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Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s

Recent Titles in
The American Dance Floor
Country & Western Dance
Ralph G. Giordano
Latin Dance
Elizabeth Drake-Boyt
Swing Dancing
Tamara Stevens, with editorial contributions by Erin Stevens
Disco Dance
Lori Ortiz
Folk Dancing
Erica M. Nielsen

Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Lisa Jo Sagolla
The American Dance Floor
Ralph G. Giordano, Series Editor

Copyright 2011 by Lisa Jo Sagolla
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, except for the inclusion of
brief quotations in a review, without prior permission in writing from
the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sagolla, Lisa Jo.
Rock ‘n’ roll dances of the 1950s / Lisa Jo Sagolla.
p. cm. — (The American dance fl oor)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-313-36556-0 (hardback) — ISBN 978-0-313-36557-7 (ebook) 1. Rock
and roll dancing—United States—History. I. Title.
GV1796.R6S24 2011
793.3'3—dc23 2011018831
ISBN: 978-0-313-36556-0
EISBN: 978-0-313-36557-7
15 14 13 12 11 1 2 3 4 5
This book is also available on the World Wide Web as an eBook.
Visit for details.
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This book is printed on acid-free paper
Manufactured in the United States of America

To Richard Pirodsky

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Series Foreword ix
Introduction xi
Chapter 1: The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 1
Chapter 2: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 29
Chapter 3: Teenage Terps on Television 51
Chapter 4: Twisting into 1960 77
Chapter 5: Fifties Nostalgia 99
Notes 11 9
Bibliography 127
Index 133

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Series Foreword
From the Lindy hop to hip hop, dance has helped defi ne American
life and culture. In good times and bad, people have turned to dance
to escape their troubles, get out, and have a good time. From high
school proms to weddings and other occasions, dance creates some of
our most memorable personal moments. It is also big business, with
schools, competitions, and dance halls bringing in people and their
dollars each year. And as America has changed, so, too, has dance. The
story of dance is very much the story of America. Dance routines are
featured in movies, television, and videos; dance styles and techniques
refl ect shifting values and attitudes toward relationships; and dance
performers and their costumes reveal changing thoughts about race,
class, gender, and other topics. Written for students and general read-
ers, The American Dance Floor series covers the history of social danc-
ing in America. Each volume in the series looks at a particular type of dance such
as swing, disco, Latin, folk dancing, hip hop, ballroom, and country &
western. Written in an engaging manner, each book tells the story of a
particular dance form and places it in its historical, social, and cultu
context. Thus each title helps the reader learn not only about a partic-
ular dance form, but also about social change. The volumes are fully
documented, and each contains a bibliography of print and electronic
resources for further reading.

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Dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music was an expressive, emblematic, often de-
fi ant, and profoundly defi ning act for the teenagers of 1950s America.
However, unlike the 1960s, the 1950s did not yield any vast variety of
new rock ‘n’ roll dances. Fifties teens could sometimes be seen doing
freshly invented dances, such as the Stroll, the Hand Jive, the Bop, the
Slop, the Madison, and the Twist. But the dance most commonly per-
formed to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll was the Jitterbug, that same Swing dance
the teens’ parents had done throughout the ’30s and ’40s. The Swing
moves were simply adapted to the rock ‘n’ roll beat. Yet, while they
may have been dancing the same steps as their parents, how they
danced, where they danced, when they danced, and why they danced
made the Jitterbugging of ’50s teens a truly original event: a vivid re-
fl ection of the bracing cultural trends then shaping American life. The 1950s was an era marked by simmering tensions born out of
contradictions between the traditional values of those in power and
the new ideas of young innovators who were instigating changes
in social relations, technology, business, the arts, and entertainment.
The decade is often called the Eisenhower Era, after Dwight David
Eisenhower, who served as the nation’s president from 1953 to 1961,
yet was born in 1890. Throughout the 1950s, most of the country’s lead-
ers had, like Eisenhower, come of age in early 20th-century America
and were driven by a vision of the nation reminiscent of their youth.
Meanwhile, America’s fl ourishing post-war economy was spur-
ring all kinds of cutting-edge developments that were radically alter-
ing what it meant to be an American. The mass migration of African

xii Introduction
Americans to northern cities following World War II spawned a fasci-
nation with urban black culture. There was an increased and potent
impact of black culture on American life, notably in sports and in the
visual, dramatic, literary, and musical arts. A 1954 Supreme Court de-
cision outlawing school segregation incited dramatic changes in social
relations between the races. Inventive technological advancements generated an array of new
products that Americans rushed out to buy: homes in the suburbs,
fancy cars, fast food, household appliances, and television sets. Con-
sumer spending was abundant as the population turned away from
earlier, Puritan-inspired and Great Depression–infl uenced ideas of re-
straint. A new generation arose, which had more money than its prede-
cessor, freer spending habits, and a confi dence in prolonged prosperity.
With little interest in the strict moral codes or otherwise conservative
behavior of their parents, the teenagers of the 1950s emerged as an
economically signifi cant demographic whose new tastes and interests
were beginning to exert strong infl uence on American business, par-
ticularly in the music and entertainment industries.
But underlying the optimism of the Fifties youth was a constant
struggle to move forward in an era when power was still largely in the
hands of an older order. Though the decade is commonly remembered
as a quiet, conformist period, that is largely because of the media’s
depictions of happy Fifties families, such as in the popular television
show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In reality, the 1950s was a pe-
riod of great social stress. It was via the revolutionary invention of rock
‘n’ roll music and the liberating dancing that was performed to it that
the pressure of the 1950s exploded. The rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the era,
therefore, can function as a wide-angle lens, offering an animated view
of the decade’s overall cultural climate. The emergence of the younger generation as a new and infl uential
social group was signaled loudly and clearly by the teens’ adoption of
rock ‘n’ roll as a defi ning badge, which branded them as a generation
distinctly separate from their parents. When they got up and moved
to “their” music, the teens were proclaiming their independence, in de-
fi ance of the musical tastes, social attitudes, and cultural behaviors of
adult society. While publicly embodying the beat of rock ‘n’ roll—a
musical genre born out of a blending of black and white styles—the
teens of the ’50s were also acting out their support of racial integration,
at the same time that issues of school desegregation and civil rights

Introduction xiii
were charging onto the nation’s political forefront. The confl icts and
controversies sparked by adults’ reactions to the Jitterbugging teens
unveiled the deep-rooted racial prejudices harbored by many Ameri-
cans of the time, as well as the conservative sexual innocence that has
come to be associated with the era. Many adults violently objected to what they perceived as rock ‘n’
roll’s vulgar qualities: its hard-driving beat; the sexual innuendos in
the song lyrics; its roots in African-American rhythm and blues, then
referred to as “race” music; and the association between rock ‘n’ roll
and juvenile delinquency being put forth by Hollywood fi lms. Parents
were horrifi ed enough by their teens’ interest in listening to rock ‘n’
roll. But when their kids began to dance to the music, that was even
more frightening. In adults’ eyes, as teens moved to the rock ‘n’ roll
beat, it was as if the dancers’ young bodies were invaded by the vulgar
sounds, their youthful physicality becoming a very visceral expression
of all of the music’s objectionable connotations. In addition to signifying an act of adolescent rebellion and a thwart-
ing of social conventions, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s also il-
lustrated how economic factors stemming from the culture’s latest
technological developments contributed to teens’ newfound indepen-
dence. It was in the mid-1950s that transistor radios fi rst became avail-
able to the general public, making it easier for teens to go off alone and
listen to music of their own choosing. They were less likely to have to
sit around the family radio in the living room and submit to their par-
ents’ programming tastes.
3 Without little portable radios, rock ‘n’ roll
would surely not have taken off as speedily as it did. As radio stations
popularized the latest rock ‘n’ roll songs, the teenagers ran out to buy
them on 45 rpm singles, a new, inexpensive record format that made
the disks affordable for the teens, who then used the records to provide
soundtracks for their social dance parties. The extensive role played by television, most notably the famed teen
dance program American Bandstand, in the dissemination of rock ‘n’ roll
dance styles shows yet another way in which this dancing provides a
lively vantage from which to observe the larger cultural phenomena
of the times. With its real-life participants and its soap opera–like em-
phasis on their personal lives, American Bandstand can be considered
a forerunner of the reality shows that became a staple of television
programming around the turn of the 21st century. Although American
Bandstand included appearances by popular rock ‘n’ roll performers of

the day, the program’s tremendous success in the 1950s relied essen-
tially on viewers’ fascination with watching ordinary teenagers in the
act of dancing. The 1950s was a landmark era in the history of televi-
sion and is often referred to as the medium’s “Golden Age.” American
Bandstand ’s pioneering role in television history (it can be seen as a
precursor to music videos as well as reality TV) is yet another feature
of the cultural climate of the ’50s that is unearthed through the study
of the era’s rock ‘n’ roll dancing. Setting the stage with an opening chapter tracing the explosive birth
of rock ‘n’ roll music, this book explores the many ways in which Fif-
ties rock ‘n’ roll dancing mirrors critical artistic, social, and political
aspects of the decade. The book includes specifi c descriptions of the
steps, rhythms, and other choreographic characteristics of each of the
dances executed to rock ‘n’ roll music during the 1950s. However,
the main purpose of this book is to show how it is not knowledge of the
dances themselves, but an understanding of what the execution of
those dances represented that constitutes the real value of studying the
topic. Such understanding can prove benefi cial to almost anyone inter-
ested in learning more about life in America during the 1950s. The book’s second and third chapters, therefore, introduce Fifties
rock ‘n’ roll dances by situating them fi rmly within discussions of such
social-history topics as the emerging youth culture, changing racial re-
lationships, and the increasing infl uence of television on many facets
of American society. Chapter 4 brings the book’s investigation of the
Fifties dances to a close with the extraordinary story of the Twist, a
dance that not only refl ected the cultural climate of the late ’50s, but
foreshadowed much of what was to come in the 1960s. Though the subject of this book is delineated as rock ‘n’ roll danc-
ing of the 1950s, its scope does not correspond neatly to the historical
period from 1951 to 1960. Instead, as rock ‘n’ roll music did not emerge
until 1954, the book’s treatment of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll dancing starts
from that date and extends to 1963, which was when the popularity of
the Twist, the fi nal rock ‘n’ roll dance invented in the 1950s, waned. While this book is designed primarily to serve students of Ameri-
can social dance and those looking to fi nd new ways of examining the
history of the 1950s, it may also be useful to readers seeking to learn
more about the legacy of that decade and its impact on future gen-
erations. The book’s fi nal chapter focuses on the presence of rock ‘n’
roll dancing in the Fifties nostalgia movement that began at the end of
xiv Introduction

the 1960s, became a driving force in the entertainment industries and
popular culture of the Seventies, and inspired the periodic resurfacing
of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll in fi lms, Broadway shows, and TV programs of the
next 30 years. The most important aspect of dancing to rock ‘n’ roll in any era,
however, is the skintight relationship that has always existed between
the music and the dance movements. It is impossible to overestimate
the importance of the music to anything and everything the rock ‘n’
roll dancer does. The music is the rocket fuel that propels the dancing,
and that music–movement relationship is not only unbreakable, but
also irresistible. Many claim that it is impossible not to dance to rock
‘n’ roll music. Therefore, any serious investigation of rock ‘n’ roll dancing must
begin with an understanding of rock ‘n’ roll music, that incendiary art
form that burst onto America’s popular music scene in the mid-1950s.
Where did rock ‘n’ roll come from? Who invented it? And what made
it such an unconquerable catalyst for social dancing?
Introduction xv

