50 famous dance fads from the last 100 years
50 famous dance fads from the last 100 years
Dance fads are probably as old as dance itself, but the last century has produced amazing technological developments that have helped modern dance crazes spread worldwide faster and farther than ever before. From television and film to social media and viral videos, the dance fads that dominated the last 100 years have hitched a ride on technology's back to spread like wildfire across all generations, nationalities, and backgrounds.
Some reached global prominence before disappearing in a few short months or weeks, while others endured through the decades and continue to be reinvented today. Some were groundbreaking cultural revolutions that were the product of important and transformative arts scenes. Others were painfully tacky and short-lived trends that were mercifully limited to a specific time and place. Some dance fads have simmered in underground scenes for years before being introduced to the mainstream masses by giants like Chubby Checker and Madonna. Others were completely unknown before a single person, group, song, or video made them instant sensations.
Dance fads have spawned entire new genres, influenced film and music, challenged social norms and traditions, horrified genteel society, and thrilled young people. They were born in jazz clubs and ballrooms in Chicago, urban dance parties in Memphis, Tenn., country-Western bars in the South and Midwest, underground drag clubs in New York City, and at inner-city contests in South Central Los Angeles.
Here's a look at the 50 most significant dance fads of the last century, how they got started, what influenced their arrival, and what future movements they would inspire. Some you may know, some you may have known but forgotten, and others you may wish you could forget. Either way, every single one of them at one point or another compelled the masses to shake, twist, rattle, roll, swing, bump, or salsa.
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Although it was first developed in 1914, the foxtrot entered its heyday right around a century ago at the tail end of the 1910s. The dance is credited to and named after Harry Fox, a Vaudeville actor who doubled as a circus performer and professional baseball player. Known for its slow-slow, quick-quick counts, the dance was originally called Fox's Trot.
The tango remains one of the most famous, most recognizable, and most taught dances in the world. Although the tango has roots in pre-America, old-world Europe, it emerged in the 1800s as a solo dance performed only by women. Its modern version came to New York City in the early 1900s, but it first became a bona fide craze in 1921 when Rudolph Valentino made it a hit.
One of the first dances to emerge from the era that would come to be known as the Roaring '20s was named after the town where it was created: Charleston, S.C. The then-scandalous dance was a local hit for years, but the Charleston rose to national prominence when James P. Johnson composed the song "The Charleston" for the hit 1923 Broadway show "Runnin' Wild." The dance became a symbol of flapper culture—the term "flapper" comes from the Charleston's trademark loose arm and leg flapping.
The Lindy Hop
In the 1920s, a new and game-changing dance called the Lindy Hop emerged out of New York City's African American urban arts movement. The dance, which combines traditional African rhythms with structured European steps, was born at Harlem's iconic Savoy Ballroom, an epicenter of culture and a grand ballroom with a coat check that could accommodate 5,000 patrons. The wild, spontaneous, eight- and six-count dance, which is a precursor to swing that borrowed from the Charleston, was among the first cultural phenomenons to challenge racial segregation during the emerging jazz era.
Swing dancing is still associated with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and other big-band acts that rose to prominence during the jazz era of the 1920s. It was most heavily influenced, however, by the Lindy Hop, a freewheeling dance unlike any that had come before. Swing used the Lindy Hop as a foundation, but jazzed it up even more by adding lifts, flips, airwalks, and other death-defying aerials. It continues to evolve and remain popular to this very day.
In the 1930s, the Jitterbug emerged as a spin-off of both swing dancing and the Lindy Hop. The movie "Cab Calloway's Jitterbug Party" in 1935 popularized the term, but the true origins of the dance's name are disputed. The wild, explosive couples dance was developed in underground African American juke joints during Prohibition.
The Suzie Q
The Suzie Q is a so-called companion dance that can be performed solo or as part of a group. A late 1930s mainstay, the simple but lively dance consists of only four steps and requires practitioners to keep their hands low and clasped or with their fingers interlocked.
The Lambeth walk
The Lambeth walk is believed to have been created by either the dancer Miss England or the comedian Lupino Lane around 1936. Best done in a group with couples dancing side by side, the dance emerged from a district in London known then as Lambeth.
The word "Mambo" describes a traditional voodoo priestess in Haitian folklore. A dance by the same name originated in Cuba's Haitian community, but contrary to popular belief, the Mambo is not derived from traditional Haitian dance. The Mambo, first publicly performed by Perez Prado at Havana's La Tropicana night club in 1943, it's actually a fusion of Cuban dance music and American swing/jazz dancing.
Also in Havana around the same time the Mambo was catching on, a new Afro-Cuban dance would emerge called Cuban rumba—it was completely different from the rumba that was trendy in the ballrooms of the United States. The dance, which was long frowned upon as vulgar by high Cuban society, is characterized by African drums and fast, rhythmic lyrics.
