‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is a poem that, at first glance, would seem to describe a series of “dance[s]” that occur across the globe. On a deeper level, however, Zephaniah is using these “dance[s]” and locations—though many of the “dance[s]” are different—to show a general sameness in various areas. Essentially, different “dance[s]” might be performed, but in the end, it is still “dancing.” Through several literary devices and techniques, this concept is driven home to the reader, creating layers of depth and meaning where the simplicity of naming “dance[s]” once was.
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‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah focuses on the popular dance forms of various regions. There are Argentinian Tango, Cuban Rumba, Flamenco of Spain, Bhangra and Kathak of India, Brazilian Samba, and a lot more dance forms mentioned in the poem. This list is not only limited to the popular ones. The poem also mentions Benga of Kenya, the Highlife of Ghana, and the Rai dance of Algeria. The poet tried to cover all the dance forms but he had to stop somewhere. However, mentioning just the names of dance forms was not his motif. He tried to present the universality of art. The essence of the poem is “Everybody Is Doing It”, no matter what their caste, creed, color, or orientation is. Dance is something that connects human beings despite their geographical location. The forms might be different but the essence is always the same.
One of the first ways Benjamin Zephaniah allows this theme of commonality to be expressed is through the line structure of ‘Everybody Is Doing It’. The reason for this is that there is no definitive number of lines for all stanzas, though stanzas remain an integral part of the work’s structure. Specifically, three out of five stanzas contain eight lines (first, fourth, and fifth stanzas), but the eight-line prospect is broken up between the second and third stanzas so that Stanza Two has one line and Stanza Three has seven lines.
This is a concept that expresses the sameness of size, but with a slight difference in approach—an idea that is the key element to this poem overall. All of these areas have specific “dance[s]” that allows for differences—“In Hawaii they Hula,” “In Kenya they Benga,” etc.—but whatever the “dance” is, it is, in fact, still a “dance.” Just as the poem can be broken into sections of eight lines with a subtle variation in the second and third stanzas, these cultures vary in styles of “dance” while still embracing that unifying concept.
On another level, the rhyme scheme of ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah allows a sameness to be shown while throwing in a level of variation as there is no concrete rhyme scheme shared among all stanzas. Stanza One, for instance, has an AAAABBCB pattern whereas the final stanza has an AABBCDCD one. There is a little method of telling where the rhymes will fall from stanza to stanza, but outside of the second stanza that only has one line, it is a given that rhymes will occur in some way within each, even if the rhyme is as basic as different “dance” and area names that end with a general “a” sound.
This variation of the rhyme scheme could have several meanings. One is the overall theme at work of “dancing” showcasing a commonality across the globe—thus, rhymes happening—though the process comes with variations that make each “dancing” group separate—thus the variation of when the rhymes happen in the stanzas. This is arguably the most obvious of the possible meanings behind this varied rhyme strategy.
The second is that, as certain rhymes are more perfect throughout the work—like “Disco” and “San Francisco”—others are less refined—like “India” and “Guatemala.” Some could argue, in fact, that moment when it is only the “a” sound linking words as rhymes are too much of a stretch to label them rhymes, but since it is a similar ending of a word, this analysis will treat them as rhymes. The stretch that it takes to come to that conclusion, however, in contrast to the more perfect rhymes available, could be a commentary about the varied success level people might have regarding these “dance[s]”. In some cases, “dance[rs]” are perfectly structured, while other cases might involve “dance[rs]” who barely know the steps.
If such is the case, this idea is treated as unimportant since it does not matter how capable these people are as “dance[rs]”—they are still a part of the “dance.” This can be seen as a representation of life as well—that everyone is a part of the current world, no matter how out of place or insignificant they might feel. Once more then, the reader discovers a universal concept that unites various locations.
In ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah, another element that somehow expresses a sameness and a difference among the cultures at the same time is the alliteration within the stanzas. To begin, some of these ideas of cultures paired with “dance[s]” are visually linked by alliteration—like “In Hawaii they Hula” and “In Trinidad they Tango.” This provides solidarity between the territory and its culture, even while both details are listed among so many other groups that share the commonality of “dance.” This again allows them to have their separate identities while embracing a sameness among them.
Note as well that all of these geographic locations do not share that kind of connection with their noted “dance.” This could be an inclination that different aspects of life are more important to some cultures than others. Essentially, the “Hula” might be integral to “Hawaii[an]” culture, while the “Marimba” is a smaller piece of “Guatemala[n]” culture. The topic varies in importance then, but it is still present. Once more, there is a difference and identity even among the commonality.