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The Detonation of
Rock ‘n’ Roll Music
An electrifying cultural force that launched with supersonic speed
and brawn in the mid-1950s, rock ‘n’ roll music is a hybrid composed
of elements from three strands of American music: pop, country and
western, and rhythm and blues. All three were adult-oriented forms,
popular during the early 1950s.
Pop music, sporting a slick, professional sound, was rooted in the
Broadway show tunes, romantic ballads, and fun novelty songs of New
York’s Tin Pan Alley. As a musical term, Tin Pan Alley refers not only
to the group of music publishers and songwriters who drove Ameri-
can popular music throughout the fi rst half of the 20th century, but also
to the style of music they produced: songs with melodic appeal, witty
lyrics, and accessibility.
1 The pop music industry of the 1950s was
controlled by an older generation of adults whose interests ran coun-
ter to the decade’s burgeoning youth culture. Hence, the pop songs
of the day refl ected the tastes of those who had been born in the early
20th century. Having lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s
and then World War II, they had developed escapist notions of musi-
cal entertainment, and enjoyed pleasant, soothing songs that served to
relieve tension, rather than instigate excessive emotional turbulence. Country and western music came primarily from the South and
Southwest, often featured the steel guitar, traditionally scorned the use
of drums, and was predominantly associated with poor and working-
class white listeners.
2 The name “country and western” was introduced
in 1949 by Billboard,
the music industry’s leading trade publication, to

2 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
replace the term “hillbilly music.” The roots of the “country” element
of country and western music are in the traditional songs of Appala-
chia, which derive from the folk music brought to that region by early
American settlers from the British Isles. The “western” strand has its
origins in the cowboy songs of the American Southwest and the blend
of country and jazz dance-hall music that came to be known as “west-
ern swing.”
Rhythm and blues, tagged “race” music in the 1920s, was performed
mainly by and for African Americans. In 1949, looking for a less-
offensive name for the recordings then classifi ed as “race records,”
Billboard coined the term “rhythm and blues” to refer to any black
popular music of the day that wasn’t jazz or gospel. Rhythm and blues

was typically characterized by an emphatic dance rhythm, a harsh
singing style, little emphasis on melody, loud volume, and emotional
The rhythm and blues music of the early 1950s could be loosely cat-
egorized into three strains: jump blues, the music of the blues shouters,
and doo-wop. Jump blues is an up-tempo form, strongly infl uenced
by the propulsive jazz piano style known as boogie-woogie. Gener-
ally performed by small combos of piano, bass, drums, and horns,
jump blues is considered to be refl ective of a northern, urban sensibil-
ity. The blues shouters were loud singers, usually male, who shouted
to be heard over the band, and were often associated with the sing-
ing of sexually explicit, sometimes vulgar or misogynistic, lyrics.
4 The
term “doo-wop” refers to a smooth style of consonant, close-harmony
group singing, reminiscent of the late 19th-century barbershop quartet
sound, and rooted in African-American gospel music. Songs by doo-
wop groups, composed of usually four or fi ve singers, would create an
important sub-genre of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll music, although it was not
until the early 1960s that the term “doo-wop” came into popular us
as a descriptor of their singing style. Whereas the other forms of rock
‘n’ roll mirrored the rebellious spirit of adolescents, the gentler doo-
wop music captured the angst and loneliness commonly experienced
by young teens. It was not uncommon for middle-class African Americans in the
early 1950s to shun rhythm and blues, much of which, with its sug-
gestive lyrics and crude sensibilities, they felt perpetuated a negative
stereotype of blacks. As a musical expression of the African-American

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 3
experience, instead of the “disreputable” rhythm and blues, they pre-
ferred the more morally respectable gospel music or the sophisticated
jazz of the day. The main difference between rhythm and blues and
the jazz of this period lies in the presence or absence of a dance beat.
The distinctive characteristic of all the rhythm and blues styles was the
strong presence of a dance rhythm, whereas post-war jazz was rar ely in-
tended as dance music. Another characteristic that distinguished rhythm and blues from
jazz, and was clearly carried over into rock ‘n’ roll, was the dominance
of the vocal soloist. In rhythm and blues, a solo singer typically ex-
pressed his or her own feelings and personality. The band was often
relegated to the role of keeping the beat going and the volume up. In
jazz, on the other hand, the focus was on complex interplay among a
group of musicians and deeper explorations of melody and harmony.
From the rhythm and blues singers of the early ’50s, with their fero-
cious personas and individualized forms of expressivity, can be traced
the ancestral roots of the “rock star.” Though rock ‘n’ roll drew from three different musical genres, it did
so in unequal proportions. While it borrowed polished vocal stylings
characteristic of pop music, and took rural fl avorings from country and
western, the essential component of early rock ‘n’ roll music is rhythm
and blues. When the term “rock ‘n’ roll” was fi rst introduced as a description
of a musical form, it referred directly to rhythm and blues. However,
the term emerged at the exact time when that music was being heav-
ily marketed to teenage fans, both black and white. The music’s produc-
ers and promoters were working to expand its listenership beyond its
traditional niche audience of African Americans. It was while widen-
ing its appeal that rhythm and blues began to absorb the character-
istics from other musical genres that led to its transformation into the
new mongrel rock ‘n’ roll.
Economic Factors
The invention and take-off of rock ‘n’ roll music are inextricably linked
to the emergence in the 1950s of a new adolescent culture, a population
armed with signifi cant buying power and rebellious spirit. The new
musical form not only mirrored adolescence in its emotional volatility

4 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
and authority-defying attitudes, but the subject matter of most rock ‘n’
roll songs was aimed directly at topics of teenage interest, such as ro-
mantic crushes, school, going to dances, and parental discipline.
While many adults harbored distaste for rock ‘n’ roll because of its
association with adolescent rebellion, and others’ objections to it were
grounded in the bi-racial make-up of the music, serious anti-rock ‘n’
roll sentiments also stemmed from economic concerns within the en-
tertainment industry. Not everyone in the music business stood to gain
from the sensational success of the new musical genre. The already-
declining sheet music sector, for example, was hurt by the speed at
which r ock ‘n’ roll hits came and went. And the livelihood of estab-
lished singers, instrumentalists, arrangers, orchestrators, copyists, and
conductors whose aesthetics were fi rmly rooted in pre–rock ‘n’ roll
styles were threatened.
As the popularity of rock ‘n’ roll records skyrocketed with shocking
speed, the major recording companies suddenly found their records
facing competition for spots on the hit charts from records produced
by smaller, independent labels. The major labels did not immediately
devote signifi cant resources to the production of rock ‘n’ roll music,
as it was initially thought to be a passing fad. It was the independent
companies, which had specialized mainly in ethnic folk music and
rhythm and blues, that more readily embraced and cultivated the re-
cordings of the early rock ‘n’ roll artists. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
(ASCAP), the era’s predominant music licensing organization, also had
much to lose as a consequence of the meteoric rise of rock ‘n’ roll. It
was ASCAP that controlled the licensing of songs’ performance rights
to broadcasting outlets, primarily radio. But in 1939, an association of
radio stations had set up a rival organization, Broadcast Music In-
corporated (BMI), which represented many of the songwriters and
publishers neglected by ASCAP. These included a lot of the country
and western and rhythm and blues artists whose music, thanks to the
rock ‘n’ roll fusions, was suddenly growing in popularity.
Radio Fuels the Fire
One sector of the music industry that enthusiastically welcomed the
arrival of rock ‘n’ roll, however, was radio, for which the new music
became a savior from the potentially devastating impact of television.

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 5
The new medium of television, with its added visual component, was
demonstrating that it could more effectively produce the kinds of com-
edy, drama, and variety-show programming that radio had offered.
And by the 1950s, television sets were becoming inexpensive enough
that more households than ever before could afford one. In 1950, there
was a television set in only 9 percent of American homes. Three years
later, half the households in America had a TV.
In the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, however, television was still cater-
ing primarily to an adult audience and seemed to have little interest
in programming the new teen music. Refl ecting the widespread adult
disapproval of rock ‘n’ roll music, John Hammond wrote in the New
York Herald Tribune ( July 18, 1955), “Rock ‘n’ roll is not what might be
described as respectable music. It is abhorred by music critics, scorned
by the better instrumentalists, loathed by the traditional ASCAP
publishers, blamed by sociologists as a contributing factor to juvenile
delinquency and banned by the police in several large New England
communities.” But needing to somehow maintain its listenership, radio

was more than happy to court the teenagers and capitalize on their
desire to hear their new music. By 1956, 68 percent of the music played
by radio disc jockeys in the United States was rock ‘n’ roll.
Ironically, even though the music belongs undeniably to the teen-
age culture, it was an adult, the ambitious, charismatic disc jockey Alan
Freed, who recognized, harnessed, and pointed the youth culture’s
enormous energies toward the popularization of rock ‘n’ roll. Freed is
frequently credited with coining the term rock ‘n’ roll, which, it will be-
come clear, is only a partially deserved honor. Radio disc jockeys, by the 1950s, had become the primary promo-
tional channels between record manufacturers and the listening public.
In 1951, a Cleveland record-store owner, Leo Mintz, bought airtime on
the city’s radio station WJW and gave it to Freed to host a late-night
rhythm and blues show. The object was for Freed, whose on-air moni-
ker was “Moondog,” to promote the sale of rhythm and blues records
in what was then the seventh-largest city in the United States, with a
black population of almost 130,000.
Though not initially a fan of the music, Freed became convinced
of rhythm and blues’ potential to reach wide audiences when Mintz
pointed out that the music’s beat was so driving that anybody could
dance to it. It was indeed its undeniably danceable beat that made
rhythm and blues, and its offspring rock ‘n’ roll, so infectious and such

6 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
a perfect complement to youthful teenage energy. By the early ’50s,
numerous radio stations were programming rhythm and blues in an
attempt to reach a newly emerging market of black consumers who,
in the post-war era, were moving from the south into northern urban
areas in great numbers. Spurred in large part by the mechanization of
cotton harvesting introduced in the 1930s, from 1940 to 1950, 1.25 mil-
lion African Americans left the South and traveled northward.
But while other disc jockeys were playing rhythm and blues music,
Freed was unique in that he was aiming to build a white audience for
it. And that audience was composed largely of teenagers.
Well aware that the sale of pop records was dependent on the art-
ists making public appearances, Freed branched out into concert pre-
senting and organized highly successful concert events in Ohio that
allowed teens to hear and dance to the most popular rhythm and blues
artists of the day. As his radio show continued to grow in popularity it
was picked up, in 1953, by WNJR in Newark, New Jersey, where Freed
then organized an astoundingly well-attended dance. Thousands of
teens had to be turned away. Ironically, the dance was so crowded that
dancing proved impossible. Soon after, Freed was hired to host a radio
show on WINS in New York City. It was via that program, which de-
buted in 1954, that a surge of white teens discovered and fell in love
with rhythm and blues.
As the music gained popularity among white youth, it began to
arouse much derisive criticism. While conservative adults seemed gen-
uinely offended by its smutty lyrics and some African Americans were
ashamed of its primitive sensibilities, Freed felt that many of the com-
plaints railed against rhythm and blues had little to do with aesthetics
and everything to do with economics. For example, ASCAP’s critical
comments about the music could be seen to stem from the fact that the
organization’s long-standing monopoly on pop song licensing fees
was being cut into by the upstart BMI.