In 1952, an English dance teacher named Monsieur Pierre Jean Phillipe Zurcher-Margolle visited Havana and noticed that sometimes dancers performed the rumba with extra beats. When he returned to Britain, he began teaching these extra steps, along with music borrowed from the slow Mambo tempo, as a separate dance that would come to be known as the cha-cha. Originally called the cha-cha-cha, it's performed at 120 beats per minute and is known for its weight-forward posture and strong hip movements.
Square dancing has roots dating back to England around the year 1600, but it was Henry Ford who is credited with reviving the tradition and making it a phenomenon in the United States. The automaker poured resources into developing a national square dancing program, which he hoped would provide a genteel counterweight to what he saw as the lascivious dance movements of the flapper era. By the 1950s, national standards had been developed for the dance, and mic-toting "callers" were shouting out instructions like "promenade" and "do-si-do" in square dancing parties and competitions across the country.
The hand jive
The hand jive probably owes most of its fame to the 1978 movie "Grease," but the dance originated in the era that "Grease" was meant to portray—the 1950s. The clapping, leg slapping, and fist-rolling motions, which made their television debut in 1954 on "The Johnny Otis Show," are believed to have been developed out of necessity. The dance floors were so crowded during the early days of rock 'n' roll that revelers had to develop a "dance" they could do standing still.
The hip-swiveling dance known as the Twist became an international sensation when Chubby Checker performed the dance while singing the song of the same name on Aug. 6, 1960, during a performance on the "Dick Clark Show." The easy-to-learn dance, which became synonymous with rock 'n' roll in general, was actually invented by musician Hank Ballard, who wrote the song "The Twist" and released it as a single B-side in 1958.
The Mashed Potato
The Mashed Potato became a dance sensation in 1962, although James Brown had been performing the dance and its corresponding song at concerts as early as 1958. Acts like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Dee Dee Sharp, and Nat Kendrick and the Swans all wrote songs around the same time that were named for and based on the Mashed Potato.
One of the most difficult dances to come out of the rock 'n' roll era was the limbo, which requires participants to bend over backward while gliding forward under an ever-sinking bar. Although it originated in Trinidad during slavery, the dance became a modern fad when a man named Mike Quashie introduced the limbo at Harlem's Apollo Theater in 1958. It became a global sensation, however, when Chubby Checker recorded "Limbo Rock" in 1962.
In 1962, Carole King and Gerry Goffin released the smash hit dance song "Loco-Motion," which would go on to make it into the American top five three times in three different decades. Part of a genre known as dance-song, much of the song's lyrics were dedicated to providing instructions on how and when to perform the moves.
The Monster Mash
Bobby "Boris" Pickett lays claim to what is probably the only Halloween song most Americans can name offhand. Pickett released "Monster Mash" in 1962, and the accompanying dance, often called just the Mash, became an instant hit at costume parties everywhere in part for its simplicity. It contains very little footwork and requires only minimal arm movements.
Referred to by Vox as "the greatest novelty dance of all time," the robot began in 1967 when a mime named Robert Shields began adding mechanical gestures to his silent act. The moves—which are anything but mechanical when done right—inspired dancer Charles Washington and soon found its way onto "Soul Train" and into the Jackson 5's 1974 hit "Dancing Machine."
The hippie spin
Born at 1960s music festivals like Woodstock and made famous by the legions of Grateful Dead fans known as Deadheads, the hippie spin, or hippie twirl is a dance that is still common at jam band concerts today. Hippies, often fueled by the same psychedelic drugs as the musicians playing the music that inspired the dance, would twirl in a slow, vertigo-inducing tornado movement that was often accompanied by flailing arms.
Popping emerged in Fresno, Calif., in the early 1970s as one of the most distinct moves of early funk, and later, of hip-hop. The dance involves the harsh contraction of muscles followed by relaxation, which is then followed again by contraction. The sequence makes the body appear to jerk or pop and is considered one of the earliest dance moves in the funk genre before it was adopted by hip-hop dancers.
Locking is another pioneering early '70s funk dance move that was later adopted into the hip-hop dance genre. It entails transitioning from a rapid movement to a stop, which locks the body and then transitioning back into the original movement at the same speed.
Hustle evolved in the flamboyant music culture of New York City dance clubs in the mid-1970s. Designed to adapt to many kinds of popular music, hustle was a kind of so-called touch dancing from the time of the Lindy Hop. The style received global attention when the defining disco movie "Saturday Night Fever" featured hustle moves, which many hustle purists still insist were all wrong.
The 1970s disco movement gave birth to a dance with roots in salsa, samba, swing, tango, cha-cha, Mambo, and foxtrot. Closely related to hustle, with one often considered being an offshoot of the other, disco dancing also became a global phenomenon with the release of "Saturday Night Fever."
