of that series.
I will be attending two weddings in the next few months. Maybe now is the time to make the request to the DJs and bring this classic gem back.

Because before there was Dancing with Jaleel, there was Dancing with Urkel.

Frankie’s note: So this one night in 1991, I had a weird dream that I saw a commercial for an episode of Family Matters with an Urkel dance number.  I woke up and told my mother about this strange dream, only to see a commercial for that episode the next day.  Apparently, the TV was on that night as I slept.

The story of Steve Urkel is pretty much legend.  Halfway through Family Matters‘ first season, Jaleel White was cast in a one-off appearance as hapless nerd Steve Urkel, whom Carl attempted to set up with Laura.  White was well-received by audiences and kept around as a recurring character, before becoming a regular in the second season.  Urkel was the show’s breakout character, though it was in “Life of the Party” that he really lifted off.

Sitcoms were and still are well known for having a character who eclipses the rest of the cast in popularity and becomes a part of the popular culture, usually with the aid of a catchphrase.  

It’s a phenomenon dating back to Ralph Kramden’s “Bang! Zoom! To the moon!”, though the ’90s were particularly notorious for an abundance of these characters.  The most notable and enduring example is Bart Simpson, and while you also had Dinosaurs’ Baby Sinclair, Cody from Step by Step, and Full House‘s Michelle Tanner, it was Urkel who cruised ahead second only to Bart.


One thing Bart, Baby and Urkel have in common is a novelty song that inexplicably became a hit for a short period, rocketing them into the hart of public consciousness.  Bart Simpson’s tune, “Do the Bartman,” has a better pedigree, secretly written by Simpsons superfan (and King of Pop) Michael Jackson.  “I’m the Baby” is still remembered mainly because of its use of Dinosaurs catchphrases.  “Do the Urkel,” on the other hand, is just plain catchy, almost annoyingly so.

Once the nation started doing the Urkel, they started buying the Urkel.  

Do you remember Urkel-O’s?  

What about the talking Urkel doll?  

Let’s not forget sticker books and the “Do the Urkel” boardgame.  Truly, the Urkman had cometh.  Then he parked himself at the head of the table and stayed.


Gradually, Family Matters became the Steve Urkel show, as his increasingly odd and fantastical adventures drove the show more and more.  

Identical twin female cousin?  

Check.  

Molecular transformation machine that can turn you into a ladies’ man?  

Check.  

Accidental shrinking incident?  

Check.  



All of it can be traced back to “Life of the Party,” not only the episode where Steve Urkel inarguably overshadowed everyone else, but a Very Special Episode to boot.  

Here, we learned that alcohol is bad, and you should always be careful at parties, because someone could plotting your accidental death.  Most importantly, it’s Steve learning this lesson, vaulting him into the show’s emotional core.  

For the first time, Steve Urkel truly became the center of attention, and Family Matters would never be the same, for better and for worse.

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