Analysis of Everybody Is Doing It
In Hawaii they Hula
They really do Flamenco.
‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah starts mentioning different dance forms like Hula, Tango, Rumba, Flamenco, etc from the first stanza. The poet maintains this rhyming with the names of dance forms throughout the poem. From the first stanza itself, it makes clear that the poem is something more than just the names. It depicts the sense of joy and cheerfulness behind dancing. Dancing makes people happy and sometimes they dance to express the happiness inside their hearts. This simple thought gives the poem a universal outlook.
In the Punjab they Bhangra
They dance to the Didgeridoo.
In the second stanza of the poem, Benjamin Zephaniah now introduces the dance forms of far geographical locations like India, Guatemala, and Australia. It is meant for emphasizing the idea of the universality of dance.
The poet not only mentions the dance forms invented by men but he also talks about a dance form of the animal world in this line, “Even foxes dance a lot/ They invented the Fox Trot”. These two lines are a little tricky to squeeze out the intended meaning. It can be a reference to the biological connection between human beings and other animals. The reference also appears to be pointed towards the universal nature of dance that transposes the barrier between the civilized and uncivilized world.
In Kenya they Benga
In the northern parts of Africa.
In the third stanza of the poem, there is a reference to the dance forms popular in Africa. The poet mentions the names of Benga, Highlife, Ballet, Rai dance, Jali, and Belly Dance, which are popular in Africa. However, he also mentions the Brazilian dance Samba here.
It is important to note here that Ballet and Belly Dancing are not the native dance forms of Africa. But the African people have adapted such forms into their culture. It shows their nature of acceptance and the flexibility of their culture. However, the fluid nature of art that flows where there is life. No one can stop the flow of art into different regions of the world.
Everybody does the Disco
When they can find time to.”
In the fourth stanza, the main theme of the poem becomes more clear. The first two lines directly portray the universality of art or dance forms. “Disco” is something that is connecting humans here. The fourth line of this stanza, “Cannot help dancing to Jazz”, reflects the appeal of art to a larger audience. Here, “Jazz” has such an appeal in the world that people cannot help doing it whenever they feel happy.
Thereafter the focus shifts from the urban culture to the folk tradition of Ireland and England. The poet refers to the Irish Jig and English Morris Dance here. By mentioning those dance forms the poet appreciates the folk traditions in his poem. In the urban culture where major dance forms dominate the world, somewhere in the little corner of the earth, some men still love to look back to their folk tradition. Zephaniah also points to the perpetuity of art. Art never dies, it lives as long as the essence of humanity is there. The last two lines of the poem reflect this sense, “They still Morris dance in England/ When they can find time to.”
One final note about the universality of ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is that at some points, that universality is more vivid than at others. Already, the differentiation of “dance” styles in different areas has been noted within this analysis, but at times, even that difference seems to be pushed aside. For instance, “[t]hey dance Ballet all over,” and “[e]verybody does the Disco.” What this could entail is that at some points of being, it is not just a matter of sharing a commonality as general as “dance.” Sometimes, that commonality runs deeper, just as these specific “dance[s]” are noted for being universal in contrast to the others that are more territory-centered. This mirrors life since certain elements are, at their core, identical among cultures. One group might read different literature, as an example, but everyone must breathe air.
These varying levels of similarity are expressed in these universal “dance[s]”—particularly when one “dance” is noted as so popular that “[e]ven foxes” perform it. At this point, the universality of the poem extends beyond human reach and includes external elements as well, linking other things under the appearance of commonality that Zephaniah has created within this poem.
Capitalization and Grammar
Regardless of the universality, however, the cultural identity of these groups remains intact and important, and this can be seen in two simple techniques in ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah. For one thing, all “dance” names are capitalized, although a number of them feel like nouns that should not need such treatment. “Belly Dancing,” for example, feels general enough to be treated as a typical noun. By insisting that each “dance” name is capitalized, Zephaniah has showcased how important these cultural elements are to each location.
Similarly, the lack of commas separating the geographic names from their linked “dance[s]” creates a sense of visual unity that is unbroken, as if the culture cannot be separated from the people—not even for something as structural as a comma.
Whether or not the “dance” of each group is the high-priority element of their culture, something in their culture is high-priority to them, and those elements are important to them (thus the capitalization) and inseparable from their identity (thus the lack of commas). The existence of those varied elements, ironically, creates commonality because each geographic culture would have such details—an idea that links those places even with their differences. This blend of variation and sameness is the main idea of the poem.
About Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah is an English poet who was highly influenced by Jamaican culture, both in his writing and in his beliefs. He is a writer, musician, and social spokesperson who influences those who read his works.