A Brief History of the Chicken Dance

It’s silly, it’s catchy, and it’s everywhere. A fun little jig with simple moves that can be learned in under a minute, "The Chicken Dance" is a staple at school parties, bar mitzvahs, and Oktoberfest celebrations. The story of this avian shimmy began with its melody, which was penned more than 60 years ago by a Swiss musician named Werner Thomas.

Back in the 1950s, Thomas earned his daily bread playing the accordion at Swiss holiday resorts. As he revealed in this German-language interview, the tune first popped into his head in 1955 or so. Thomas spent the next few years revising his melody—and coming up with a dance to go with it. The quirky routine he ultimately devised was inspired not by chickens but rather by skiers.

Even back in the 1950s, Switzerland was world-famous for its ski resorts, many of which Thomas frequented. While watching vacationers zip down the slopes with wild abandon, Thomas couldn’t help but note their resemblance to a certain water bird. Skiers, he said, use certain hand movements that—at least to him—evoked “the beak of a duck.” Other gestures utilized by the winter sports enthusiasts reminded Thomas of flapping wings and waddling feet. He then adapted these into a playful series of movements he called “Der Ententanz” or “The Duck Dance.”

The next major development in the song’s history came in the early 1970s, when Belgian music producer Louis Julien van Rijmenant heard Thomas playing it at a hotel in Davos, Switzerland. In 1973, Rijmenant collaborated with a band called Bobby Setter's Cash & Carry to publish the song as a single. Titled “Tchip, Tchip,” this version of the tune was created via synthesizer—a fact that caught Thomas totally off-guard when he first heard their cover.

“The synthesizer was a completely new instrument for me,” Thomas said. Although he initially didn’t approve of this electronic take on his song, he soon came around to liking it. And he wasn’t alone: Within a year, Rijmenant’s “Tchip, Tchip” record sold over 1 million copies in Europe.

Despite the tune’s popularity, Thomas’s accompanying dance wouldn’t become widely known until the Dutch band De Electronica released a new cover of “Tchip, Tchip” in 1980. Their version—which the group called “De Vogeltjesdans,” or “Dance Little Bird”—spent a respectable 29 weeks on the Dutch charts, where it peaked at number eight. At concerts and in TV appearances (one of which you can watch below), De Electronica reunited the melody with the original, duck-like movements that Thomas had devised more than two decades earlier.

By then, the melody had already crossed the Atlantic. Credit for bringing it stateside belongs to music producer Stanley Mills. His first exposure to Thomas’s masterpiece came at a 1972 convention in Cannes, France. Mills immediately liked the tune and purchased its American distribution rights. Like De Electronica, he called his version “Dance Little Bird.” Although the song is now an omnipresent force at dance parties across the country, it didn’t find its American audience right away. Mills attempted to make “Dance Little Bird” more marketable by commissioning original English lyrics, which have since faded into obscurity. (The chorus went as follows: “Hey you’re in the swing / You’re cluckin’ like a bird / You’re flapping your wings / Don’t you feel absurd?”) Although Mills convinced several polka bands to include “Dance Little Bird” on their albums, none of them managed to turn it into a hit.

Still, you can’t keep a good tune down. Mills says that in the 1980s, instrumental versions of “Dance Little Bird” slowly developed a following in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Austin, and other cities with large polka-loving communities. “People started dancing to it at weddings and bar mitzvahs and the local dance bands began to play it,” Mills said. “A few local polka groups recorded it and sold it out of the back of [their trucks].”

Unbeknownst to Mills at the time, the song acquired a new name at this point in its history. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when American audiences started calling it “The Chicken Dance,” but a festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma may well be responsible. At the city’s 1981 Oktoberfest, a German band decided to play “Dance Little Bird” and taught the crowd how to do Thomas’s Duck Dance. Since visual aids are always helpful, the event organizers scoured the greater Tulsa area in search of a duck costume before the party got started. None could be found, but a local TV station was able to loan them a chicken suit—and the rest is history.

One day in 1994, Mills got a call from a company that was looking to create a dance party compilation record. The caller asked if he could include a song called “The Chicken Dance.”

“I don’t own anything called ‘The Chicken Dance,’” Mills replied.

“Yes you do, I’ll play it over the phone,” said the stranger.

“When he did that,” Mills later recalled, “I realized it was my song. It got that name all by itself.” The resulting compilation record—titled Turn Up the Music—was a resounding success. Ever since, "The Chicken Dance" has been a real cash cow for Mills.

As The Wall Street Journal reported in 2001, “His ‘Chicken Dance’ income from television commercials alone surged from a pittance at the start of the 1990s to approximately $7000 in 1995, and then to more than $50,000 [in 2000].”

“It’s doing very well,” Mills said at the time, “but I’m not a millionaire because of it.”

Since then, “The Chicken Dance” has pecked its way into the cultural mainstream, livening up everything from parties to sporting events. Although many artists come to hate their biggest hit, Thomas still appreciates the song’s success. As the accordionist notes in the aforementioned interview, whenever he sees “The Chicken Dance” on television, he can rest secure in the knowledge that his next beer has been paid for.