When Freed moved his radio program to New York, he was no lon-
ger allowed to use the name “Moondog” (a visually impaired street
musician, Louis “Moondog” Hardin, claimed Freed had stolen the name
from him), so Freed changed the title of his show from “The Moondog
House” to “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Party.” He was cautioned against using
the term “rock ‘n’ roll,” as it was widely considered a black euphe-
mism for sexual intercourse. In 1920s “race” music, the words “rock”
and “roll” had been used separately to refer to sex, but by the ’30s and

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 7
’40s, “rock and roll” had come to refer to a rhythmic sensuality con-
tained in the era’s swing music. In the 1934 fi lm Transatlantic Merry-Go-
Round, the vocal trio The Boswell Sisters sang “Rock and Roll,” a song
about a type of Swing dancing. Some rhythm and blues songs of
the early 1950s, however, made use of variations of the words “rock-
ing” and “rolling” as sexual innuendos.
15 But whatever its connota-
tions or origins, the term “rock ‘n’ roll” quickly came to mean the kind
of music being heard on Freed’s radio show. And record companies soon
started using the term as the name of a category of music aimed at Amer-
ica’s youth.
While it is virtually impossible to pinpoint exactly when, by whom,
or in what song the musical fusion of rock ‘n’ roll was fi rst heard, the
cover version of “Rock Around the Clock,” released on May 10, 1954,
by Bill Haley & His Comets is often heralded as the start of the rock
‘n’ r oll phenomenon.
“Cover” is a term used to describe a recording of a song made by
an artist other than the one who originally recorded it. Covers are gen-
erally made with the intention of allowing a song to be marketed to
Alan Freed, the disc jockey and concert producer who sparked the popularization
of rock ‘n’ roll. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

8 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
an audience that the original version could not or would not reach.
White artists’ bowdlerized cover versions of songs originally recorded
by black performers played a big role in the early history of rock ‘n’
roll, when it was thought that the distinctively “black” vocal soun
ds or
naughty lyrics would compromise the music’s marketability to audi-
ences outside the African-American community. While the sanitized
cover version of a song often sold much better than the original, some-
times a cover would spark listeners’ interest in hearing the song’s origi-
nal version, which would then become a hit record. Many rock ‘n’ roll
fans and music critics have come to denounce, and even deplore, the
practice of covering for what they see as its artistic inauthenticity an
blatant commercial intentions.
One of the most famous cover stories in rock ‘n’ roll lore involves
the song “Ain’t That a Shame.” Written by the African-American
pioneering rock ‘n’ roll artist Antoine “Fats” Domino and Dave
Bartholomew, the song was originally recorded by Domino in the
spring of 1955. A blander cover version was recorded that summer by
the squeaky-clean, white pop singer Pat Boone. Boone’s cover was a
huge hit and wound up generating enormous interest in Domino’s
original recording, which then went on to sell even more copies than
Boone’s cover. Before recording the song, Boone wanted to “clean up”
the title lyric by altering it to the more grammatically correct “Isn’t That
a Shame,” fearing his more educated, white, upper-middle-class audi-
ences might be put off by the word “ain’t.”
16 Though he was eventu-
ally dissuaded from making that alteration, the title lyric was changed
from the original “Ain’t It a Shame” to “Ain’t That a Shame.” It has
been speculated that the reason the word “it” was changed to “that”
was because in the natural carry-over of consonant sounds that occurs
when singing, the original wording might cause listeners to inadver-
tently hear the word “tit.” The breakthrough cover version of “Rock Around the Clock” is
a clear representation of the merging of the three musical strands
that formed rock ‘n’ roll. Originally recorded by Sonny Dae and His
Knights, “Rock Around the Clock” was written by Tin Pan Alley song-
writer Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (under the pseudonym
Jimmy De Knight). But when Haley, a western singer-guitarist (once
a cowboy yodeler), recorded “Rock Around the Clock,” he added a
strong rhythm and blues dance beat and essentially transformed the
song into a jump blues number. The original recording was not a big

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 9
hit, nor was Haley’s when it was initially released in 1954. But thanks
to its inclusion the following year in a watershed Hollywood movie,
Blackboard Jungle (1955), Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” became as-
toundingly popular. It was the fi rst rock ‘n’ roll record to hit No. 1 on
the Billboard pop charts, a position it held on to for eight weeks.
Haley had previously had a hit with his 1953 recording of “Crazy
Man, Crazy.” Some cite this record as the start of rock ‘n’ roll because it
demonstrated how Haley was beginning to inject his country and west-
ern music with a rhythm and blues beat. However, with its prominent
placement in Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock” solidifi ed the
relationship between the new rock ‘n’ roll sound and the defi ant at-
titudes of ’50s teens. It is for this reason that “Rock Around the Clock”
is commonly considered the birth announcement of rock ‘n’ roll.
Hollywood Fans the Flames
With fi lms such as The Wild One (1953) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955),
Hollywood had already begun making headway into the teenage
market. Marlon Brando’s iconic portrayal of the leader of a motorcycle
gang in The Wild One put a potently charismatic face on rebellious be-
havior. And in Rebel Without a Cause , heartthrob James Dean’s powerful
performance as a troubled youth made the bravado of the disobe-
dient teenager downright alluring. Yet, while those movies depicted
generational confl ict and featured boldly defi ant young characters
that no doubt intrigued the average teenager, the fi lms’ musical scores
were composed of jazz music, not rock ‘n’ roll. It was Blackboard Jungle, a startling fi lm about a New York City high
school plagued by a gang of violent teens, that fi rst proclaimed its
provoking message through the adoption of a rock ‘n’ roll theme song.
Based on the best-selling novel The Blackboard Jungle, by Evan Hunter,
the fi lm opens to the exuberant strains of Haley’s recording of “Rock
Around the Clock,” which sets the tone for the disturbing drama to
follow. In his history of rock ‘n’ roll music, Flowers in the Dustbin,
James Miller opines that the movie Blackboard Jungle “popularized the
idea that rock ‘n’ roll music was about disorder, aggression, and sex:
a fantasy of human nature, running wild to a savage beat.” When the
fi lm debuted, throughout the country the media reported instances
of street violence erupting spontaneously outside the theatres after

10 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
In one of the movie’s most terrifying scenes, a dedicated school-
teacher ’s collection of jazz records is fi ercely destroyed by a group of
his rock ‘n’ roll-preferring juvenile-delinquent students. While under-
lining the relationship between rock ‘n’ roll music and misconduct,
this scene also underscores one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most remarkable
characteristics: the astonishing speed with which the new musical genre
exploded. It was during a period of just three years, between 1954
and 1957, that rock ‘n’ roll emerged, developed, took over teen tastes,
and set the trends that forever altered the course of popular music in
America. In the 1954 novel upon which Blackboard Jungle was based,
the juvenile delinquents who destroy the teacher ’s record collection
and criticize his old-fashioned musical tastes taunt him for his ad-
miration of musicians who can’t stand up to the likes of the singers
they revere, such as Perry Como and Tony Bennett. So quickly had
rock ‘n’ roll become the youth music of the day that by the time the
fi lm came out, just one year after the book, the idea of teens admir-
ing pop music performers like Como and Bennett was ludicrously
out of date. Because of its inclusion in Blackboard Jungle , “Rock Around the Clock”
became a mega-hit recording. Until recently, there had been confl ict-
ing stories of how the record came to be selected as the fi lm’s theme
song. But diligent research by Peter Ford has shown the previous
stories to be false and the commonly accepted tale of the marriage of
“Rock Around the Clock” and Blackboard Jungle is now that put forth
by Ford.
17 Ford is the son of Hollywood dance star Eleanor Powell and
actor Glenn Ford, who played the starring role of the schoolteacher in
Blackboard Jungle. In the fall of 1954, when Peter Ford was a fi fth-grader,
and a big fan of rhythm and blues, he acquired a copy of Bill Haley &
His Comets’ recording of “Rock Around the Clock.” Richard Brooks,
who directed and wrote the screenplay for Blackboard Jungle, heard the
recording one day when he was visiting the family home to discuss
work on the fi lm with Glenn Ford. Brooks subsequently borrowed
Peter Ford’s “Rock Around the Clock” record and, upon consulta-
tion with assistant director Joel Freeman, decided to use it as the mov ie’s
theme song. MGM, the fi lm studio that was producing Blackboard Jungle, pur-
chased the rights to use Haley’s recording of “Rock Around the Clock”
for $5,000 from Decca Records. While the $5,000 bought them permis-
sion to use the recording three times within the fi lm, for only $2,500
more the studio could have purchased complete ownership of the

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 11
song. According to the Guinness Book of World Records , “Rock Around
the Clock” went on to sell no fewer than 25 million copies. In their
to save a measly $2,500, MGM missed out on the virtually incalcula-
ble amount of money generated by what has come to be considered the
seminal rock ‘n’ roll song. In linking rock ‘n’ roll to teen violence, Hollywood gave ammuni-
tion to those who objected to rock ‘n’ roll for other reasons, most no-
tably its deep roots in black culture. It was just 10 months before the
release of Blackboard Jungle that the Supreme Court handed down its
decision in the landmark school desegregation case Brown v. Board of
Education. Ruling in favor of the African-American plaintiff Oliver
Brown, whose daughter had been forced by their local school board
to travel to a segregated school far away from her home, the court de-
creed that the maintenance of racially segregated schools was uncon-
stitutional and would no longer be legally permitted. The decision
induced outrage among many parents, whose anger at the prospect of
racial integration may have manifested in a lashing out against rock ‘n’
roll music. Their objections to integration in the classroom could easily
have intertwined with disapproval of their youngsters’ identifi cation
with a heavily black-infl uenced music that was now also being affi li-
ated with juvenile delinquency. And from there it was a short leap to
fears of sexual immorality, as rock ‘n’ roll’s driving beat was said by
some to appeal to man’s baser instincts. Initially, Hollywood’s association of rock ‘n’ roll with teenage vi-
olence served to promote the music’s popularity. The more their
parents objected to it, the more the teens liked it. However, it soon
became apparent that the sorts of aggressively rebellious and truly
deviant teen characters portrayed in such movies as The Wild One and
Blackboard Jungle did not represent the majority of American teen-
agers. The music industry quickly realized that in order to continue
profi ting from the teenage rock ‘n’ roll craze, it would need to soften
the music’s image in such a way that parents, while they may never
like the music, would at least tolerate it. In an effort to capitalize on
the trend, Hollywood strategically turned to the production of a new
tamer genre of rock ‘n’ roll fi lms. The sympathetic teenage characters
in these fi lms were generally clean-cut and well behaved, yet they
harbored a love for rock ‘n’ roll music, which by the end of the movie
they had managed to convince their parents wasn’t such a bad thing
after all. While these rock ‘n’ roll fi lms are generally of little cinematic
signifi cance, they possess important historical value in that they

12 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
often include footage of the most infl uential rock ‘n’ roll artists of the
era performing their biggest hits. Hurrying to benefi t from the success of Blackboard Jungle, B-movie
specialist Sam Katzman set out to produce a fi lm that would not only
feature the sound of rock ‘n’ roll music, but would go one step further,
and show the rock ‘n’ roll performers in action. It may seem as though
Katzman’s idea had already been enacted with the October 1955 re-
lease of the low-budget fi lm Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue. The name of that fi lm,
however, was clearly an attempt to exploit rock ‘n’ roll’s nascent popu-
larity, as the fi lm itself was made up of nothing more than 26 fi lmed
stage performances by the stalwart rhythm and blues artists of the day.
(The movie was actually a re-combined re-release of two earlier fi lms:
Rock and Roll Revue, released on a limited basis in April 1955 and then
nationally in August, and Harlem Variety Revue, released in May 1955.)
Its performers could not really be considered rock ‘n’ roll musicians.
Hosted by Harlem disc jockey Willie Bryant, the movie comprised
performances that had been fi lmed during the summer of 1954 at
Harlem’s Apollo Theatre with the intention of marketing them as a
television series titled “Apollo Varieties.” At that time, however, televi-
sion was uninterested in rhythm and blues programming.
Katzman’s fi lm, on the other hand, features performers who could
legitimately be categorized as rock ‘n’ roll artists, most notably Bill
Haley & His Comets, who performed their hit “Rock Around the Clock,”
which became the fi lm’s title. The movie also includes performances
by two important genre-defi ning, early rock ‘n’ roll vocal groups: the
Platters, singing their hits “Only You” and “The Great Pretender,” and
Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, performing “Giddy Up A Ding Dong,”
which was not a big hit in the United States, but proved popular abroad. Released in 1956, like Blackboard Jungle , the fi lm was criticized for in-
ducing youth violence. Following a showing of Rock Around the Clock
in Minneapolis, it was reported that a group of teens snake-danced
around the town, smashing windows, leading to the cancellation of fu-
ture screenings of the fi lm at that theatre. Rioting ensued in the wake
of overseas showings of Rock Around the Clock. The shah of Iran banned
the fi lm, deeming it a threat to Iranian civilization.
A box offi ce success, Rock Around the Clock became the prototype for
Fifties rock ‘n’ roll fi lms. It showcased popular artists performing their
hit songs in musical segments that were not integrated into the plot.
The fi lm’s storyline included no speaking roles for the musical artists

