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Jessie McCloskey Dance History Cathy Black 03/31/11 Dance: With a Twist Near the end of the 1950s,

a new and exciting dance would sweep across the nation to rapidly change the face of American dance culture. At this time in history, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were competing for the presidency near the end of Eisenhower's term. James Wolcott, a specialist of the era explained, The presidential race [...] began and the new decade and the upcoming election promised a change of leadership and an infusion of younger energy after two terms of golf putts (Wolcott 1). During his campaign, J.F.K. sounded the charge to "get this country moving again," and the country was ready to answer his inspiring call. American Bandstand, a dance television show in the 1950-60's, aired dance contests that were seen as conservative, clean cut, wholesome entertainment. The Madison, Fox-trot, Mambo, Jitter Bug, etc... were among the most popular. This generation of teenagers was sick of doing dances that were rigid and void of expression. Suddenly a new song was produced, a dance was created, and the world went crazy. The Twist was a monumental dance in shaping America's dance culture because of its African American origins in both music and dance style, provocative use of the hips, the booming business it started, and the independence it gave teens from the rigid partnering of their past. The Twist dance is a landmark in dance history because it presents a time when people began to accept African American culture, if only through the medium of dance. African Americans were previously very discriminated against. Before the Twist became a craze, it was

unheard of for white teens to listen to African American music. In 1960 the R&B artist, Hank Ballard, recorded a number called "The Twist" after seeing teenagers doing twisting movements on Baltimore's Buddy Deane Show. The song didnt become very popular until it was rerecorded by a lighter skinned African American named Chubby Checker and given a big push on Dick Clarks American Bandstand. Wolcott describes, With his beaming smile, booming optimism, and teddy-bear huggability, Chubby Checker was the perfect racial-crossover ambassador, making the dance acceptable for Dick Clark's faithful assembly of wholesome white teenagers out there in Archie Comics land. (Wolcott 2). White teens started listening to WDAS, the black radio station, because they claimed its music had more soul and they could dance to it a lot better. This mixing of black and white tastes was unheard of only a few years earlier. A certain newspaper headline stated, Disgusted Adults Battling Music of Delinquents (Twist: The Movie). The older generation was appalled at this shift in musical popularity and the Twist became a huge controversy in society. The spread of the Twist created a dramatic shift in America and what was acceptable started to change. The popularity of the Twist song traveled like heat lightning in those pre-Internet, pre-MTV, pre-cell phone, pre-video camera days. Another reason the twist is so monumental is because the dance itself was started by African Americans as well. The Twist dance was not, in fact, first glimpsed on the Buddy Deane show, but rather in the streets and by African Americans having a good time. Peter Ukpokudu, a researcher of African American influence explained,The story of African American males in the entertainment industry is one of the fabled stone rejected by the builders but which eventually turns out to be one of the cornerstones of the house (Ukpoduko 1). This plays true with the beginning of the Twist and similar dances of the time. Once dances started becoming popular among black circles, specific talented white couples were often found by producers and told to

learn the dance. They then created a standard technique and aired it on television to show the world that they created it rather than giving credit to the African Americans who really started it. One such dance was the Strand, danced by Jone Buck Kiene and Kimmy Peatross on American Bandstand (Twist: The Movie). These dancers even confessed decades later that the black people did it better but they were not allowed to say on television that they learned it from the blacks. After the Strand was aired, a band of 50-100 black people were waiting outside to beat up Kiene and Peatross. Eventually the Twist gained a colossal fan base, including the majority of parents and adults. How did this happen? What ended the controversy? Joey Dee and the Starlighters were a very popular band at the time who played at a hoppin' joint in the middle of the theater district called the Peppermint Lounge. Dee recounts the night when he was doing a show there and he saw a group of five older, well dressed people enter the lounge. They sat down at a seat and started watching the teens dance the twist. Eventually two of the couples got up and started dancing right along with the roughnecks and rowdys that normally filled the place. The next night there were ten of these fancy, elegantly clad ladies and gentlemen doing the Twist and the next night, twenty. From there it boomed. People of all ages and social statuses were storming the Peppermint Lounge every night. The Rolls Royce set began to mingle with the motorcycle set (Twist: The Movie). This event was so significant because even though it was widely known that the music and dancing of the Twist was started by African Americans, people began to accept that and couldn't help but Twist away. A third reason the Twist changed dance in America is that it allowed people to use their whole bodies to dance, even their hips, something that was previously forbidden. The social dancing scene of the Twist was not at all like the formal, dignified scene created by Vernon and Irene Castle years earlier. Elizabeth Aldrich, a teacher on Western social dance, notes that this

