Who Invented The Twist Dance? How Did It Get Famous?

In every decade, there’s a dance style that reigns supreme among club-goers and dancers. And in the 1960s, that dance was the Twist dance. From the United States, the Twist quickly shot out of the country’s border and became a worldwide phenomenon.

Although like most vintage dance, the Twist has gone out of favor today. But you’ll still find a lot of people doing it in many clubs and oldies dance halls.

That’s why, in today’s article, we’ll dive deep into the Twist dance – from its history to the way to dance the Twist!

When & Where Did The Twist Dance Originate?

Like most kinds of dances of the era, no one knows for sure when or where exactly did the Twist come from.

According to a few Twist dance history articles and records, this dance might have originated from the African American communities during the enslavement period.

In the 1890s, African American plantation slaves were known to enjoy the dance called “wringin” or “twistin”. This plantation dance itself likely originated from the pelvic motion called the “twist”, which was brought to America by people enslaved in the Congo.

The motion was eventually turned into a dance and subsequently given the name “the Twist”.

Who Was Famous For The Twist?

Though the Twist dance existed in the 1890s, it didn’t become popular with the wider dance hall-going public until the 50s and 60s.

The Twist dance was first brought to people’s attention in 1958 by Hank Ballard, an R&B singer. He released a hit song called “The Twist” in his album “Teardrops on Your Letter.” According to Ballard, he wrote the song when he saw people twisting their hips as they danced.

The rhythm of this song can pair with the actual Twist dance well!

However, because the lyrics of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ (his band) songs could be pretty explicit, they didn’t reach many people. And that’s where Chubby Checker came in.

In the summer of 1960, Chubby Checker released another version of “The Twist.” This time, it set off a massive shockwave among the public. And it almost instantly hit the #1 spot on listening charts when Chubby Checker performed it live on Dick Clar’s Saturday night show (“The Dick Clark Show”).

But it didn’t just become a one-off hit. The Twist hit #1 again in 1962. Other than Bing Cosby’s White Christmas, it’s the only song to ever hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart not once … but two times!

Check more: Who Invented The Twerking Dance?

How Did The Twist Dance Influence The Society?

The Twist was the phenomenon of the 60s. The public has just freshly gotten out of its love affair with the swing dance (which was popular from 1935 to the 40s). But the Twist quickly captured the hearts of club-goers again.

Like the swing dance, the Twist brought people of all ages and backgrounds together to express themselves and have fun. It revolutionized the way people interacted with each other through dance, breaking down cultural boundaries that otherwise would have kept them apart.

The rapid spread of the Twist sparked an increase in the popularity of social dancing and played an important role in creating a more inclusive dance culture.

In the 60s, the Civil Rights movement was at its fever pitch, and society was more divided than ever. The Twist was one of the very few things that kept the societal fabric of the US at the time intact.

Other than literally being the glue that kept American society together (at least on the clubbing front), the Twist inspired many dances that remain popular today, such as the Watusi and The Hully Gully.

But even though the Twist was enthusiastically received by a huge slice of the population, there were backlashes to the dance, too. Many people thought that it was too vulgar and explicit.

For example, Ginger Rogers – a famous movie star of the time – was quoted as saying the Twist was: “ungraceful, vulgar, and exhibitionism personified.”

In a different interview, she further attacked it, saying: “I think it’s terrible. I think it’s a scandal. It is the most obscene dance I’ve ever seen, worse than the shimmy ever was. If people realized how bad they looked while doing the twist, they would not do it.”

So, even though the Twist bonded many people together … it still generated its fair share of controversy at the time. But it’s not surprising. Even the famous swing dance had its critics, too!

How To Do The Twist Dance?

The only “requirement” to do the Twist dance is a good sense of rhythm. That’s it.

But even if you consider yourself someone who can’t follow a beat … no worries! The Twist is a social dance, not a technical one. The main thing is to have as much fun as you can!

Anyway, it is pretty simple to do. You’ll only need an hour or so of practice to learn the Twist dance moves.

twist dance gif

Step 1: Get Into Position

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and make sure that your weight is evenly distributed over both feet.

Step 2: Get Your Arms Up

Raise your arms out to the sides, with the elbows slightly bent, so that your hands are at shoulder height.

Step 3: Start Twisting!

Begin “twisting” by shifting your weight onto one foot, and then quickly transfer it to the other.

Step 4: Turn with Your Steps

Make a full turn of your upper body from side to side in time with each step you take. It’s as if you are twirling around an invisible pole extending out from the center of your body through the ceiling.

By imagining this invisible pole, you’ll be able to maintain your balance better. It’ll also provide you with clear direction on which way to twist in your head!

Step 5: Keep Moving Until the Music Ends

Keep moving at a steady pace while twisting back and forth. Keep an even rhythm and add small variations as desired with alternating patterns or occasional steps forward or backward.

Stop once the music ends!

Do People Still Do The Twist?

The Twist has “died” away much like the swing decades ago. You’ll hardly find a dance hall that hosts a Twist event or find someone who knows how to do the Twist anymore. But that doesn’t mean it is totally lost to time!

With a little bit of digging online, you’ll still find classes, events, and clubs dedicated to it.

Most recently, in 2012 in Deland, Florida, over 4,000 people twisted along with Chubby Checker – the original singer who popularized the song in the 60s – when he performed it live. According to the Guinness World Record, this was the biggest twist performance ever performed on the streets!

Popular Twist Dance Songs

The most popular Twist dance songs were the original “The Twist” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. And of course, we can’t talk about popular Twist songs without mentioning the second rendition of “The Twist” by Chubby Checker!

Other than these two songs, you also got:

  • Twist and Shout – The Beatles (1964)
  • Twistin’ the Night Away – Sam Cooke (1962)
  • Peppermint Twist, Part 1 – Joey Dee and the Starliters (1962)
  • Percolator (Twist) – Billy Joe & the Checkmates (1962)
  • Dear Lady Twist – Gary U.S. Bonds (1962)

Final Words

The Twist dance set a craze in the US and many other parts of the world in 1960 with its rhythmic movements that were – even by today’s standard – the definition of fun!

Though it’s gone out of style for decades, the Twist still constitutes a significant period in dancing history. We hope this short guide has given you a better idea of the twist dance origin, and what it is all about.

We also hope that you’ll appreciate it for what it is: a great dance that managed to bond people together in an era where people couldn’t be further apart from one another!

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