Origins of Popular Dance
Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker in 1930 short film Crazy House.
Decades before Elvis Presley's nation-shocking, pelvis-contorting appearance on the Milton
Berle Show, Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker was scandalizing audiences at Connie's Inn and the Savoy in Harlem.
An aggressive, gyrating pulsation the likes of which the audience had never before seen, the Snake Hips was startlingly
suggestive even in the freewheeling days of the Roaring Twenties. Adding to the dance's intrigue was Tucker himself,
a hard-drinking malcontent who was known for carrying a razorblade. Though Tucker and his dance had a part in
the 1930 short Crazy House, he was best known for his work with Duke Ellington, who would often have Tucker onstage
to accompany his music. An inveterate playboy, Tucker died in 1937 from syphilis, at only 32 years old. Nevertheless,
his dance survived to "[form] the basis for all later African American dances requiring sharp-popping
accents," most notably breakdancing (Hazzard-Gordon). While Presley's adaptation of Tucker's dance
(other followers included Al Minns and Clifton Webb) was more subdued, his 1956 appearance on Milton Berle still might have
sparked the first television-inspired outcry over public decency.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American
Culture. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1990.