married dancing duo brought about a trend for social dancing in the country that helped to make partner dancing more socially tolerable and accepted (Aldrich 7). Vernon and Irene turned untamed steps into forms and figures in which the man led the woman around the dance floor. The Castles created hundreds of dances and they played a huge role in making dancing popular in the social scene of America (Kassing 173). However, even the Castles non pelvic and specifically formal movement was seen as outrageous. Who would have ever thought that something could be even more scandalous as the dancing that the Castles presented? Unlike dances that came before, the Twist didn't require professional instruction or a set of floor diagrams for fancy footwork. The Twist was this simple: Put out a cigarette with your foot while wiping your derriere with a towel. This required moving the hips back and forth vigorously. The Twist was so popular because it had shock value. Wolcott explains, The Twist was an infectious bug that anybody could catch, regardless of age, innate musicality, or medical condition. (Wolcott 2). Betty Bug who was a teen at the time said, Our parents, they didn't get it. I guess they thought we were sort of out of control. The older generation thought the Twist was nasty and suggestive and even went so far as to call it synthetic sex and the most vulgar dance ever created. In contrast, Hank Ballard said of the dance, It is cool, casual conversations without words and has nothing to do with sex (The Twist: The Movie). The Twist was so involved that it was even a form of exercise. Dr. Laurence Wisham explained that the Twist was, the greatest device for America to exercise its under exercised oblique muscles of the abdomen since the hula hoop (The Twist: The Movie ). The business the Twist created was something America had never seen before. Once adults became involved with the new and exciting dance form, the Twist went from being a fun dance that teenagers did on the dance floor as a socializing instrument, into a massive business

and money making machine. Once money became involved with the popular dance style, it became even more of a trend and fashion in America. Dolls, hairstyles, clothes, advertisements, and many other commercialized groups grasped a hold of the popularity of the Twist and made it a part of their income. Consumers bought into the thousands of advertisements that began appearing (Twist: The Movie). The business aspect of the dance became so serious and expansive that the steps of the twist were even recorded for people to purchase and study. Even though the steps were simple enough for almost anybody to grasp a hold of, it seemed important for everybody to be able to buy the recorded steps. It was just another purchase that brought them closer to what was popular at the time. The description of the Twist was simple, the dance itself was simple, and because of the simplicity and the idea that anybody could do the trendy Twist, it sold and it sold well. The fact that money became involved with the Twist not only made it popular among teenagers, but made it popular among adults as well. The same adults, who saw the dance as too sexual and inappropriate before, now thought of it as fun and exciting. Money brought the aspect of glitz and glam into the dance steps and it wasnt seen as a bunch of delinquents on the dance floor anymore, it was something that everybody, no matter how old they were, could get up and participate in. Its popularity grew very quickly at places such as the Peppermint Lounge and other dance clubs. Therefore, age was no longer a division among people doing the Twist. Its fame had spread. Young and old were both twisting as much as they possibly could. No dance before had created the business boom that the Twist did. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for dance and business in the future. The final reason the Twist was monumental in shaping dance culture is because of the independence is gave teens from the rigid partnering dances of their past. Anyone could do it and you didn't need a partner to do it. The Twist was for every body type. The tall, short, fat, and thin