This story has been update for 2019.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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11 Facts About Coyote Ugly On Its 20th Anniversary

Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly, the cult classic that launched the careers of Piper Perabo and Adam Garcia, is celebrating its 20th birthday. Though still shy of legal drinking age, the film belongs to a group of early 2000s chick flicks with varying degrees of girl power, including: Bring It On, Charlie’s Angels, Josie & The Pussycats, and Legally Blonde.

"There was a real kind of stiletto feminism that was happening in the women's movement in the late ’90s," Perabo has said of her star-making vehicle. It's that same feminism that informed the sexy, inebriated veneer of Coyote Ugly. In celebration of the movie's 20th anniversary, grab a drink (just not water) and read up on these behind-the-scenes facts about the 2000 guilty pleasure.

1. Coyote Ugly is named for a famous Manhattan dive bar.

Piper Perabo stars in Coyote Ugly (2000).Frank Masi/Touchstone Pictures & Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc./Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly takes its name from the Coyote Ugly Saloon, the iconic New York City dive bar which, in turn, is inspired by the slang term for waking up after a one-night stand and realizing that, in the harsh light of day, that temporary paramour isn’t as attractive as they were the night before. Also, they’re sleeping on your arm—which you feel the overwhelming urge to gnaw off, like a coyote, in order to escape. Ouch!

2. Coyote Ugly was based on an article by the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Coyote Ugly was based on a GQ article written by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, about her experience working as a bartender at the Coyote Ugly Saloon. “We were expected to be a little bit larger than life, or to pretend to be, or—at the very least—to want to be,” Gilbert wrote of the Coyote Ugly way. “We were the good-time girls. We were a cross between Old West dancehall hookers and gangsters' gun molls. Crack that gum, swing that ass, drink that shot, keep that change.”

3. Britney Spears and other major music stars of the time were approached about starring in Coyote Ugly.

Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Jewel were all approached about playing Coyote Ugly's Violet Sanford, the New Jersey singer-songwriter aptly nicknamed "New Jersey" during the character’s shifts at the raunchy bar.

4. LeAnn Rimes benefited from Coyote Ugly's growing cult status.

LeAnn Rimes sang "Can’t Fight the Moonlight," the blockbuster lead single from Coyote Ugly, which went four times platinum in 2008—eight years after the movie's original release, signifying the film's cult status.

5. Piper Perabo's singing voice in Coyote Ugly was dubbed, even though she can actually sing.

Though Piper Perabo, whos character Violet writes the song for LeAnn Rimes in the movie, could really sing and even learned guitar for the movie, Rimes’s voice was dubbed in during Perabo’s singing scenes. In 2015, Perabo—who originally sang and recorded all of the songs herself—told The Hollywood Reporter that she was disappointed when she learned her voice was going to be replaced. "[Director David McNally] said, 'We're going to dub the songs,' and I was like, 'Uh, OK,'" Perabo recalled. "What can I say? I'm like 21. What am I going to say, no?"

6. Kevin Smith did some work on the script.

Actor, writer, and filmmaker Kevin Smith, of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob fame, did some uncredited rewrites on the script. The credited screenwriter, Gina Wendkos, also wrote The Princess Diaries 1 and 2 and the mid-2000s Hilary Duff-starrer, The Perfect Man.

7. Coyote Ugly's leading man helped create the role of Fiyero in Broadway's Wicked around the same time the movie was released.

Adam Garcia attends the after-party for the musical Wicked celebrating 10 years in the West End on September 27, 2016 in London, England.David M. Benett/Dave Benett / Getty Images for Wicked UK

Adam Garcia, who played Violet’s love interest Kevin, helped originate the role of Fiyero in Wicked in Broadway workshops around the same time that Coyote Ugly came out. He also portrayed Fiyero in the West End production of the musical, alongside original star Idina Menzel.

8. Coyote Ugly's bar had to be redesigned to accommodate Bridget Moynahan.

Bartender Rachel, played by Bridget Moynahan—who worked as a model before transitioning to acting—was too tall to dance on the bar that had been created for Coyote Ugly, so the set had to be redesigned to accommodate her height. "[W]hen we had the first rehearsal they didn’t make the ceiling high enough for me and Tyra [Banks] to be able to stand on the bar," Moynahan told The Ringer. "We had to sit that one out."

9. One of Coyote Ugly's stars has a connection to Center Stage—another 2000 cult hit.

Izabella Miko, the Polish actress who plays Cammie, was formerly a ballet dancer at the National Ballet School in Warsaw and the American School of Ballet, which famously served as the inspiration for the American Ballet Academy in Center Stage.

10. Tyra Banks is desperate to see a Coyote Ugly sequel, starring some pretty major names.

Tyra Banks plays former bartender Zoe, who goes off to law school, enabling Violet to take her place. Banks has long been lobbying for a sequel to Coyote Ugly, and has some pretty big names in mind to star in it, including Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and … Meryl Streep? "But, like, [Streep] would be the bar," Banks clarified. "She should be the bar! Method actor."

11. Piper Perabo is curious to see how different Coyote Ugly might look in 2020.

Perabo, too, has said she would entertain the idea of a sequel, but “it would need to be looked at in a different lens.” Perabo, who was arrested in 2018 for protesting the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, told News.com.au, “I would be excited to look at it again in 2020, because I think we’ve evolved and it would be cool to see what it would be like now."