Warhol's Dance Diagram paintings are a rare group of works dating from the early 1960s, reflecting the artist's fascination with popular culture and the way modern industrial society obsesses over self-improvement and image. Executed at the same time as the Campbell Soup Cans, Warhol's Dance Diagrams reflect themes central to Warhol's career.
Warhol based the Dance Diagram paintings on images from two dance books published by the Dance Guild in 1956: Lindy Made Easy (with Charleston) and Fox Trot Made Easy. Warhol copied diagrams from these two books, but rather than painting them freehand, as was his usual practice during this early stage of his career, he traced the diagrams onto the canvas just as he had done with the Campbell's Soup Cans. In addition to the seven paintings in the series, Warhol also made this unique pencil drawing based on the image used for Dance Diagram ("The Charleston Double Side Kick - Man and Woman"). This is considered an independent work, not a preparatory sketch, since Warhol worked directly from the drawing in his source book. Indeed, during Warhol's lifetime this drawing was the only known example of work featuring this particular dance step thought to exist, the canvas only coming to light after the artist's death.
The Dance Diagram also implies do-it-yourself self-improvement; something close to Warhol's heart. The D.I.Y. diagram reflects the pressure that modern society exerts on the need to be beautiful as well as to conform and fit in, as seen in bodybuilding ads or even Warhol's later paint-by-numbers landscapes. Warhol, a shy, extraordinarily self-conscious gay man, felt this pressure more than most. Dance Diagram recalls a secret instruction from a sorcerer's manual promising to transform you and open a doorway onto a world of grace, beauty and perhaps even romance.
The Dance Diagrams are among the most conceptually sophisticated of all Warhol's works, looking like absurd Picabia-esque mechanical diagrams and somewhat like Robert Rauschenberg's 1951 collage Should Love Come First? Warhol aimed at heightening the Dance Diagrams' conceptual relationship to real space by exhibiting them horizontally on six-inch-high wooden blocks laid on the floor. Transforming these paintings into sculptures in a way that anticipates his Brillo Boxes and even the work of many Minimalist artists, the way he exhibited the Dance Diagrams encouraged the viewer to imagine the dancers' graceful gestures taking place above this simple pictogram.