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 13
and served mainly to demonstrate adults growing to approve of rock
‘n’ roll music.
The dancing in Rock Around the Clock was largely of the Jitterbug
variety (see chapter 2) and occurred during the musical sequences, as
teenage characters spontaneously got up and danced to the rock ‘n’
roll music. While the dancers in the fi lm were supposed to be portray-
ing ’50s teens, one must be careful not to assume that the kind of danc-
ing they did was truly representative of the social dancing practiced by
average teenagers of the era. As is almost always the case when social
dance forms are depicted in stage or screen productions, the dancing
is transformed into a theatricalized presentation, the movements de-
signed by a professional choreographer, in this case Earl Barton, and
the steps performed by highly trained dancers. While it is accurate to
presume that typical teenagers danced the Jitterbug to songs such as
“Rock Around the Clock” in social contexts, it is unlikely that they ex-
ecuted the extensive acrobatic maneuvers and the speedy, polished
footwork seen in the on-screen choreography. Although daring aerial
tricks and fast-moving feet were features of the Lindy Hop, the dance
upon which the Jitterbug is based, most teenagers getting up and danc-
ing socially in the ’50s would not have had the required skills, rehearsal
time, or even dance-fl oor space needed to perform the kinds of rapid
steps, overhead fl ips, and upside-down lifts featured in the fi lm.
The dancers who performed in the early rock ‘n’ roll fi lms of the
1950s were the same highly skilled Lindy dancers who had worked
in Hollywood movies during the 1940s, performing the Swing dance
styles of that era. In numerous personal interviews, conducted by
Swing-dance expert Tami Stevens, those Hollywood dancers claimed
that when they appeared in ’50s rock ‘n’ roll movies they performed
the same Lindy style they had always danced.
In addition to the carry-over of elements from earlier Swing styles,
the dancing in Rock Around the Clock (and most of the other rock ‘n’ roll
fi lms to follow) exhibited characteristics of theatrical jazz dance and
even some classical ballet technique that would not have been in the
ordinary movement vocabulary of social-dancing teenagers. Here and
there throughout the dance sequences in these fi lms one detects the
infl uence of choreographer Jack Cole. Commonly called “the father
of jazz dance,” Cole’s uniquely fused, Asian- and African-infl uenced,
“cool” dance style exerted tremendous infl uence on Broadway and
Hollywood choreography of the mid-20th century.

14 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Also, the beatnik feel to the costuming and the lingo spouted by the
dancers in Rock Around the Clock—
few of whom look young enough to
be playing teenagers—undermines any attempt to realistically refl ect
the dancing of teenaged rock ‘n’ roll fans of the ’50s. The dance scenes
feel like “performances” inspired by more mature sensibilities. An in-
fl uential American literary and social movement that indeed fl ourished
in the 1950s, the Beat culture was led by bohemian writers and artists
who had come of age in the late ’40s, and were notably older than the
teenagers who embraced early rock ‘n’ roll. The Beat Generation idol-
ized those who were different or lived outside conventional social sys-
tems. They were fascinated with urban black culture, from which they
appropriated vocabulary, such as “dig,” “cool,” “man,” and “split.”
Essentially a fringe movement during the 1950s, it wasn’t until its i
of alternative lifestyles were embraced by the counter-culture youth
movement of the 1960s that a Beat infl uence on rock ‘n’ roll music could
be clearly identifi ed. Harboring more cerebral tastes than the young
teens of the 1950s, the Beat Generation preferred listening and con-
templating to the progressive sound of bebop jazz than jumping up
and down to the repetitive rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll. Trying to build on the success of Rock Around the Clock, Katzman pro-
duced a sequel, Don’t Knock the Rock, which was released in December
1956. Less remarkable musically than Rock Around the Clock, the fi lm’s
value lies in its inclusion of footage of the early rock ‘n’ roll star Lit-
tle Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman) performing “Tutti Frutti” and
“Long Tall Sally,” two of his biggest hits. The fi lm’s dancing has much
in common with that of Rock Around the Clock. Again choreographed by
Barton, it was performed by professionals, who improvised much of
their own Swing dancing and aerial tricks.
22 However, in Don’t Knock
the Rock, when Little Richard sings “Tutti Frutti,” amateur dance cham-
pions Jovada and Jimmy Ballard take the dance fl oor alone and per-
form a Jitterbug routine. A brother and sister team, the Ballards were
the Rock ‘n’ Roll division winners at the 1956 Harvest Moon Ball,
was then New York City’s premier couples dance contest. While the
Rock ‘n’ Roll division had been called the Lindy Hop since the con
formal beginning in 1935, the division’s name was changed in 1942 to
the Jitterbug-Jive, and then, in 1956, to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Also in 1956, the
division rules were changed so that aerial moves were no longer al-
lowed. As the Ballard’s Jitterbugging style did not feature aerial work,
and because of their background as social dancers, their performance

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 15
is probably more accurately refl ective of the era’s social dancing than
is the rest of the fi lm’s choreography.
Two more low-budget rock ‘n’ roll fi lms were released in 1956, both
of which are noteworthy only because of the musical performances
they contain. Rock, Rock, Rock features performances by the pioneering
rock ‘n’ roll singer-guitarist Chuck Berry and the seminal rock ‘n’ roll
doo-wop groups Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Moonglows,
and the Flamingos. Shake, Rattle and Rock features the groundbreaking
rock ‘n’ roll singer-pianist Fats Domino performing his hit “Ain’t That
a Shame.” Also in 1956 came the release of the fi rst big-budget rock ‘n’ roll
fi lm, The Girl Can’t Help It. Made in color and starring the iconic 1950s
Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfi eld, The Girl Can’t Help It is a cut
above the other rock ‘n’ roll genre fi lms. Driven by a strong storyline
and sprinkled with witty comedy, it features appearances by the Plat-
ters and Fats Domino, as well as an unusually tame performance by
Little Richard. A parody of movie musicals, gangster fi lms, and what it portrays
as the mindlessness of the rock ‘n’ roll craze, The Girl Can’t Help It lists
no choreographer among its creative team. It begins, however, with a
choreographic sequence of Jitterbugging couples dancing behind the
opening credits. The couples dance with a much bouncier style than
the smooth Jitterbuggers in the other fi lms, more accurately refl ect-
ing the infl uence that rock ‘n’ roll music had on the way the Jitterbug
was danced. The aerial element of the dance is reduced to a few short,
bumpy tricks, rather than the lengthy, fl uidly woven together phrases
of diffi cult lifts and acrobatics showcased by the professionals in Rock
Around the Clock and its sequel. The steps in this dance sequence are
very basic, slower, and less rhythmically complex, more like the foot-
work real teens would probably have done. But despite the choreogra-
phy’s closer refl ection of actual social dancing of the era, the slapstick
maneuvers and sense of vaudevillian comedy imbued in the move-
ments display a precision and timing suggestive of rehearsed perfor-
mances by professional dancers. Later in the fi lm, however, there is a nightclub scene in which teens
(cast age appropriately) dance to Fats Domino’s performance of “Blue
Monday.” Though moving with wild abandon, they do nothing more
complicated than a slow Jitterbug basic, some swivel steps, and under-
arm turns that almost any teenager could execute. Dancing in bare feet,

16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
socks, or fl at shoes on a crowded dance fl oor, and performing no
showy acrobatics, they can be seen to represent a relatively true picture
of the social rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the times.
Released in 1957, the fi lm Mr. Rock and Roll is a loose account of the
DJ Alan Freed’s role in the transformation of rhythm and blues into
rock ‘n’ roll and the fourth movie in which Freed appeared. (He had
been in Rock Around the Clock, Don’t Knock the Rock, and Rock, Rock, Rock,
playing himself in each instance.) The movie includes performances
by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Jamboree is another 1957 fi lm that included notable rock ‘n’ roll per-
formances. A movie about two aspiring singers manipulated by their
managers, it features appearances by Fats Domino, the fi ery piano-
playing rock ‘n’ roll star Jerry Lee Lewis, and the young teen idol
Frankie Avalon. It is hard to categorize the movie, however, as a typi-
cal rock ‘n’ roll genre fi lm, as its musical aesthetic is more eclectic. The
fi lm’s inclusive lineup of performers represents pop, country, and jazz
sounds, as well as rock ‘n’ roll, and features country singer Slim Whitman
as well as the great swing bandleader Count Basie. The group dance
numbers in Jamboree, which are done as “performances,” in a show-
within-the-show-style, were choreographed by Broadway’s Danny
Daniels. The movements, though seasoned with Jitterbug fl avorings,
are decidedly theatrical in nature and are clearly infl uenced more by
the choreographic style of Broadway dance-maker Bob Fosse than by
teenage social dancing of the period. In 1958, Freed appeared, again as himself, in the fi lm Go, Johnny,
Go! The fi lm also includes the rare appearance of a rock ‘n’ roll star,
Chuck Berry, in an acting role, albeit portraying a fi ctionalized version
of himself. Despite some entertaining, and slickly choreographed mu-
sical sequences, typical of its genre the fi lm is otherwise insignifi cant.
Throughout the 1950s, many more movies were made in exploitation
of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion, most of which were so cheaply and ama-
teurishly produced as to be cinematically embarrassing.
Gyrations of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Giants
From the outset, rock ‘n’ roll music was dance music. It arrived at a
time when the practice of social dancing was waning, in that the pop-
ular music of the day, jazz, was evolving from the dance-inspiring
big band, swing music into the more listening-oriented, rhythmically

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 17
complicated bebop sounds, which could be extremely diffi cult for an
average person to dance to. Rock ‘n’ roll music, on the other hand, demanded to be danced to.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence of rock ‘n’ roll’s intrinsic power
to move people is rooted in what can be considered the “original” rock
‘n’ roll dances: those spontaneous, improvised, often outrageous move-
ments made by the performers themselves. Not only was it virtually
impossible to sit still while listening to rock ‘n’ roll music, but it also
appeared to be impossible to play and sing rock ‘n’ roll without engag-
ing in some form of inventive “dancing.” None of the early rock ‘n’ roll
performers simply stood still and sang. They all moved, usually with
furious abandon and often quite provocatively. And the most famously
provoking moves were those exhibited by rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest star:
Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley
A superstar of the highest magnitude, Elvis Presley popularized rock
‘n’ roll on a wider scale than any other single performer. By 1956, he
had emerged as the singing sensation of the nation. The esteemed
American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein called Presley
“the greatest cultural force in the 20th century.”