The Time Warp dance
By 1975, what began as a niche rock musical was a feature-length movie that had earned the adoration of an obsessively loyal cult following that continues to flock to theaters to see it in full costumes today. The Time Warp dance scene has long been a favorite part of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" experience since it encourages so much audience participation. The dance eventually left theaters and became a full-on fad.
The Electric Slide
The Electric Slide is one of the most famous MC-directed line dances in history. It all started in 1976 when Neville "Bunny Wailer" Livingston released a catchy song called "Electric Boogie." Later that same year, a Broadway performer and choreographer named Richard "Ric" Silver developed a 22-step dance routine based on the song, which became a simpler 18-step dance that came to be known as the Electric Slide.
In 1978, the Village People released the song "Y.M.C.A.," which—despite the fact that the group was not an all-gay troupe and the song's lyrics did not overtly deal with homosexuality—became an anthem for gay pride. The dance associated with the song is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable in history and requires little more than four people using their arms to spell out the letters above their heads.
First emerging in the hardcore scene, moshing eventually made its way into thrash, metal, and punk concerts. More of an aggressive combat sport than a dance, moshing took place in mosh pits, which formed at the front of the show near the stage. Those who dare enter the pit and throw their bodies wildly at other raging audience members who, in turn, throw their bodies back. Proper etiquette was to give a hand and help up anyone who fell or was injured before they got trampled.
Hip-hop can be traced to the South Bronx in the 1970s when pioneering young DJs hosted massive, raucous dance parties. Using turntables as instruments, they played only the instrumental breaks of each song to give the audience more time to dance, which is where the term breakdancing comes from. The art hit the mainstream just as hip-hop did in the 1980s and became synonymous with wild, athletic, and acrobatic moves like the headspin, jackhammer, and windmill.
In 1983, Michael Jackson unveiled the most celebrated music video in history, "Thriller," which was also the name of his hit song as well as the blockbuster album on which the hit song appeared. More of a mini-movie, "Thriller" featured Jackson, along with his on-screen girlfriend, wearing his trademark red-and-black leather jacket while navigating an urban jungle crawling with bloodthirsty zombies. Those zombies, which eventually enlist Jackson into their ranks, performed a dance that would quickly sweep America and remain a major part of pop culture and internet culture to this day.
Michael Jackson introduced the world to the Moonwalk during his 1983 appearance on "Motown 25," but a much earlier groundbreaking African American performer is credited with inventing the gravity-defying, backward slide. To cap off a stunning performance, tap dancer Bill Bailey moonwalked off the stage in 1955 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Walk Like an Egyptian
The Bangles released "Walk Like an Egyptian" in 1986, and the video soon spawned one of the biggest dance fads of the mid-1980s. The dance was easy enough to pull off and included a Y.M.C.A.-reminiscent hands-above-head move, palms together, with the dancer's head bobbing side-to-side in between—just as the Egyptian pharaohs of old did, or perhaps might have done.
Country line dancing
Although line dances with country flair date back to the 1950s, the 1980 John Travolta movie "Urban Cowboy" put a spotlight on country line dancing, which, as the name implies, involves people arranged in a line while dancing to country-Western music. The dance became a phenomenon, however, a decade later in 1992 with Billy Ray Cyrus' smash hit "Achy Breaky Heart."
The Running Man dance
Hip-hop dance music in the late 1980s and early 1990s was dominated by a simple, but explosive dance known as the Running Man. Popularized by acts like Bobby Brown, MC Hammer, Milli Vanilli, and Vanilla Ice, the dance required fast music, lots of energy, plenty of space, and, if at all possible, parachute pants.
The Humpty dance
"The Humpty Dance," first released in 1990, is consistently rated as one of the greatest music videos of all time. Featuring a young Tupac Shakur in the background, the song and dance were performed by the Digital Underground featuring Humpty Hump, an alter-ego of artist Shock G. Both the song and the dance are intentionally silly and light, which earned the group praise for creating a fun, goofy, dance-for-the-sake-of-dancing fad.
The Spectator once called voguing "a giddy mass of flying limbs, sashaying hips, and pouty faces." Long a staple of New York City's underground drag balls, voguing competitions and pageants caught the eye of major pop stars like David Byrne and Madonna, who began attending them out of curiosity in the 1980s. Mainstream America, however, was introduced to the highly stylized dance form in 1990 when Madonna turned the movement into a worldwide phenomenon after releasing a song called "Vogue," as well as a music video that put the art on display.
The Carlton dance
Actor Alfonso Ribeiro played the uptight and nerdy Carlton on the hit '90s comedy "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." His intentionally bad, wildly flailing trademark dance, which he debuted on the show while moving to "It's Not Unusual," became a massive fad that imitators tried to make all their own. It eventually led to Ribeiro winning "Dancing With the Stars" in 2019, however, Ribeiro lost a lawsuit in which he sought to have the dance copyrighted.