teens massed to places like the Peppermint Lounge to dance away their worries. The personal space opened up by the Twist created a neutral field that nourished female empowerment. As social critic Susan J. Douglas observed in Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media: "Chubby Checker's 1960 hit 'The Twist' revolutionized teenage dancing, because it meant that boys and girls didn't have to hold hands anymore, boys didn't have to lead and girls didn't have to follow, so girls had a lot more autonomy and control as they danced. Plus, dancing was one of the things girls usually did much better than boys (Douglas). The Twist, which allowed young and old to be able to express their own identities through the medium of movement, brought about new ideas about dancing in general. Gayle Kassing, a dance historian, asserts, In this type of environment dance was freeform, individualized movement (Kassing 235). People loved having the freedom to express themselves while moving out on the dance floor. The Twist well represents the times of the 1960s when there was a huge cultural collision among people and the country became separated. Involvement with Civil Rights, the fight for Womens Rights, and protests against the Vietnam War sparked controversy throughout the country. Individuals were beginning to separate themselves from the mainstream ideas and thoughts of what the American life actually was. Kassing further explains that people were looking for the opportunity to express their own identities and thoughts, but they also wanted the feeling that they belonged and were accepted into a group (Kassing 235). Chubby Checker explained the Twist as the beginning of people dancing by themselves with someone else, the first time people danced apart from the beat (Darrow 1). The individuality of the Twist allowed people to freely move on their own and in a sense allowed them to convey their own race, age, political stance, gender, etc. Although they were physically separated and given the opportunity

to move freely on their own, they also had the sense of support from the acceptance of the Twist. In effect, people fell in love with the freedom of the Twist and the expression it allowed them to explore in public. It was a dance that was right in the middle of a cultural change for the country and it reflected how people felt in their own lives. Dance, which was seen as very serious and partner oriented at social events, had become a free moving and individualistic way of expression for people. This was a far stretch from the beginning dancing styles that the Castles had presented. Race, age, gender, and other identity markers werent hinders to people anymore. Identity markers were something worth celebrating. All that mattered was if you could get on the dance floor and do the Twist. The culture of dance had finally allowed for African Americans to express a new dance style that they had essentially started. The Twist allowed for adults to move the same way that the younger generation was moving and it let the younger generation not feel discriminated against because they were seen as too scandalous. The Twist also allowed women to move on their own without having to follow the male leader and it allowed men to not have the responsibility of leading. These are just a few examples of how identity markers were emphasized during the height and esteem of the Twist. Albert Ellis, who is viewed as one of the most significant and dominant psychotherapists of the 20th century, once referred to the Twist by stating: As it stands, I think its a fad and a fleeting one. In two years, it will be forgotten (Darrow 1). Ellis couldnt have been more wrong. The Twist, although it is not danced as often at social events anymore, is still a part of American history and culture. Hank Ballards, The Twist, is still a popular song among people and almost everybody knows the popular dance that goes along with it. It remains a pop-culture touchstone and it brought about new dance styles such as the Millie, the Fly, the Locomotion,

the Hully Gully, and the Mashed Potato (Darrow 1). It began as a craze over a song that turned into a dance and hit America as an obsession in an instant. It seemed as if the country heeded J.F.Ks call during his campaign to get moving again. They did just that, with a little bit of a twist. Bibliography

Aldrich, Elizabeth. Western Social Dance: Ragtime Dance. Dance Instruction Manuals. 1998. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/diessay0.html Carpozi, George. Let's Twist. Pyramid Books. 1962. Print. Darrow, Chuck. How Chubby Checker and the Twist Leaped Into Legend. Philadelphia Daily News. July 9, 2010. http://www.philly.com/dailynews/features/20100709 Douglas, Susan J. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Random House. 1994. New York, New York. Print. Kassing, Gayle. History of Dance : An Interactive Arts Approach. Champaign, IL: Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics, 2007. Sengupta, Saptakee. Twist Dance. N.p. 1 October 2010. Web 23 October 2101. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/twist-dance.html Twist: The Movie. Ron Mann. Sphinx Productions. Nd. DVD. Viewed 11/22.10. Ukpokudo, Peter. African American Males in Dance, Music, Theater, and Film. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. May 2000 vol 569 p 71- 85. Print. Wall of Sound. Dancing the Madison and Twist. N.p. 8 October 2001. Web. 23 October 2010. http://wallofsound.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/dancing-the-madison-and-twist/ Wolcott, James. A Twist in Time. Vanity Fair. November 2007.

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/11/wolcott200711>. Viewed 11/10/10.