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.