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Stage diving is the practice of jumping from the stage, usually in a rock concert, to be caught and carried aloft by the crowd.

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From: houseplanet.dj

According to Wikipedia this practice was called “stage diving” years after it became common:

Long before the word was invented, public stagediving took place during the first Dutch concert by The Rolling Stones at the Kurhaus of Scheveningen on August 8, 1964.

Google Books shows that the term apparently emerged in the 80s, about 20 years after it was first practiced.

  • Given its relatively recent coinage I’d like to know when its first usage instance was and,

  • was stage diving coined by a rock star or by a rock music journalist?

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2 Answers 2

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'Stage diving' in print

The two earliest instances I've found for "stage diving" in the relevant sense are from 1985. From "All This and More," in Maximum Rocknroll, (August 1985), describing a performance by Lords of the New Church at the Ritz in New York City on June 1:

LNC now does their slowest numbers, which would normally put me to sleep, but now I see stage-diving, sporadically at first. Splat! The kids run away from the divers. But they learn fast, and after about 10 minutes of harsh landings, the crowd learn to catch the divers. Makes no difference how little energy the LORDS are putting out; there they go! One gal takes pocketbook and all up with her, then hesitates on the stage and can't decide where to take off to. Eventually the bouncers get bored watching her and cart her off.

Maximum Rocknroll was a San Francisco publication, and the description here suggests that rock fans in New York City were still learning the basics of stage diving in summer 1985.

From Ethlie Ann Vare, "INXS [and] Phantom, Rocker & Slick, The Palladium, Los Angeles," in Billboard (November 30, 1985):

INXS sold 13,000 tickets for three Southern California appearances, and is slated to return for a larger tour in the spring. Their audience was wildly enthusiastic, dancing in place and hooting for songs like "Original Sin" and "The One Thing." In fact, the crowd response overwhelmed the band at times, leading one to believe that local customs like stage-diving don't exist in Australia.

Other instances occur in 1986 and 1987. From Natalie Nichols, "Rock Against Hunger Raises $600 and Wreaks Havoc in HUB," in the [University Park, Pennsylvania] Daily Collegian (April 4, 1986):

"When hardcore gets like this," audience member Colleen Morris said, "it's outgrown its usefulness. I've seen four injuries." Morris said she saw one person with a broken collarbone and three others with "smashed faces."

"These guys are out to kill each other," she said.

The slamming consisted of a lot of "stage diving," when an audience member climbs up on the stage and dives into the audience. Usually the dancers are more organized than they were on Wednesday night, and catch the diver to protect him or her from injury.

A full-page photo captioned "Stage-diving at the Ritz" appears in Peter Blautner, "Hard-Core Kids: Rebellion in the Age of Reagan," in New York Magazine (May 26, 1986).

And from Thomas Lindlof, Natural Audiences: Qualitative Research of Media Uses and Effects (1987) [combined snippets]:

Punk shows are unique. People who attend them for the first time sometimes are alarmed by the intensity of the performances and the forms of physical expression that accompany the music. The two most common distinguishing characteristics are thrashing and stage diving. When punk bands play, many audience members assemble in the middle of the floor (the mosh pit) and take part in a group activity ("slamming" or, more generally, "thrashing") that may or may not be considered a dance. ...

...

Stage diving is one of the more shocking aspects of the live show. From the back of the room, it appears that people who throw themselves off the stage will be badly hurt when they land on the floor. Some stage divers take swan dives or do backflips off the stage into the crowd. But the divers are rarely hurt.


Stage diving, slam dancing, and crowd surfing as rock concert phenomena

Stage diving seems to have emerged in punk rock venues in 1980 at roughly the same time as slam dancing or slamming, which itself was seemingly a contact-based outgrowth of the earlier dance style of pogoing (basically, repeatedly jumping straight up on a crowded dance floor). An early description appears in Musician, Player, and Listener (1981):

In his essay about British punk in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Greil Marcus noted: "By far the most violent in appearance and rhetoric of any musical movement, punk was probably the least violent in fact—though by far the most violence was directed against it." Los Angeles, it seems, is the place where the punks even the score.

For the most part the violence is confined to a thuggish little ritual called, quite aptly, slam dancing: dancers gather into kinetic clusters and collide and rebound off one another like pool balls caroming across a snookers table.

A YouTube video titled "Black Flag - Local News Feature on Punk Violence" shows footage of both on-the-dance-floor slam dancing and off-the-stage stage diving (notably at 0:28, at 2:05, and 2:29, and 2:44). The "1980" date attributed to the video is not confirmed within the video itself, but the very fact that that the report mention either "slam dancing" or "stage diving" suggests to me that the 1980 date may well be accurate.

Scenes of slam dancing appear at various points in Penelope Spheeris's influential documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) about the punk rock scene in Los Angeles, circa 1980. For example, at 0:49 of a performance by Black Flag in 1980, a member of the audience performs what amounts to a slam dive from the dance floor. Also noteworthy is this clip from a 1980 performance by Fear (starting around the 1:20 mark), also included in Spheeris's documentary, which suggests that at least some early instances of diving from an elevated stage may not have been voluntary.

