Top 10 Dance Crazes

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How does a dance craze happen? It always begins with the music, of course. The tune sticks with you long after the song is over; the sort of tune that makes it almost impossible to sit still. Pare a catchy tune with choreography so simple that a preschooler could follow it, and you’ve got a dance craze. Whether you love them or love to hate them, dance history wouldn’t be the same without them.

10. Chicken Dance

Originally known as the “Duck Dance”, the tune for this dance was written in the late 1950s by a Swiss accordion player named Werner Thomas during the time he was tending a flock of ducks. It later emigrated to the United States in the 1970s, when New York publisher Stanley Mills acquired the U.S. publishing rights. Mills focused considerable time and energy selling the song, which began to grow in popularity in the 1980s.  By the late 1990s, he was licensing the tune for use on dance compilation CDs, karaoke collections and TV commercials for Burger King and the Chicken Dance was here to stay. Today it the dance is still featured at weddings and other events, guaranteed to get both talented and untalented dancers out on the floor, since everyone looks equally silly doing it.

9. The Hustle


This 1970s line dance craze began with the introduction of a song by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony called “The Hustle“. The dance rocketed to international fame after it got the spotlight in the 1977 movie sensation “Saturday Night Fever”. With its simple choreography of forward, backward, sided-to side movements and toe taps, The Hustle retains cult popularity today and is still a popular form of party entertainment.

8. The Twist

The rock n’ roll dance craze of the early 1960’s came from an African-American plantation dance of the 1890s, called “wringin and twistin”. The pelvic movements and foot shuffles can be traced back to dances from West Africa. The Twist (both song and dance) gained notoriety when Chubby Checker performed it live to a national audience on August 6, 1960, on the Dick Clark Show. The song hit number one on the singles chart in the USA in 1960, and again in 1962, and the dance enjoyed equal amounts of immense popularity with young people and disapproval from critics who thought it was too provocative.

7. The Macarena

The Macarena, a Spanish song about a woman of the same name, was first introduced by Los Del Rio, but became a worldwide pop sensation in the mid-1990s after it was remixed by the Bayside Boys, who added English lyrics. The song spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, one of the longest runs ever. At the time it was played at events of all shapes and sizes, including sports events, conventions, rallies, and weddings. The accompanying dance was supposedly created by a Venezuelan Flamenco dance teacher for her dance classes, and later gained worldwide popularity, which it retains to this day, to the general amusement (or remorse) of many.

6. Breakdancing (a.k.a. B-boying)

A popular form of street dancing that began in the 1970s among African-American and Latino cultures in New York City. Breaking is usually danced to hip-hop music, which is often remixed to prolong the musical breaks. Dancers perform in informal dance competitions known as battles, either as individuals, or in groups (crews), trying to outperform each other with a series of complicated and innovative dance moves. The dance displays showcase athleticism and ingenuity, as dancers perform complex acrobatic maneuvers and hold gravity-defying poses.

5. The Charleston

The 1923 tune called “The Charleston”, named after Charleston, South Carolina, was composed by James P. Johnson for the Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild” and dramatically changed the course of dance history during the Prohibition Era. Although the dance was developed in African-American communities before the film’s release, it is most often associated with white flappers. During parties held at underground speakeasies, the young women used the dance, which was considered to be quite shocking and immoral, as a way of mocking the “drys”, or those who looked down on drinking. The dance is performed to ragtime jazz music, with lively steps and kicks.

4. Limbo

Part game, part dance, Limbo originated on the island of Trinidad, in the West Indies. Performed to Caribbean music, dancers move one by one under a horizontal pole that is gradually lowered, competing to see who is the most flexible and adept. Players are considered “out” if they touch the pole or fall backward. The word limbo derives from a West Indian English word, “limber”, which is a type of cart shaft that moved to and fro. The dance was originally a funeral dance, and is similar to the African legba or legua. Some believe that the dance is a portrayal of slaves as they were led down into the ships, with no escape possible no matter how they twisted and bent. However, most people more readily associate it as an icebreaker technique used to entertain tourists on resort vacations, or as a party game.

3. Tango

The roots of the sultry and sensuous Tango can be traced back to the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay. The dance contains elements of Cuban, Uruguayan and African dances, influenced by African rhythms and European music. Although its present day forms developed in Argentina and Uruguay, there are earlier written records of the dance from Spain and Cuba. The dance hit its peak of popularity when introduced in 20th Century Paris, later spreading to the rest of Europe, and the United States. As the dance became wildly popular in upper and middle classes around the world, Argentinian high society finally deigned to adopt it as well.

2. Waltz

While Bavarian 18th Century noblemen were dancing stately court dances for entertainment, their peasant counterparts were swirling around in what was then regarded as a very risque form of dance. More than one bored nobleman snuck off into the night to party with the servants and explore this new form of dance where the partners were allowed to touch one another, much to the chagrin of church leaders of the time. The waltz gained popularity in Vienna in the 1780s before becoming fashionable in other parts of Europe, such as France and Britain, although it was still considered “riotous and indecent” in the 1825 version of the Oxford English Dictionary. The waltz is still practiced worldwide and is an integral part of ballroom dance.

1. Hokey Pokey

Is the Hokey Pokey what it’s really all about? Either way, the origins of the song and its dance are somewhat hazy. It gained popularity in ski clubs in Sun Valley, Idaho in the 1940s, where it was featured as apres-ski entertainment, but several people claim authorship. It was originally recorded by the Ram Trio, but the copyright was unclear and resulted in a battle between Larry LaPrise and British songwriter Jimmy Kennedy. (It was settled out of court with LaPrise awarded the copyright). Regardless of ownership, the Hokey Pokey has become an entity unto itself, and is practiced by children of all ages all over the world.

article by the fabulous Grier Cooper


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10 Comments

  1. How about the moonwalk? Or the robot?

    Granted it’s not really a ‘complete’ dance like the others on this list but the moonwalk was sort of a craze popularized by Michael Jackson.

  2. I remember hearing a story of a traveler in a very remote region of the world. He made friends with the local tribesmen and they entertained him with their native dances. The tribesmen then asked the traveler to demonstrate one of his cultures native dances. The traveler thought,as westerners seldom think of themselves as having native dances,then remembered the hokey pokey. He demonstrated and soon all joined in.

  3. Nice list,
    What about line dancing. Usaully performed to a country western song like The Boot Scootin’ Boogie or Achy Breaky Heart. I’m not much of a dancer but in the northwestern part of the US tons of people seem to like line dancing.

  4. “The Slosh” was a popular line dance at weddings in the UK during the 70’s. It was usually performed to a song called “Beautiful Sunday”. Other British dance-crazes included “The Madison” around 1962 and “The Birdy Dance” in 1981. There was another line dance in the early 2000’s performed to a song called “The Ketchup Song” by Las Ketchup.

  5. Ah and I almost forgot – starting around 1980 in London discos, spreading into the regions and pubs during the decade was “The Rowing Boat Dance” or just “Boat Dance” performed to “Oops Upside Your Head” by the Gap Band. The participants sat on the floor in a single row, legs astride the person in front. You could have more than one row or boat like this. Then all together, everyone leaned forward together and then leaned back (like a rowing action), then they put out their left arms and leaned to the left as they moved forward again and touched the floor with the palm of the hand and after leaning forward then leaned back and put out the right arm and touched the floor. The dance continued like this in a rhythmic flowing motion. You can get the idea from watching You Tube !

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