Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Origins of Popular Dance

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The Twist

Georgine Darcy and Stephen Preston dance in 1962 film Don't Knock the Twist. Courtesy of Photofest.

Much like the snake hips and the Charleston before it, the Twist was simultaneously greeted with wonderment and revulsion. A February 1962 issue of Ebony featured two opposing full-page op-eds on the dance, one authored by Twist popularizer Chubby Checker and the other by critic and Broadway dancer Geoffrey Holder, who denounced the dance as "nothing more than the oldest hootchy kootchy in the books." Whatever one's judgment of the Twist, its influence on American social dance—as opposed to performance-orientated forms such as tap—was indisputable. Before the Twist, social dancing almost always required partnering; with its solitary and unregimented movements, however, the Twist redefined dance as an individual affair, a seemingly perfect fit with the "rebellious" rock and roll culture spreading across the country. (In fact, though Checker's 1960 appearance on American Bandstand made the dance famous, its namesake song was actually written by rhythm and blues singer and rock and roll pioneer Hank Ballard in 1959.) Like American social dances before it, Checker's dance drew heavily from the African American tradition of "borrowed/incorporated movement qualities and structures . . . [including] extensive use of shoulders, head, hips, and knees, often moving independently or at different directions at the same time" (Dils and Albright). A bona fide "craze," the dance helped Checker become the only artist in recording history to have a single reach number one in two separate years (1960 and 1961).

Dils, Ann, and Ann Cooper Albright. Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

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