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12 Best Dance Crazes from the 60s

Fads | August 7, 2018

Chubby Checker poses for a studio portrait in 1960 in the United States. (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

So many great songs of the 1960s inspired their own dances. Teeny-boppers were quick to adopt the dances moves that they observed on television dance shows, like American Bandstand, and added them into their repertoire at their local sock hop, helping to spread the popularity of these dances. Many of these dances have become ingrained in our society and have become symbols of the sixties American pop culture. In fact, a few of them are still staples at wedding receptions even today, and they are still just as popular, beating out some of the more contemporary dances like “The Macarena”, “The Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style.” 

Everyone Loves "The Twist"

Chubby Checker’s 1959 song, “The Twist”, was actually the B-side of the record with “Teardrops on Your Letter” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters on the A-side. It was Dick Clark, the popular host of American Bandstand, that first observed teens in Florida doing the Twist and suggested that Ballard write an accompanying song. Cameo Records loved the tune but opted to have Chubby Checker sing it because Checkers had a more wholesome image that appealed to parents. The Twist was an enormous hit that swept the country. The popularity of the dance waned in the mid-sixties when parents started dancing to it, too, much to the embarrassment of their kids. 

Come On, Baby, Do the Loco-Motion

Did you know that Carol King co-wrote the 1962 smash dance hit, “The Loco-Motion”? King is more recognized for her power ballads with deep, meaningful lyrics, but “The Loco-Motion”, recorded by pop singer, Little Eva, taught a whole new dance to a generation of teens. “The Loco-Motion” is one of the prime examples of a dance-song hit, solely written to accompany a new dance. The dance itself was a modified line dance in which participants formed a single-file ‘train’ that snaked through the dance floor. 

I Can Mashed Potato

Although the “Mashed Potato” first came to prominence with the 1962 song, “Do You Love Me?”, written by Berry Gordy and recorded by The Contours, the moves were first made famous by James Brown a few years earlier. Sixties teens could dance the “Mashed Potato” to several songs, not just “Do You Love Me?”…King Coleman sang “Do the Mashed Potatoes”, James Brown sang “Mashed Potato Time”, Billy Thorpes and the Aztecs released “Mashed Potato”, and Dee Dee Sharp released “Gravy For My Mashed Potatoes.”

The Watusi was Inspired by African Dance

The 1950 hit film, King Solomon’s Mines, and its sequel, Watusi, were the inspiration for the 1960s dance craze called the “Watusi”. “Watusi” is the traditional name of Africa’s Tutsi people, known for their elaborate dances. In 1962, The Orlons released this single, “Wah-Watusi” and the song and the accompanying dance became an instant hit. Others covered the Orlons song, including The Isley Brothers and Annette Funicello. The Vibrations recorded an R&B song called “The Watusi” and the Puerto Rican jazz singer, Ray Barretto, had his first hit song with his 1963, “El Watusi”. 

Rufus Thomas and His Funky Chicken

Singer and songwriter, Rufus Thomas, had a knack for penning dance songs, but his biggest hit by far was “Do the Funky Chicken”, which he recorded and released in 1969. The “Funky Chicken” has been labeled the craziest dance craze of the decade, with dancers imitating a strutting chicken on the dance floor. The lyrics of the song are just as goofy and, yes, there is clucking. 

Get Your Thumb Ready…It’s the Hitch Hike

Marvin Gaye’s 1963 hit, “Hitch Hike,” launched a sixties dance craze by the same name. The dance was simple enough for even the most uncoordinated dancer. Dancers simply mimicked the move of hitchhikers by waving their left thumb three times over their left shoulder, pointing to the left, then switching sides and doing the same thing with their right thumb. In between, there were a few hand claps. Marvin Gaye didn’t have a monopoly on the “Hitch Hike.” Vanity Fare released a 1969 hit called “Hitchin’ a Ride.”

Doing the Jerk

“The Jerk” was a 1960s dance that is still popular today. It has, in fact, found a home in hip-hop dancing. The name of the dance comes from the jerky motion of the hands when the dancer swings his or her arms. Finger snapping is a common addition to the dance. The Larks released a song, “The Jerk” in 1964 and it was quickly followed by a series of other jerky hits, including “Come On Do the Jerk” by the Miracles, “Cool Jerk” by the Capitols and “Jenny Lee, Do the Jerk with Me” by Bobby Fuller. 

Monkey Time

Similar to “The Jerk,” “The Monkey” was a 1960s novelty dance craze that began in 1963. The dance featured moves that were reminiscent of a monkey in the wild, including a crouched body position and swinging arms. The R&B artist, Major Lance, released “The Monkey Time” and the Miracles recorded, “Mickey’s Monkey.” Both tunes were released in 1963 and helped bring the “Monkey” to dance floors across the nation. 

Chubby Checker Wasn’t Just about the Twist

Although Chubby Checker is the king of sixties dance hits, “The Twist” wasn’t his only contribution. His song, “Pony Time,” helped create a 1960s dance craze known as “The Pony.” One of the reasons why “The Pony” was so popular was that the couples dancing the dance don’t touch at all. Instead, they can engage in circling or chasing. Most of the motions are done with the hands and arms, which the feet remain close together. 

Bobby Freeman Taught Us How to “Swim”

Bobby Freeman’s 1964 tune, “C’mon and Swim,” inspired a dance that combined elements of dancing with elements of swimming. Seriously? “The Swim” was basically swimming on the dance floor. To do the “Swim,” you need only swing your arms and shoulders in an alternating pattern to the beat of the music. Toss in a few hip sways and you’ll have it down. Just to switch things up a bit, dancers could mimic a treading water motion with both arms out to their sides or the ‘I’m drowning’ nose plug and one arm sink to the floor. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.