With regard to the "being carried aloft by the crowd" phenomenon that user240918 mentions in the posted question, that element of the rock concert experience had become known, by 1992, as "crowd surfing" and typically followed on the heels of an instance of stage diving. From Lauren Spencer, "We've Got a Feeling," in Spin (June 1992):

Another special something [Eddie] Vedder does has been dubbed "crowd surfing." The band jams hard onstage—[Jeff] Ament sprints back and forth as [Stone] Gossard, [Mike] McCready, and [Dave] Abbruzzese groove on an unspoken wavelength. Then Vedder dives headfirst into the crowd and kind of swims on his stomach on the sea of hands as far back as the audience will take him.

And from David Crouse, "Drone" in Blue Mesa Review (1992) [combined snippets]:

The first time Danny saw her she was crowd-surfing, being passed hand-over-hand, arms and legs spread wide and eyes closed. Not carnival-ride tight, the way some of them looked, not tense, but serene. She was small enough to get away with this, with this trust, Danny figured.


Conclusion

The evidence I've seen indicates that stage diving as a sustained phenomenon originated in Los Angeles around 1980. The term "stage diving" doesn't appear in a more-or-less mainstream publication until 1985, but I think that the journalists who used the term in Maximum Rocknroll and Billboard were simply repeating a term that was already current within the Los Angeles (or greater California) punk rock scene. It's hard to imagine that—during the five-odd years from 1980 to August 1985—kids in the scene didn't have a name for that thing where you climb up on stage and then dive out into the audience.

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Earlier, very similar, activities relate to modern stage-diving, as do earlier uses of the terms 'stage-dive' (intransitive verb), 'stage-diving' (noun and adjective) and 'stage-diver' (noun).

The earliest use I found in print, 'a stage-dive' (noun) in 1888, refers to a bit of theatrical business — literally, physically diving onto the stage. As such, the sense is only a third of the modern sense. The modern sense includes, in addition to jumping or deliberately falling off (not onto) the stage, jumping off the stage

to be caught and carried aloft by the crowd....

From OED entry for stage, n; entry not fully updated for the Third Edition.

Although only a third of the modern sense, the use in the 29 Jul 1888 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri; paywalled, emphasis mine),

Duncan Harrison...of the Madison Square Theater, found a paying play this season...in Chicago he hit his head in making a stage dive....

remains a related sense from which the modern sense may have developed. This older sense has connotations still present in the modern sense, that is, the activity is likely to result in injury, sometimes serious or fatal injury.

In theatrical contexts, 'stage-dive' in the sense of "to dive onto the stage" continues in use.

Another related older sense of 'to stage dive' involves acrobatic theater. This sense goes a bit farther toward the modern sense. Gymnasts or acrobats may, as part of a theatrical act, dive long distances from great heights to be caught by a trusted partner on the stage. Thus two thirds of the modern sense come into this older sense: to dive, and to be caught.

The first use of the older sense, "to dive onto the stage and be caught [by a trusted partner]" that I found in print was somewhat impure. A review of a three-part show in the 07 Oct 1914 *Times Herald (Olean, New York; paywalled, emphasis mine) describes the final act after a female baritone sandwiches a vaudeville musical comedy:

Belthuser Brothers are equilibrists. ... One of the troop does a most daring across-stage dive, landing in the hands of the other.

The next use of this older sense appeared in the 26 Sep 1928 issue of The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania; paywalled, emphasis mine). Again, the use shares connotations of stage-diving as an activity likely to result in injury with the modern sense:

STAGE DIVE RESULTS IN DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS

Wife Says Acrobatic Partner Used Fists after She Missed Elbow

 ...Sam Acho, of the vaudeville team of Acro and Acro...measured with his eye the distance separating him from his partner, Vivian, and cried: "Allay-Opp!"
 ...for years his wife and partner had come hurtling through space to land neatly on his out-stretched elbow.
 ...she missed the elbow.

Occasonal uses of both older senses continue, although the frequent association of those uses with vaudeville has, of course, been lost.


The first use of the modern sense of 'stage diving' that I found appeared in the 04 Jun 1982 Philadelphia Daily News (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; paywalled, emphasis mine):

Hard core rock — typified by the Black Flaggers bug-repelling, two chord thrashings...and a following that shows appreciation by "stage diving"....

The only earlier (1981) mentions of the activity that I found, mentions which do not use any of the specifc terms 'stage diving', 'stage dive' or 'stage diver', are also associated with "L.A.'s musical anarchists Black Flag".

None of the uses I found provide much evidence one way or the other about whether the terms used in the modern sense were first adopted by rock audiences, rock stars, promoters or rock music journalists. The evidence provides, at most, the conclusion that early uses of the terms, and descriptions of the activity, were associated with the performances of a particular 'rock' music group, Black Flag...performances which, apart from the small detail of esthetic sensibility, were not so far divorced from vaudeville.

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