"Jacking" is a simple, freestyle dance move born out of rock 'n' roll in the late '80s. The dance, which was inspired also by the liberated motions of disco, is done by the dancer undulating his or her torso back and forth.
Many Americans were first introduced to the art of stepping when the dance was repeatedly featured in "A Different World," a spin-off of "The Cosby Show," 30 years ago. "S.T.O.M.P." became the first nationally syndicated stepping contest in 1992 and the dance was part of Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Today, the dance—which incorporates break dancing, tap dancing, and gymnastics while using the body to make sounds through acts like clapping and stomping—was the subject of a 2017 documentary called "STEP."
Salsa seems today like a timeless dance, however it gained serious popularity in the mid-1970s in New York. The dance's movements originated in Cuban folk dances and include overtones of Afro-Cuban dances such as the Mambo, Ruma, Danzón, and Son. Salsaing invokes a number of Latin musical genres, most notably dance music from Cuba.
If you were alive and aware in 1993, it is unlikely that you went the whole year without hearing the song "Macarena." From private parties and shopping malls to stadium games and corporate events, the Los Del Rio song was everywhere—and so was the highly choreographed dance that the group taught to the world through their much-watched music video. The song was one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time, and the associated dance fad will be remembered as among the most dominant cultural phenomenons of the era.
If you attended a wedding in the 21st century, chances are good you heard "Cha-Cha Slide" by DJ Casper—and perhaps even attempted to perform the dance. The dance-song genre track, which dedicates much of its lyrics to describing the dance moves, was originally intended for nightclubs and dance parties when it was first released in 2000. It has since, however, become a mainstay at not just weddings, but at birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, workout classes, and proms.
Ceasare “Tight Eyez” Willis and Jo'Artis “Big Mijo” Ratti are credited with creating krumping in South Central L.A. in the early 2000s. Known for its fast stylings, intensity, and sharp body movements, the style is loosely based on a slightly softer version of a similar dance called clowning, which came out of Compton in the early 1990s. Both Ratti and Willis were clown dancers, but developed krumping as a more raw-edged and aggressive alternative.
In the digital age, social media gave large groups of people the means to coordinate and perform massive and seemingly spontaneous choreographed dances. Around the world, the flash mob craze delighted and shocked tourists, worried law enforcement, and made headlines. Among the most celebrated flash mobs ever involved pregnant women breakdancing, 100 women dancing at Piccadilly Circus in London, and nearly 14,000 people dancing the Thriller in Mexico.
In 2006, Soulja Boy released his debut single. Called "Crank That," the song created the biggest dance fad since the Macarena more than a decade before, scoring tens of millions of views. Fun and easy to learn, the semi-instructional dance-song hit soon had people of all nationalities, ages, and genders doing the Superman pose and cranking their hands like they were on motorcycles.
In 2008, Beyonce released "Single Ladies," which would become one of the best-selling singles and most-watched music videos of all time. Based on a performance from "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1969, the dance that accompanied the song would go onto become one of the most iconic of the decade. It spawned a movement more than a fad—the dance remains a staple of dance contests, fitness classes, and barrooms, thanks to the dance's intentionally simple hand gestures and circular strut-walking.
Originally developed in the 1990s in the West Tennessee city that bears its name, Memphis Jookin is an updated version of an earlier line dance known as the gangsta walk. The art form, which borrows from ballet and is known for its elaborate footwork, had all but disappeared by the turn of the millennium but saw a major resurgence in the 2010s. It is the trademark dance of acts like G-Nerd, Lil Black, LaShonte, Dr. Rico, N.Dot, and most notably, Lil Buck.
In 2012, a viral video of a Korean pop star named PSY performing a song and dance called "Gangnam Style" roared across the world and became the first video in history to get 1 billion views on YouTube. The video influenced popular culture around the globe, and the dance became a sensation that was parodied and lampooned as frequently as it was imitated. World leaders like Barack Obama and David Cameron would eventually be seen performing the Gangnam Style dance.
The Harlem Shake
At the viral video dance sensation's peak in February 2013, more than 4,000 variations, iterations, and parodies of "The Harlem Shake" were being uploaded to YouTube every single day. The massive hit from Baauer brought the dance back into the spotlight, but the Harlem Shake actually has a history dating to a street dancer named Al B, who performed his original version on basketball courts in Harlem in the early 1980s.
The Whip and Nae Nae
The 2015 Silentó music video "Watch Me" brought the Whip and the Nae Nae into public consciousness. The two moves, frequently done in tandem, were developed in Atlanta several years before. When the video dropped, however, the craze spread far beyond Georgia and people everywhere started doing the hip-hop moves, which involved shoulder-to-shoulder swaying with one arm up (the nae nae), that eventually comes whipping down (the whip).