Buffalo Twist Ban Of 1962: Not In My Town, Says Bishop Buzzkill
Left: Pinup June Wilkinson on the poster of the 1961 movie 'Twist All Night.' Right: Twist dance instructions on the back of a record sleeve. Sources: wrongsideoftheart.com; discogs.com
Was there any stopping the kids from doing the Twist in 1962? A Catholic bishop in Buffalo, New York felt obliged to try. When kids started doing the Twist in the early ‘60s it was a thing of national concern. Coming out of the Peppermint Lounge, the dance made its way through suburbia thanks to Chubby Checker, Dick Clark and American Bandstand. Teens saw the kids on the show doing the dance and from there it was an overnight sensation. Parents, doctors, and religious figures came up with every reason that they could to keep kids from doing the Twist - it was bad for your hips, bad for your knees, and would drive teens to mad fits of sexual intercourse. In 1962 Bishop Joseph A. Burke of Buffalo, New York, set his pen to paper and tried to stop the salacious dance once and for all.
The Twist Took Over In 1960
Hipsters and beatniks alike had been twisting since the the late ‘50s, but it was Chubby Checker’s recording of “The Twist” from 1960 that turned the rest of the country on to the dance where you shake your hips and slide your feet across the ground like you’re putting out a cigarette butt. The dance came to prominence after kids started doing it on American Bandstand, after a few episodes featuring Checker’s song the dance was everywhere.
This wasn’t just some silly dance taking over the world, it was an injection of black culture into mainstream America when that was a dangerous thing. It was so polarizing to see white kids doing this dance that Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver wrote, “The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia.” Conservative community members wanted to wipe out the dance but it was impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.
The Twist Is Canceled
On January 26, 1962, the hammer came down on the Twist. And by hammer we mean pen. Bishop Joseph A. Burke released an edict to the people of Buffalo, specifically the parochial schools. The letter read in part:
His Excellency, the Most Rev. Joseph A. Burke, bishop of Buffalo, has directed the Department of Education of the Diocese of Buffalo, to communicate with all schools, elementary and secondary, the following regulation.
For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the development of pupils in a proper sense of decorum and good taste, the current popular dance, commonly referred to as "the twist” is not to be permitted at any school or parish dance.
Buffalo Was Put On Dance Lockdown
If you were living in Buffalo, New York, in 1962 and you were attending dances, coming out parties, or just regular ol’ functions then there’s no way that you’d be doing the Twist. It’s not totally clear if you were going to be arrested if you swiveled your hips and swung your arms back and forth but you were definitely uninvited from any Catholic gatherings. Burke’s edict banned Catholics “young and old” from twisting the night away, but it was mostly an empty gesture. Anyone with the itch Twist could just road-trip somewhere else to get their groove on, but Burke managed to keep Buffalo clean from the scourge of dance.
The Ban Had Unintended Consequences
Aside from keeping the dancers of Buffalo from doing the Twist, Burke’s edict played into the conservative scare mongering of the day. Less than a month after Burke banned the dance from Buffalo, the Radio Trade Practices Committee called for the National Association of Broadcasters Code Committee to begin a screening process of every rock song presented to radio to listen for anything too saucy. They claimed that “due to proliferation of songs dealing with raw sex and violence beamed directly and similarly at children and teenagers” that a screening process had to be put in place. The Twist was just one of the songs that conservative America felt was bringing about the end of western civilization.
The Ban And The Dance Faded Away
Even if Burke’s ban on the Twist was something that could be enforced it didn’t last that long. While in Rome for the first week of Vatican II Burke passed away in October 1962 taking his hatred for the hip, sexy dance with him. Even if he hadn’t passed away and was able to carry his torch for banning any and all sexy dances the twist was over as soon as it became a widespread sensation. When parents started doing the twist and it popped up in beach movies kids stopped wanting to do it. They moved onto the next thing, which was great for Burke’s followers because it essentially ended the dance craze, but it was the start of something new.
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