Growing up in a poor southern family, Presley was exposed as a
youngster to both country and western music and to the black musi-
cal traditions that fed rhythm and blues. Because of the strong country
music sensibility that Presley brought to his singing, he was responsi-
ble for pioneering the popular sub-genre of rock ‘n’ roll that came to be
called “rockabilly.” In addition to “white” country infl uences, Presley
also brought to rock ‘n’ roll an exquisite vocal quality—a rich, velvety
sound and a wide pitch range—of the sort prized by the pop music
world. Epitomizing the hybrid nature of rock ‘n’ roll music, Presley is
probably the performer most responsible for distinguishing rock ‘n’ roll
as its own musical form, separate from the rhythm and blues that con-
stituted so much of its original makeup. Presley was the leader in al-
lowing white America, or those who felt disinclined to embrace “black”
music, to claim rock ‘n’ roll as their own.
Presley’s music represented “the coming together of black and white
culture into the mainstream in a way that had never happened before,”
wrote the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Halberstam in The

18 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Fifties, his analytical account of the decade’s cultural trends. When
Presley was interviewed on the air following the fi rst radio play of
his music, the disc jockey asked Presley what high school he had at-
tended. As the show was being broadcast in the then-segregated South,
the question was the DJ’s strategic way of indicating to his listener
that, though he may have evoked decidedly black musical qualities, the
singer they had just heard was white. The Memphis-based record pro-
ducer Sam Phillips, the man who discovered Presley’s talents, is often
credited with “inventing” Presley, as it was Phillips who encouraged
the singer ’s melding of country and rhythm and blues. Phillips said
that he always knew “if I could fi nd a white boy who could sing like a
black man I’d make a million dollars.”
With his seductive good looks, sexy smile, and arresting black hair,
Presley was catnip for adolescent girls, yet created an uproar among
Elvis Presley, the seminal rock ‘n’ roll superstar, performing for ecstatic fans in the
1950s. While arousing to teens, Presley’s physical gyrations shocked older audi-
ences. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 19
the older generation, who viewed him as a threat to their conserva-
tive sensibilities. Presley’s shock appeal, however, probably resulted
more from his physical movements than from his singing. When Pres-
ley sang, particularly up-tempo songs, it was as if the music was per-
colating inside his body and completely overtaking him physically.
There was a seamless connection between his body movements, the
musical accompaniment, and the vocal sounds he was producing.
While he sang this new “integrated” music, he exuded a steamy sen-
suality that was underlined by his dance-like actions. Strong, sudden
bursts of movement would charge out of his body, as if emanating from
a whirling current of electricity stored up deep within his torso. He
kept the beat of the music by bouncing on his heels or by accentuating
the beat with knee pops—a quick release and percussive straighten-
ing of the knee joints. One of his signature moves was a punctuating
action in which he made two quick movements of one bent knee—
across and open. A sharp and explicit opening of his thighs, the move,
whether Presley intended it or not, was undeniably sexual. When he sang, Presley’s head sat loosely on his neck. He rarely
looked skyward, more often than not tilting his chin downward in a
way that allowed him to focus alluringly on individual female audi-
ence members. His head moved around as if impelled by a low heat
simmering somewhere deep within his throat. When he was not ac-
companying himself on the guitar, his arms hung freely at his sides and
would dart out periodically to gesture to the audience. His arm move-
ments varied widely, but always seemed to be authentic responses to
the song lyrics or the musical dynamics. When Presley sang slow, quiet
songs, strumming his guitar, he emanated a softer energy, but his char-
acteristic sudden ticks of movement still came out on accented notes.
He would shimmy his shoulders or do single-shoulder lifts or rolls
that were so small and unexpected that they felt to viewers like secret
sexy surprises. Because his physicality was such an integral part of his performance
persona, when the new medium of television fi nally began to take an
interest in rock ‘n’ roll performers, it magnifi ed Presley’s impact. The
singer was fi rst seen on television on January 28, 1956, on Stage Show,
a music variety program hosted by the swing-era musicians Tommy
and Jimmy Dorsey, and produced by the comedian Jackie Gleason.
When Merrill Staton was invited to perform as a back-up singer for
Presley on Stage Show, he agreed, but opted to sing off-stage. A highly

20 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
regarded professional singer, with a doctorate in Music Education
from Columbia University’s Teachers College, Staton was reluctant
to be seen with the gyrating guitarist. And when Presley instructed
Staton on how he wanted him to sing, Staton said, “OK, but I can’t
those moves.”
Presley was introduced to the Stage Show viewers as a young
hillbilly singer, and re-appeared on the program in February and
March. His performances were said to include lots of pelvic gyra-
tions, which garnered him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Members
of the show’s largely middle-aged audience were generally revolted
by Presley’s performances, and responded with the sending of much
unfavorable mail.
On April 3, 1956, Presley appeared on the television variety show
hosted by the comedian Milton Berle. The show’s viewers were po-
larized in their response to Presley. While younger viewers went ab-
solutely wild over the new rock ‘n’ roll idol, the reaction from older
viewers may have been more in line with that of television critic Jack
Gould who, writing in the New York Times on June 6, 1956, described
Presley as “a rock ‘n’ roll variation of one of the most standard acts in
show business: the virtuoso of the hootchy-kootchy.” Reviewing Pres-
ley’s performance in the New York Journal-American, Jack O’Brien called
the singer ’s movements “plainly planned, suggestive animation short
of an aborigine’s mating dance.”
Most of the outrage caused by Presley’s “dancing” seems sparked
by what were commonly referred to as his pelvis movements. On oc-
casion, Presley would accentuate a musical beat or phrase ending with
an erotic jolting action, a strong, forward pelvic thrust, like a strip-
per ’s bump. Close observation, however, reveals that while many of
his other actions did indeed involve surges of movement through his
lower body, he did not generally move his pelvis in an isolated fash-
ion, as would a jazz dancer, or the striptease artist trying to suggest sex-
ually oriented maneuvers. Presley’s lower-body movements, though
unquestionably sexy in effect, do not appear initiated by contractions
or relaxations of the core muscles of the pelvic and abdominal regions,
but seem to be generated largely by his legs and thighs. He often ro-
tated his legs inward and outward as he skid sensually along the fl oor
or posed in mid-level lunges, in which he then alternated the bend in
his knee from one leg to the other, or opened one thigh with a seduc-

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 21
tive circling action. His moves did not evoke a sleazy feel, as much as a
snazzy, stylish quality.
But so fi erce were adult objections to Presley that it was only after the
singer ’s performance on the variety show hosted by Steve Allen that
the famous Sunday night variety show host Ed Sullivan re-considered
his previously fi rm refusal to allow Presley to appear on his family-
oriented program. On July 1, 1956, the night Presley appeared on
Allen’s show, which was broadcast on Sundays opposite Sullivan’s, the
ratings for Sullivan’s program nose-dived. It seems apparent that the excited reactions to Presley’s television
appearances had as much, if not more, to do with his movements
than with his singing. It has been widely publicized that Sullivan ve-
hemently insisted that when Presley sang on his show he was to be
fi lmed only from the waist up, so that audiences would not be exposed
to any potentially offensive pelvic motions. In reality, however, Pres-
ley’s full body was in the shot during much of his singing on Sul-
livan’s program. Presley made three appearances on The Ed Sullivan
Show (on September 9 and October 28, 1956, and on January 6, 1957),
singing a combination of ballads and up-tempo numbers. It was only
during the 1957 broadcast that the lower half of Presley’s body was
kept out of camera range. But regardless of the degree of control Sulli-
van ultimately did or did not exert on how Presley was fi lmed, it can-
not be denied that the legendary status of the story, and the public’s
overwhelming concern with it, reveal much about the era’s attitudes
toward sex and expressive physical movements. It also underlines the
intrinsic connections between body movement and the emergence
of rock ‘n’ roll. Quick to latch on to the Presley phenomenon, beginning with Love
Me Tender in November 1956, Hollywood produced six movies in the
1950s (and 25 more in the Sixties) featuring Presley. The other fi ve were
Loving You ( July 1957), Jailhouse Rock (November 1957), King Creole (July
1958), G.I. Blues (November 1960), and Flaming Star (December 1960).
But unlike the typical rock ‘n’ roll genre fi lms, in which the musical
artists simply made appearances performing their songs in musical
segments unrelated to the plot, Presley’s fi lms featured him in leading
acting and singing roles. While the movies were tailor-made vehicles
for Presley and fared well at the box offi ce, they were not highly re-
garded by fi lm critics.

22 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis,
and Fats Domino
Aside from Presley, in the inaugural phase of rock ‘n’ roll music, the
most important solo trailblazers were Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry
Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino. With the unprecedented speed at which
rock ‘n’ roll developed, the popularity of individual songs often rose
and fell with extraordinary rapidity. Two months was the longevity
average of hit records in the 1950s.
29 And the fame of the artists who
recorded them came and went with a similar velocity. The history of
rock ‘n’ roll is peopled by many performers, who had one or two big
hits, and were never heard of again. Berry, Little Richard, Lewis, and
Domino stand out, however, as not only were they responsible for the
birth of rock ‘n’ roll, but they managed to sustain their popularity for
many years. Like Presley, each one exhibited dynamic, highly individ-
ualized movement styles. The “dancing” they did as they sang and
played their instruments was inseparable from their music-making
and became an integral part of their celebrity personas.
Rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer Chuck Berry doing his famous “duck walk.” (Librar
y of

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 23
In delineating the history of rock ‘n’ roll music in his book The
Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, British musicologist Charlie
Gillett wrote, “If importance in popular music were measured in terms
of imaginativeness, creativeness, wit, the ability to translate a variety
of experiences and feelings into musical form, and long-term infl uence
and reputation, Chuck Berry would be described as the major fi gure of
rock ‘n’ roll.” Berry was also the inventor of a signature movement, his
“duck walk,” which may be considered the very fi rst rock ‘n’ roll dance
step. While playing his guitar, holding it down against his hip and off
to one side, Berry would bend his knees into a low, almost squatting
position. In this earthy, rounded posture, he would proceed across the
stage, lifting his knees, fl exing his ankles, and sometimes jutting his
chin quickly and sharply forward in double-time to his steps. When he
reached the end of the stage space, he would turn abruptly and pro-
ceed back in the other direction. Berry also developed a signature one-
legged hopping movement that he did while playing his guitar. Both
moves have become emblematic of Berry and the theatrical nature of
his animated performing style.
An explosive singer, Little Richard contributed enormously to de-
fi ning not only the sound but also the untamed character of early rock
‘n’ roll. Sporting a six-inch-high pompadour, with his bizarre manner-
isms, excessive energy, and over-the-top showmanship, Little Richard
put on a wild stage act that defi ed any sense of decorum or predictabil-
ity. When accompanying himself on the piano, he generally stood up
and bounced to the beat with his knees. He might turn around and play
the keyboard with his arms behind his back, rocking side to side. Some-
times he lifted his leg and placed it atop the piano, continuing to stri
the keys with one arm on either side of his thigh, as he lifted the hip
of his raised leg up and down in time to the music. The effect was one
of raw eroticism. In his singing, he accented important lyrics or phrase
endings with huge dramatic moves. For instance, at climactic points in
“Long Tall Sally” in the fi lm Don’t Knock the Rock , he can be seen mak-
ing a big backward circle with his arms before leaning back and plung-
ing into an off-kilter lunge position. Little Richard was later known to
leap up on top of the piano and jump down from it, or hurl himself off
the stage and run frenetically up and down the aisles of the theatre. His
goal was to incite a sense of total freedom and frenzy. The unexpected-
ness of his movements and the large amounts of space they engulfed
made a strong visual and kinesthetic contribution to his ability to startle

24 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
audiences and shake up their thinking about conventional notions of
socially acceptable behavior.
Another wild man on the rock ‘n’ roll stage, Jerry Lee Lewis sang
while playing the piano in a violent hammering style. He was known
for his technique of manipulating the emotional pitch of his music by
building to intense peaks and then slackening off, only to build up
again to another climax.
30 A truly ferocious man at the piano, Lewis sat
on the bench with his legs spread apart, his body angled slightly out
to the audience, and his front leg opening in and out as his thigh trav-
eled back and forth across the bench. He kept the beat with his feet,
his toes pumping up and down, creating a crazed impression. Some-
times he would kick the piano bench out from underneath himself and
keep pounding away at the keys while standing in a deep knee bend
hunched over the instrument. His most famous hits were the songs
“Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
Flamboyant rock ‘n’ roll star Little Richard performing one of his audacious sig-
nature moves on a Hollywood film set in the late 1950s. (Photo by Frank Drig
Collection/Getty Images)

