Billy Learns to Dance

After pouring over Dance with the Devil by Immortal Technique for the better part of the last few days, I felt uneasy with the very premise of the story. This discomfort actually doesn’t begin with the song itself, but to its incompatibility with my general idea of stories. A pretty straight forward example of the prototypical story for me goes back as early as kindergarten, and the fairy tales my mom would make me read before bed. In Little Red Riding Hood, a seemingly simple tale, the story has a very distinct hero, villain, conflict, and resolution. Red, an innocent young girl, gets attacked by a wolf. The resolution to the story then comes in two parts: First, is for Red to distrust the imposter and take steps to save herself. Second, Red is saved by a friendly lumberjack bystander.

When I was young, I enjoyed this tale because it felt like a complete story. Red, the obvious protagonist, is saved from the villain, in equal parts by her caution and by a man coming to save the day. The story is a simple case of a person being wronged by a villain, but coming out on top due to outwitting or overpower their adversary. As I have gotten older, I can see it as an analogy for many things, most prominently, sexual assault. By outsmarting her pursuant, Red can be safe long enough for the good people to come and save her. Does it suffer from antiquated beliefs that the only savior for women are men? Of course. But in the end, we are provided with a resolution to solve an issue. This idea of stories having the simple hero, villain, and solution is reflected all throughout our media. Dance with the Devil, on the other hand, rejects that notion.

The song begins by explaining how William, our main character, was raised by an addict single mother and turned to selling drugs to live a lifestyle of money, sex and power. He eventually is caught and confesses his crimes to the police. This tarnishes his name in his neighborhood so, to rebuild his reputation, he attempts to join a gang. To join, the initiation ceremony is raping and killing a woman with a cloth over her head. Williams does the initiation, but right before he shoots the woman, he takes the cloth off of her head, revealing that the woman is his mother. He then jumps off the building in grief.

Tech’s song, on the surface level, is a commentary on the conditions in poor neighborhoods, the first of which referenced is the rampant drug use. Within the first stanza, drugs are implicit in both splitting up families, as seen with William’s mom and dad, but also sentencing a young man and more broadly, his community to time in prison. Secondly, the song references gangs and the violence that their presence ensues. We see these gangs replacing the support system that the failing families and schools are supposed to provide. So much so that William feels the only way to be respected is to join this gang. Third, and most evidently, sexual violence and how rape can become a sport-like activity for some predators. Although all very important, these ideas are very much apparent to the listener and are not the true focus of the piece.

Our feelings towards William are what truly brings complexity to the song. We have always known stories to have a conclusion that wraps up the message into a neat, digestible package. A story’s mode of transportation for this message is the hero and villain comparison. In taking note of the character traits and actions in a story that define the hero and villain, one can determine the ideology the creator of a piece of media is trying to portray. With Little Red Riding Hood, the ideology that can be extracted is that curiosity is positive and looking after one’s safety is important. We can see this is important from the protagonist’s perspective. Another point to be taken from the story is that sexual assault is wrong, and this is obviously pointed out by this being the defining characteristic of the antagonist. The main reason it is accessible is because we have these clearly defined roles of hero or villain.

This is in stark contrast to Dance with the Devil because, at first examination, we cannot tell who the villains or the heros are, if they even exist. The obvious first choice for villain would be William, seeing as he assaulted and raped someone, an inexcusable offense. Yet, everything thing from lack of variation in the instrumental, or intonation in Tech’s voice, both of which symbolize changes or decisions, aids in the idea that what happened to William was bound to occur, almost independent of the decisions William makes.

In the simplest sense, he truly is a product of his environment. From the opening stanza of the song, Tech establishes that not only is William growing up in a single parent house, but that his mother was a former addict. Then furthermore, he turns to drug dealing and dropping out of school. These two actions are presented as such a common occurrence that it seems almost inevitable. Eventually being arrested, snitching to stay in prison for as little time as possible, and finally trying to gain his reputation again, all then seem like the next progression of the lifestyle that he did not originally decide to lead. Of course William made the wrong decisions, but to a certain extent, Tech makes it seem as if William’s life is simply a function of his circumstance.

If not William, who then is the villain of the story? To disprove the other gang members as the main villain, or at the very least to relegate them to side villains, one must only substitute those members for William in the previous argument. Like William, to an extent, they are products of the environment and although inexcusable what they did, Tech does not place as much emphasis on them either. They act as cogs in the machine of the story, nameless and emotionless. By dismissing all probable characters from the villain role, we must find another culprit to find our villain. In dissecting William’s death, the true villain, and furthermore the ideology that the song is putting forth, can be brought to light.

Being the end of the story, most would conclude with the solution to the supposed major conflict. In this instance, the rape and murder of William’s mom. But, this story does not do that. William’s death does not resolve the fact that his mom was raped and murdered. Nor does it absolve William of the lives he may have negatively affected in trying to mend his reputation. Alternatively, his death does provide a solution to the actual conflict and villain of the story. The true conflict, is that society is set in such a way that made William’s life possible. In this instance, culture is both the conflict, the social interactions between the people in the story, and also the villain, the force that allowed people to be put in the situation to begin with. This idea is made especially evident in the chorus of the song;


Dance forever with the Devil on a cold cell block
But that’s what happens when you rape, murder, and sell rock
Devils used to be God’s angels that fell from the top
There’s no diversity, because we’re burnin’ in the melting pot


Tech makes it quite evident, that no matter who you are, be it God’s angel or the Devil, you are stuck in the melting pot that is this culture of need for sex, money and power and the willingness to do anything to achieve that goal. Even if you are one who seems innocent and pure, or are trying to turn your life around, like William’s mom, you can still be hurt by this culture. In the end, all of the characters in the song are victims, in a broader sense, of society.

The solution that Tech than provides, is for William to kill himself. Even this though, is flawed, as Tech points out that “He jumped off the roof and died with no soul/ They say death take you to a better place, but I doubt it.” The idea of trying to leave the culture by killing himself does not work for Williams. Instead he is left soulless and in a worse position than when he began. Ultimately, we see that Immortal Technique seems hopeless that there is a solution to the dance with greed that our culture breeds other than staying vigilant and not trusting others.

How then, does this story, one with no happy ending or solution to the crisis it points out resolve itself? It doesn’t, which is exactly its point. The effectiveness of this piece is that because you are not given the answer and are ultimately not told how to feel, you are left to puzzle over a solution. Dance with the Devil leaves the listener with a discontent that can only be satiated by finding an answer to the problem of the culture. The final push that Immortal Technique gives to the people is that the listener must find the solution.



Langley, Jonathan, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm. Little Red Riding Hood. New York: Diamond Books, 1998.