The Origins of 5 American Dance Crazes
BY ADAM ROSEN
1. Fight for Your Right to Electric Slide
Many people are too embarrassed to admit they know how to do the electric slide, but Richard Silver wasn't one of them. Silver was a fixture of the New York disco scene, and he choreographed the electric slide in 1976. As the dance craze caught on, he was horrified to discover people doing just 18 of his 22-step routine. So he did what any self-righteous dance creator would do and spent years threatening to sue anyone who bungled his moves. He even made YouTube take down videos of people dancing the slide at their weddings and bar mitzvahs. But Silver never actually sued anyone; he just made threats. In 2007, a civil rights organization called his bluff and sued him on behalf of a man whose dance party clips had been removed from the Internet. The incident convinced Silver to stop hounding amateur dancers.
2. The Soul-Crushing Origins of the Limbo
If you think the limbo was created for middle-aged couples in Hawaiian shirts, you couldn't be more wrong. According to most sources, the dance came to America by way of Trinidad, where West Indian slaves invented it to simulate the descent into a slave ship. The lower a slave went into the ship's hull, the harder it became to break free. Now try enjoying the dance on your next trip to Club Med.
3. Striking a Pose, When It Counts
Like breakdancing, voguing began as a competition between African Americans in New York. But in this case, the rivals were underground fraternities of gay men in Harlem during the 1930s. Back then, voguing (which involves posing like a model) was simply called "performance" because of the judging it inspired. The dance was renamed "vogue" in the 1970s, after performers began striking poses found in glossy fashion magazines—namely, Vogue.
4. The Courage to Trot Like a Turkey
In the early 1900s, men and women danced side by side, polka-style. So when kids started doing the Turkey Trot—a dance in which partners face each other—parents just didn't understand. The Trot quickly became the forbidden dance of the ragtime era, and it was outlawed in some states.
One unfortunate young lady in New Jersey actually served 50 days in jail just for dancing like a turkey.
It should also be noted that the Turkey Trot is only one of many food- or animal-inspired dances that have been accused of corrupting America's youth. There's also the Bunny Hug, the Cakewalk, the Mashed Potato, the Duck Dance, and the Chicken Noodle Soup, to name a few.
5. Breakdancing: Settling It Old School
As innocent as it seems today, breakdancing emerged in the 1970s as a new way for gangs to fight each other. In black neighborhoods in the South Bronx, for instance, gang leaders would dance-off to songs like James Brown's funky "Get on the Good Foot." They'd even settle disputes through these proxy battles. The judging procedure was simple:Whoever had the ill-est moves won.
This article is excerpted from mental_floss magazine's Jan/Feb 2009 issue. To order your own subscription, click here.