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 25
A singer-pianist in the jump blues style, Fats Domino was perhaps
the most universally appealing of this fi rst crop of rock ‘n’ roll
stars. Though lively and very danceable, his music was less assaultive
than that of the others. He planted his bulky frame fi rmly on the piano
bench as he played and sang, but constantly shifted his weight around
in easy curving pathways. Sometimes he’d make a big circle with his
torso, or round forward over the piano, and then lean way back, or
twist to open himself to the audience. There was a very relaxed qual-
ity to how he held his torso, a looseness in the middle that allowed
his rib cage to sometimes shift independently in either direction or to
curve forward. His head would tip, sometimes sideways, sometimes
forward, and his shoulders might lift and pulse downward to the beat.
Like his music, his brand of movement evoked a disarming, easy, and
comfortable quality.
Pioneering rock ‘n’ roll pianist-singer Jerry Lee Lewis, known for his wild antics at
the keyboard. (Warner Bros./Photofest)

26 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Vocal Groups
The popular early rock ‘n’ roll vocal groups also exhibited distinc-
tive movement traits. Mirroring the tightness of their harmonies, they
tended to move in tightly synchronized unison. Unlike the soloists,
these singers performed choreographed actions that were clearly re-
hearsed, rather than seemingly spontaneous. The choreography would
include small step-touch patterns, sways, turns, pivots, tiny kicks or
knee lifts, and an assortment of hand gestures that gave them a highly
stylized look and feel. This kind of choreography was further devel-
oped by the soul singers who fl ourished in the 1960s and evolved into
one of the signature elements of the Motown era.
While their movements played signifi cant roles in the generating
and popularizing of their music, none of these groundbreaking rock
‘n’ roll artists could be considered a truly gifted dancer. (The fi rst infl u-
ential rock ‘n’ roll musician who could claim that honor would be soul
singer James Brown.) However, the two differing kinds of body move-
ments put forth by the original rock ‘n’ roll stars—the highly animated,
The Platters, a doo-wop group, seen here in the mid-1950s. The synchronized,
gestural choreography of Fifties vocal groups was reflected in the social group
dances invented by the era’s teens. (Photofest)

The Detonation of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music 27
impulsive gyrations of the solo singers and the smooth, slick moves
of the doo-woppers—can be seen to parallel the two major categories
of rock ‘n’ roll dancing that were to develop among teenagers in the
1950s. To the spirited fast songs, teens generally improvised freely and
wildly, albeit within the Jitterbug form. But to the calmer songs, they
wound up creating group-oriented dances built of prescribed moves,
performed in specifi c formations, and often mirroring a song’s lyrics.
So what exactly happened when the Fifties teens got out of their
seats and began dancing to this infectious, revolutionary music? What
did they do with their bodies? What did their dancing represent? And
what kind of reverberations resulted from their dancing to rock ‘n’
roll music?

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The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor
It was the natural combustion of teenage physicality and the youth
culture’s tumultuous new music that spawned the social rock ‘n’ roll
dancing of the 1950s. Yet from a purely terpsichorean viewpoint, the
dancing was not particularly original. When the teens danced to fast
rock ‘n’ roll songs, they generally did the Jitterbug, a dance that had
been around since the 1930s. And while the teens did invent some new
dances, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the actual dance
steps nor the artistry, choreographic aesthetics, technical character-
istics, athleticism, or visual design of most of what they created. It
was the dancers themselves, the music, and the time period that lends
cultural signifi cance to what occurred on the rock ‘n’ roll dance fl oors
of the 1950s. A spanking new social demographic emblematically
moved their bodies to ferociously fresh music in an era when multitu-
dinous American traditions were also being fi ercely shaken up. The rock ‘n’ roll music of the 1950s was extremely easy to dance to
because it had a steady, straightforward beat. And the extraordinarily
uninhibited nature of the music prompted even the most insecure or
self-conscious listener to feel he could join in the action. When the fi
Blackboard Jungle opened in Boston, teenagers jumped up out of their
seats and began dancing in the aisles as soon as they heard the movie’s
rousing rock ‘n’ roll theme song, “Rock Around the Clock.” Unable
to stop the teens from dancing, the theater management proceeded
to show the opening of the fi lm with the sound turned down, so the
music couldn’t be heard.

30 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Betty Romantini was a teenager in the 1950s in Philadelphia where
she danced on the famous television program American Bandstand
(see chapter 3). She recalled how she felt when listening to WDAS, a
black-oriented radio station that played the rhythm and blues music
that morphed into early rock ‘n’ roll: “You just wanted to get up and
dance . . . you felt it in your soul. It was the kind of music . . . you

internalized and your body just went with it. And teenagers all over
were having the same kind of experience. . . . Our parents, the older
generation didn’t get it and I think it frightened them. It appeared to
them that we were out of control.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll Riots
Many ’50s teens were inspired to dance by the music they heard on
the radio. But the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll social dancing as a mass
phenomenon can be traced to the enormous concert events at which
teenage audiences heard, watched, and were impelled to move by the
often raucous performances of the early rock ‘n’ roll musical artists.
Deejay Alan Freed, who had become well known as a producer of
live music and dance events, presented a “ Rock ‘n’ Roll Easter Jubilee”
at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre, on April 12, 1955. A proscenium
theater space, the venue did not lend itself to dancing by audience
members. Nonetheless, incapable of sitting still while listening to
Freed’s electrifying line-up of rock ‘n’ roll artists, the teenage audience
danced wildly out into the aisles and atop their seats. They jumped up
and down with such force that many of the theater seats had to be
repaired following the concert.
In 1956, in response to the dancing that large groups of teenagers
were doing to rock ‘n’ roll music, the Los Angeles County Board of
Supervisors re-instated a Progressive Era law prohibiting public danc-
ing in parks and open spaces. It was claimed that such dancing might
contribute to increased juvenile delinquency. All public dances were
henceforth required to obtain prior approval by the Board of Educa-
tion and, in effect, had to be held on school grounds, where rock ‘n’
roll music and interracial dancing could be banned. In Atlanta, a sim-
ilar law was enacted, barring teens from dancing in public without
the written consent of their parents.
While the screening of fi lms containing rock ‘n’ roll music and the
presentation of live concerts proved stirring enough individually, it

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 31
was not unusual for big rock ‘n’ roll events in the 1950s to incorporate
both a movie showing and onstage performances in a single event—
following the long-standing movie-theater tradition of fi lms and a live
show. Some teens remember attending concerts at a drive-in movie
theater where, in between fi lm screenings, the rock ‘n’ roll acts per-
formed atop the roof of the little building that served as the venue’s
refreshment stand.
In 1957 a two-day, combined rock ‘n’ roll concert and movie-
screening event, produced by Freed at Manhattan’s Paramount The-
ater, featured showings of the new fi lm Don’t Knock the Rock and
performances by 12 different top rock ‘n’ roll artists. By the time the
venue opened at 8:15 a.m. , 5,000 teenagers were already in line for ad-
mission to the 3,650-seat theater, and throughout the day a continu-
ous stream of more than 15,000 teens queued up to see the shows.
According to the New York Times, the crowd inside the theater danced in
the aisles, the foyer, and the lobby and stood in their seats, jumped up
and down, and stamped their feet in time with the music. The ram-
bunctious foot stomping prompted the worried theater owners to call
Rowdy teens moving to the rock ‘n’ roll music at a 1957 concert. (© Bettmann/

32 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
in the Fire Department, and it was decided to take the precautionary
measure of removing 1,000 of the teenagers from the protruding bal-
cony sections.
7 The next day, when more than 16,000 teens showed
up, 279 New York City police offi cers and 25 theater police were as-
signed to the theater. They patrolled the aisles, chasing would-be
dancers back to their seats and ordering those who stood in their
seats to sit down.
Freed’s 1958 “Big Beat Rock ‘n’ Roll Show ” at the Boston Arena
drew 6,000 fans and turned into a wild melee when the police would
not allow the house lights to be turned off during the concert. It was
reported that in the ensuing fi ght between the teens and the police
15 people were slugged, beaten, or robbed by a berserk gang of teen-
These live rock ‘n’ roll music and dance events routinely attracted
large, highly spirited crowds. If contemporary newspaper reporting is
to be believed, the concerts regularly evoked riotous behavior, which
did much to feed the anti–rock ‘n’ roll feelings among the general
populace. It is impossible to determine, however, whether the reported
violence was always initiated by the teens. It may have been instigated

Hordes of teens trying to get into a combined rock ‘n’ roll concert and film-
showing event at the Paramount Theater in New York City. (Photo by Frank Driggs
Collection/Getty Images)

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 33
to some degree by overly zealous authorities fearful of what might
transpire with such large gatherings of teens under the infl uence of
the invigorating new music. A disturbance at an early rock ‘n’ roll concert in New Haven, Con-
necticut, caused the police from the neighboring town of Bridgeport
to institute a ban on rock ‘n’ roll dances anywhere in their jurisdic-
tion. The ban forced the cancellation of an upcoming concert by Fats
Domino who, ironically, was one of the tamest of the early rock ‘n’
10 After some audience members got rowdy at one of Freed’s
shows in Hartford, Connecticut, controlling authorities decided to can-
cel many of the DJ’s upcoming concerts, including events in Troy, New
York, and in Jersey City, New Jersey. At a live rock ‘n’ roll show in
Lewiston, Maine, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for climbing onto the
stage and trying to dance.
11 In light of all the commotion in other cit-
ies, the Washington, D.C., police chief proposed a ban on rock ‘n’ roll
shows at the National Guard Armory.
While hearing and seeing the provocative rock ‘n’ roll artists per-
form incited physical responses from the teens, it was not just the
live concerts that evoked disruptive activity. It seems that even hear-
ing the recorded rock ‘n’ roll music played by DJs at record hops (see
below) prompted objectionable behavior. Record hop riots were re-
ported in numerous cities, including Birmingham, Alabama, and Bos-
ton and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rioting in Cleveland spurred city
offi cials to unearth an old ordinance that barred anyone under the age
of 18 from dancing in a public place. DJs in that city were required to
obtain special police permission if they wanted to hold teen dances.
In 1957, an associate in psychiatry at Columbia University suggested
parallels between rock ‘n’ roll dancing and both the crazed moves of
the St. Vitus dancers of the Middle Ages and the manic movements of
mad victims of toxic tarantula bites. He described the dancing teens
of the 1950s as “moved by a juke box to dance themselves more and
more into a prehistoric rhythmic trance until it had gone far beyond
all the accepted versions of human dancing.”
14 While his trance claims
are certainly debatable, his description of the dancing represents how
many rock ‘n’ roll opponents viewed the kinds of physical activ ity
the music was inducing. The media reinforced such opinions, as news-
paper and magazines nationwide rarely missed an opportunity to un-
derline the relationship between rock ‘n’ roll music events and rowdy
teen behavior.

34 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Embodying Racial Integration
While it may have been the violence and wild cavorting that captured
the headlines, what made the early rock ‘n’ roll concert and dance
events truly groundbreaking was their unusual embodiment of racial
integration. Not only did the music refl ect a blending of black and
white sensibilities, but the audiences were composed of a combination
of black and white youth that was unforeseen in America. In many
areas of the country during the 1950s, the black and white segments
of the population were segregated in all aspects of their lives—their
schooling, housing, recreational activities, socializing, church-going,
and attendance at arts and entertainment performances. Suddenly,
with the white teens’ burgeoning interest in rock ‘n’ roll, which in
the early days was essentially the rhythm and blues music that had
been popular only in African-American communities, black and white
young people were suddenly attending the same concerts. When
Freed produced his fi rst live New York City concert and dance event,
“ The Rock ‘n’ Roll Jubilee Ball,” held on January 14, 1955, the
ence was almost exactly half white and half black. It was the fi rst time
such a ratio had occurred at a concert of what was primarily rhythm
and blues music.
At most of the early rock ‘n’ roll concert and dance events in the
South, where segregation was legally mandated, the audience would
be divided by race, with blacks on one side of the venue and whites
on the other, or perhaps with one race upstairs and the other down-
stairs. At other times a rope would separate black and white audience
members. Yet while the teens may have started out on their respec-
tive sides of the rope, it was not uncommon, as they danced, for the
white teens to move up close to the rope, trying to get a better view,
as they watched and copied the dance steps the black teenagers were
doing. On occasion, the rope would fall down and black and white
teens could fi nd themselves dancing together. The anger provoked
by such racial intermingling did much to fuel anti-rock ‘n’ roll sen-
timents among southern segregationists. Asa Carter, of the Alabama
White Citizens Council, described these rock ‘n’ roll dances as “a
plot to mongrelize America.”
Even in the North, anti-integration attitudes often prevailed. In
1953, while on a high school junior-class boat trip down the Dela-
ware River in Pennsylvania, two teens starting Jitterbugging together.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 35
“ They were the best Jitterbuggers in the class, so the two of them al-
ways danced together,” recalled the faculty member who was chaper-
oning the trip. “ No one thought anything of it at school functions.” The
problem, however, was that the girl was white, and the boy was black,
and they were dancing together in public. A member of the boat crew
quietly went over to the couple and told them they had to stop danc-
ing together, though he said nothing to any of the other, non-interracial
teenage couples who were dancing to the musical entertainment on the
boat. He then asked them who was in charge of their group. “And he
came over and reprimanded me severely for permitting them to dance
with one another,” said the teacher.
The seeds of racial integration and civil rights were just being
planted in the United States during the 1950s. It was in 1955 that the
African-American woman Rosa Parks was arrested and jailed for re-
fusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. The incident
prompted a 382-day boycott by blacks of the city bus system in Mont-
gomery, Alabama. And in 1957, it was necessary to enlist the National
Guard to enforce the integration of Little Rock Central High School
in Arkansas. The sharing of the rock ‘n’ roll experience by black and
white teenagers during this period represented a bold rejection, by the
teens, of the adult culture’s longstanding racist attitudes. It also un-
doubtedly contributed to the progressive racial attitudes the younger
generation would adopt and later demonstrate in their support of the
Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and their continued fi ghts against
racial prejudice in years to follow.
Sexual Overtones
Like virtually all American vernacular dance styles, the rock ‘n’ roll
dancing of the 1950s was rooted in African-American culture. Repeat-
edly throughout American history, blacks invented dances that were
seen, either informally or through theatrical presentations, by whites
who subsequently appropriated them as part of the mainstream
popular-dance culture. The Charleston, Lindy, Jitterbug, Tap, and
hip-hop—all originated in black communities, were adopted by whites,
and are now vital components of the canon of American vernacular
dance. The dancing that evolved in response to rock ‘n’ roll music is
no different from other American vernacular forms, in terms of its

36 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
African-American origins. The formidable bond between rock ‘n’ roll
music and movement, the music’s commanding ability to make the
listener get up and dance, is one strong indicator of its African-
infl uenced roots. In African cultures, dancing is often viewed as a
way of heightening the pleasure of listening to music, as it involves
oneself in the musical event.
18 “ Neither the music, the song, nor the
dance stands alone in African-American culture,” wrote Benita Junette
Brown in a dissertation on African-American grassroots dancing. Also,
Brown interprets the improvisational element of American social danc-
ing as a manifestation of the African tradition of needing to make a
soulful, personal response to music.
Hence, the heavy emphasis on
personal improvisation in rock ‘n’ roll dancing can be viewed as an Af-
rican characteristic. While the Jitterbug (see below) has clearly traceable roots in African-
American culture, many of the other dances that teenagers created
to rock ‘n’ roll songs during the 1950s were also invented by blacks.
Though whites may have popularized them, the dances were often
based on steps and body movements the white teens copied from their
black peers. In his study of social dance in Philadelphia’s African-
American community, folklorist John Roberts quotes a black man re-
calling his teenage years in the 1950s. “ In high school,” the man said,
“ during lunch there were always dances; we could always dance in
the gym. And many of the white kids would ask us, ‘How do you do
this? And how do you do that?’ ” The white kids he was referring to
were dancers on American Bandstand, the television show that set the
teen rock ‘n’ roll dance trends for the entire country (see chapter 3).
But while, historically, whites have eagerly adopted black dances,
they oftentimes felt the need to “ clean up” the movements. In white
eyes, the social dancing done by blacks was often too overtly sexual. It

is likely that this perception derived from the black dancers’ extensive
use of isolations, which is a technical dance term for isolated move-
ments of a single body part, such as the pelvis, the rib cage, a shoul-
der, or the head. While independent movements of the arms and legs
are a common characteristic of European social, folk, and theatrical
dance traditions, in most European-rooted dance forms the torso is
held together and moves as a unit. However, as they allow the dancer
to simultaneously embody or accent different rhythms of the, often
polyrhythmic, African music, isolated movements of distinct parts of
the torso are a primary element of many kinds of West African dance.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 37
In that most of the enslaved Africans brought to America came from
the western region of the continent, it is West African traditions that
form the cultural backgrounds of the majority of African Americans.
While in white societies isolated movements of the pelvis might be
blatant indications of sexual intent, the same may not be true in an
African-American social dance. It is dangerous, therefore, to interpret
the meaning of social dance movements that come from one culture
through the lens of another. (It is interesting to note that, among Af-
ricans, dancing in the European fashion with one arm around your
partner ’s waist was considered obscene, as the African dance culture
does not condone bodily contact.)
So was Presley being intentionally “ sexual” when he accented phrase
endings with his pelvis, or was he just imitating a black movement
tradition as he performed songs that were deeply rooted in black mu-
sical traditions? And can the rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the ’50s teens,
which grew out of African-American music and dancing, genuinely
be labeled as sexually subversive? Were the teens really behaving
sexually or just rhythmically? Outside of the South, where racism grounded much of the disap-
proval of rock ‘n’ roll, the most violent opposition to the music came
from Boston, where the city’s Roman Catholic hierarchy branded it
“ immoral.”
22 But it was the perceived lasciviousness of the dancing
that rock ‘n’ roll provoked, more so than the music itself, that really
seemed to bother the religious leaders. Anthropologist Cynthia No-
vack felt that with rock ‘n’ roll dancing came a permission to move
independently and improvisatorially, which became associated with a
feeling of spontaneity and with the perception that the dancers were
letting go, instead of taking control.
23 Such unbridled physicality—
particularly when it involved isolated movements of individual parts
of the torso—could certainly be perceived as a threat to the church-
supported sexual restraint of the 1950s, as well as a foreshadowing
of the Free Love movement of the Sixties. While infl uential elements of the adult population objected vehe-
mently to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, social dance-lovers and those who
made their living from social dancing—club owners and dance in-
structors, for example—offered convincing arguments in support of
the new music. Their defense of rock ‘n’ roll stemmed not from its
artistic merit, as most serious musicians agreed it was a terribly sim-
plistic musical form, certainly as compared to jazz, classical music, or

38 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
many genres of world music. What was so appealing about rock ‘n’
roll was that it got young people dancing again, as opposed to the
largely un-danceable, experimental jazz music of the immediate post-
war era, which had signifi cantly squelched participation in social
Also, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll was seen as a healthy way for ado-
lescents to blow off the angry steam they harbor during what is typi-
cally a confl icted developmental stage. A similar argument was put
forth in support of the hip-hop dance forms that emerged in the 1970s.
With their highly athletic, competitive qualities they were promoted
as positive alternatives to participation in street violence, as they al-
lowed neighborhood gangs to “ fi ght ” with one another in the safe
context of a “dance fl oor.”
While the large rock ‘n’ roll concert events afforded teens oppor-
tunities to share music and movement experiences with those of differ-
ent races and backgrounds, the crowded conditions did not support
widespread or concentrated dance activity. Most of the more com-
plicated, focused dancing by the teens happened at smaller, local
Juke Joints
Many of the commercial establishments frequented by teenagers
in the 1950s, such as ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, roller rinks,
diners, and drive-in burger joints, provided jukeboxes stocked with
the latest rock ‘n’ roll records. Jukeboxes of that era were coin-operated
machines that automatically played 45 rpm records, which listeners
selected from a list of song titles. Some of the establishments also had
wallboxes, a more compact, tableside device that the teens could use
to choose the songs they wanted to hear. Any place that had a juke-
box was called a “ juke joint,” and it was at such locales that teens would
commonly gather to dance to the latest rock ‘n’ roll hits. The main-
stream slang term “ juke joint ” is not to be confused with the, albeit
related, African-American vernacular term “ jook joint,” which refers
to black music and dance establishments that emerged just after the
Civil War, usually in rural areas of the South. Jook joint derives from
the word “ jooking,” a black slang term that refers to any social form
of singing, dancing, or playing, and can carry a somewhat naughty

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 39
Sock Hops
Probably the most infl uential arena for the development of early rock
‘n’ roll dancing was the local record hop. While sometimes a live band
would provide the music for neighborhood teen rock ‘n’ roll dance
events, more often than not the dances would be hosted by a disc
jockey who would play an array of the latest popular records for the
teens’ listening and dancing pleasure. The dances might be organized
by a radio station in conjunction with a sponsor, such as a soda com-
pany, or they might be sponsored by a recreational center, church, or
school. Originally known as record hops, these events were sometimes
held in church basements, fi re halls, community centers, old theaters,
ballrooms, or roller rinks. Most commonly, however, the dances took
place in school gymnasiums. As the school sports coaches generally
did not permit the wearing of hard-soled street shoes on the varnished,
wooden gym fl oors, the teens were encouraged to remove their shoes
and dance in just their socks. Thus, the dances came to be called “ sock
hops.” The term eventually became a synonym for “ record hop” and
Teenagers social dancing at a neighborhood malt shop in the 1950s. It was
such locales, which often had jukeboxes, that Fifties teens would gather
to dance
to rock ‘n’ roll music. (© Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis)

40 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
was widely applied to any 1950s rock ‘n’ roll dance party, even those
held in venues other than gymnasiums, where the removal of shoes
was not required.
Neighborhood events, these get-togethers allowed for the inven-
tion, observation, and practice of new dance trends, albeit within a
decidedly social setting. The famous rock ‘n’ roll television host Dick
Clark (see chapter 3) always felt that teens attended his record hops
more for the “ mating game ” aspect than for the music and dancing.
Yet it was at these local community dance events that rock ‘n’ roll
dancing really developed, which is why its earliest forms were highly
regionalized. The style of teen dancing could vary distinctively from
one part of the country to another, or subtly from neighborhood to
neighborhood within the same city. Essentially, however, in the ear-
liest days of rock ‘n’ roll, it was some version of the Jitterbug that
High school students dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music in a scene set at a sock hop,
from the nostalgic 1973 film
American Graffiti . Sock hops, typically held in school
gymnasiums, were popular arenas for ’50s rock ‘n’ roll dancing. (MCA/Universal

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 41
everyone danced to the fast songs, and a markedly simple form of
sensual slow dancing that was done to the ballads.
The Jitterbug is an offshoot of the Lindy Hop, a high-energy, athletic
dance that was started by African Americans at Harlem’s Savoy Ball-
room in the late 1920s. The dance’s risk-taking acrobatic style devel-
oped in the 1930s as competing black dancers at the Savoy tried to
outdo one another with the invention of ever-more-challenging aerial
maneuvers performed with awe-inspiring speed and energy.
A spot dance (it does not travel around the fl oor), the Lindy is done
with a partner, though it employs a looser and lower handhold and
a more casual, relaxed body posture than do the standard ballroom
dances. The basic step is a syncopated two-step that accentuates the
off-beat, followed by a “ breakaway,” which is the characteristic fea-
ture of the dance. It is during the breakaway that the dancers get to
show off their tricks and original specialty moves.
Named in 1927, allegedly in honor of Charles Lindbergh’s coura-
geous fl ight across the Atlantic Ocean that year, by the mid-1930s the
Lindy was being danced all across the country to the infectious new
jazz dance music of the day, which was known as swing. Minus the
daring aerial work that was done by the competitors at the Savoy and
the professional troupes of Lindy Hoppers who appeared in movies,
Broadway musicals, and nightclub shows, the Lindy as danced by the
general public emphasized lively, rhythmic foot patterns and fun, brisk
partnering that matched the fl uid swing sounds of the era’s popular
big bands. During the 1930s, the term “ jitterbugs” arose as a description of es-
pecially raucous swing music fans. In the early 1940s, the term “ Jitter-
bug ” started to be used to denote the modifi ed version of the Lindy
that Americans nationwide were dancing to the latest swing tunes.
(Outside of the United States, the dance was referred to as “ Jive.”)
27 It
is interesting to note that about 70 years after the rise of the Jitterbug,
the Samsung electronics company came out with a new cell phone
aimed at older-adult markets. The phone was advertised in 2010 as
having bigger buttons, bigger numbers, and the capacity to reduce
background noise, making the voice sounds easier to hear. Clearly de-
signed for those who had come of age during the Swing era, and might

42 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
now be having problems seeing and hearing, the phone was cleverly
named in such a way as to remind the seniors of a time in their life
when they felt young and hip: the name of the phone is the “ Jitterbug.”
Though movement invention and the freedom to improvise were
hallmarks of the Lindy and the Swing dancing that followed, as the
Jitterbug exploded in popularity it was soon codifi ed by dance in-
structors, who profi ted from teaching a basic form of it at franchised
and independent dance studios all across the country. In its codifi ed
form the Jitterbug makes use of three versions of a six-count basic
step: a single, double, or triple. (The Lindy basic is an eight-count
step.) Though it is always in 2/4 or 4/4 meter, the tempo of swing
music varies widely. The single basic, therefore, can be used for faster
music, as it includes just two slow steps (two counts each), followed
by two quick steps done with one leg behind the other and known as
a rock-step. The triple basic replaces each of the two slow steps with a
triple-step, three steps done to a “one-and-two” rhythm. It is the dou-
ble version of the basic step, however, that was employed when the
Jitterbug was adapted to fi t the rock ‘n’ roll music of the 1950s.
In the double version, each slow step is replaced by a tap-step,
which injects a sharp, jerky bounce into the dance, robbing it of the
smooth quality it often sported during the Swing era, when the danc-
ing fl owed more horizontally and exhibited more rhythmic continu-
ity. Responding to the heavy two-beat pulse of the rock ‘n’ roll music
of the ’50s, the Jitterbug became choppier, and was danced with a more
upright posture. Also, some dancers replaced the rock step with a kick-
ball-change, or eliminated it entirely in favor of two forward walk-
ing steps, characteristic of the slotted style of Swing dancing that
developed in California and came to be called West Coast Swing in
the 1960s. (The East Coast or Savoy style of the Lindy Hop is done in
a circular form.)
The real fun of the Jitterbug, however, lies in the vast variety of
nifty partner movements that a couple can learn, imitate, or impro-
vise on their own. Jitterbugging can involve fast underarm spins, turn-
ing movements that allow the partners to travel together and away
from one another or into different side-by-side positions, and con-
stantly changing hand-holds and arm movements, which is gen-
erally what the leader uses to guide his partner through all the snazzy
moves he wants to make.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 43
The freedom it gave dancers—to improvise and to impulsively re-
spond to the music through individually styled movements—explains
in large part why the Jitterbug remained the dance of choice for
young teens wanting to move to fast rock ‘n’ roll songs. Most teenag-
ers learned the dance from their parents, or from watching friends do
it at parties or record hops. The basic patterns of the Jitterbug pro-
vided a secure structure within which the teens could let loose and
develop their own personal movement styles, inspired by the spirited
gyrating of the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll performers.
Slow Dancing
The dancing that the teens did to the slow rock ‘n’ roll songs of the
1950s was hardly dancing at all. The “dance” they performed was os-
tensibly a version of the Slow Foxtrot, a dance that earlier generations
had done to leisurely pop arrangements that was sometimes called
A couple slow dancing in the background while others Jitterbug, in a scene from
The Delinquents , directed by Robert Altman. A 1957 exploitation film about ju-
venile crime, the movie represents Altman’s first feature film and was made in
Kansas City, Missouri, the director’s hometown. (United Artists/Photofest)

44 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
“ music to hug by.” 31 However, the Fifties teens eventually did away
with almost all of the Foxtrot’s traveling fi gures and foot patterns.
They simply stood in place, holding tight to their partner, and gently
swayed or stepped back and forth or around in a circle. The main idea
was to luxuriate in as much physical body-to-body contact as your
partner, the dance’s chaperones, or the behavioral codes of the time
and place would allow. At a sock hop, a slow song would generally
be played at the very end of the evening and it was reserved for a
partner with whom one had a special, romantic relationship. Fifties teens also did a risqué version of slow dancing, known as
the Fish. According to American social-dance chronicler Ralph Gior-
dano, the Fish was actually an updated version of a dance from the
early 1900s, the Slow Drag, in which couples hung onto one another
and would just grind back and forth in one spot all night. Move-
ments for the Slow Drag were codifi ed in 1911 by ragtime composer
Scott Joplin, who described steps for the dance on the sheet music
for his song “ Treemonisha.” He suggested taking a step on the fi rst
beat of each measure of the music. When stepping forward, the dancer
was to then drag the left foot. When stepping back, it was the right foo
that would be dragged. Moving sideways to the right, the dancer would
drag the left foot, and moving sideways to the left, the dancer would
drag the right foot. Joplin also described variations of the dance in-
volving prancing, marching, sliding, hopping, and skipping steps.
It is unlikely, however, that these more lively variations were prac-
ticed, as they run counter to the kinesthetic dynamics and kind of
close, sensual partner work associated with slow dancing. The Fish
had no designated step patterns whatsoever. When dancing it, the
male would simply concentrate on trying to slowly grind his pelvis
against the thigh of his female partner.
Paralleling the tightly choreographed, unison movements per-
formed by the rock ‘n’ roll vocal groups popular in the 1950s, an
assortment of choreographed group dances constructed of simple styl-
ized actions emerged during the latter part of the decade. The dances
were performed independently, yet in a group formation. And while
the dances were sometimes done in couples, partners generally made
no physical contact, though they may have stood face to face, side by
side, or across from one another in the group set-up. With their al-
lowance for independence within a social environment, and their em-
phasis on synchronized action, these dances mirrored, and no doubt

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 45
gratifi ed, the confl icting desires that plague most youngsters during
their teenage years. Adolescents can often be psychologically con-
fl icted as they struggle to balance their wish to establish indepen-
dence from their parents, with the simultaneous need to “ fi t in ” and
feel a sense of belonging with their peers. Large groups of performers dancing together in perfect unison,
such as chorus lines and drill teams, have always been a popular form
of American theatrical entertainment. But while teens’ performance
of such highly synchronized dances in a social setting can be seen to
refl ect the peer pressure to conform felt by most adolescents, their ex-
ecution of group dances in the 1950s can also be viewed as a clue to
the larger societal climate of the times, a period characterized, at least
on the surface, by conformist sensibilities. The 1950s was a time of economic abundance and feelings of great
security for most Americans, but those comforts brought with them
a requisite conformity that many would ultimately fi nd stifl ing. In
the prosperity of the ’50s, huge numbers of people could afford to buy
single homes in middle-class suburbs. But those houses—famously
exemplifi ed by the Levittown housing developments on New York’s
Long Island and in Bucks County, Pennsylvania—all looked alike. The
sameness of the design was, in large part, what allowed the homes
to be built so quickly and cheaply. Well-paying jobs with big busi-
nesses were increasingly available to the new suburbanites, but an
unwavering dedication to the company and a “ team player ” mind-
set were strictly demanded of the 1950s corporate businessman. One
of the most insightful books of the period was Sloan Wilson’s 1955
novel The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, a telling portrayal of a busi-
nessman’s struggles against the conformist pressures of the era. And
while America may have been stopping the spread of Communism,
both through the Cold War abroad and at home with the persecution
of perceived Communist-leaning Americans by Senator Joseph Mc-
Carthy, the price paid by U.S. citizens was the repression of any expres-
sion of “ un-American ” political opinions and the forced proclamation
of support for commonly held values. Regardless of one’s individual
political beliefs, it was not unusual during the 1950s for Americans to
have to sign loyalty oaths professing their rejection of Communism in
order to get or maintain jobs. The strictly choreographed rock ‘n’ roll
dances of the 1950s, therefore, can be viewed as a refl ection of the era’s
pervasive conformity, the need to reinforce the value and necessity of

46 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
an assimilated population, with shared attitudes, working together
toward common goals.
Hand Jive
The most clear-cut example of the synchronized, choreographed dances
practiced by the Fifties teens, and perhaps the easiest to execute, is the
Hand Jive. The dance requires very little space and can be performed
by a group of people sitting close together, such as on bleachers in a
gymnasium. The Hand Jive can also be done standing up, facing a
partner. If done standing, it is best to assume a slightly hunched-over,
bent-knee position so that your thighs and shoulders are in relatively
close proximity. Such positioning makes it easier for the dancer to
perform the requisite movements at a quick pace.
The Hand Jive consists of a series of small, gestural actions, per-
formed in a steady rhythm, with each move falling directly on the beat
of the music. It begins with both hands slapping twice on the thighs,
clapping twice, and then making slicing actions, twice with the right
hand cutting over the left, and twice with left over right. The hands
next form fi sts as the left pounds twice atop the right, followed by
the right pounding twice upon the left. The right thumb is then ex-
tended and aimed twice over the right shoulder (as if hitch-hiking),
followed by the same movement with the left thumb. The entire se-
quence is then repeated as many times as desired. Variations of the
dance may insert turning, jumping, or other kinds of movements as
breaks in between the basic sequence of hand choreography. Published instructions for the Hand Jive often direct dancers to do
the slicing and fi st-pounding actions fi rst with the right hand on top.
However, if it is important that the “ hitch-hiking ” gesture be done
fi rst with the right thumb, natural kinesthetic logic would dictate put-
ting the left hand on top fi rst when doing the fi st-pounding move-
ment. That way the right fi st ends up on top and has a clear pathway
to the shoulder. It can then move easily into the thumb action, rather
than having to awkwardly sneak out from underneath the other fi st
when it comes time to “ hitch-hike.” As the hitch-hiking gesture is the
largest and most choreographically interesting movement of the se-
quence, it is best to set up the action so as to support the strongest
execution of that step. Particularly for non-professional dancers,
movements that are physically natural are generally the easiest to

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 47
perform well. Moreover, as the left hand winds up on top at the end
of the slicing movements, keeping it in that position and starting the
pounding action with the left fi st on top makes for a smoother, more
natural transition.
The Hand Jive enjoyed its greatest popularity during the summer
of 1958. It was danced to the Johnny Otis song “ Willie and the Hand
Jive.” If there was any signifi cance behind the creation of the dance,
other than the desire to invent a fun novelty activity, the driving force
was probably two-fold. First, there is the notion that it is impossible
not to perform some sort of movement when listening to a rock ‘n’
roll song. Even if you are not out on the dance fl oor, the music, none-
theless, “ compels ” you to dance. Thus, the Hand Jive affords you the
opportunity to do so, even if your hands are the only body parts you
have room to move. Second, the highly choreographed Hand Jive al-
lows all teens to feel as though they are part of a communal dance
activity, even those who do not have a partner, did not get asked to
dance, or for whom there is simply no room out on the fl oor. An elabo-
rate Hand Jive dance number can be seen in the 1978 hit movie Grease
(see chapter 5).
The Madison
The most intricate of the era’s choreographed group dances was the
late-1950s fad dance, The Madison. It is generally agreed that The Mad-
ison was originated by African Americans in the Midwest and even-
tually appropriated by white teens nationwide. Some say the dance
was fi rst performed in Detroit, and others place its origins in Indi-
ana. But the only story that accounts for why the dance is called The
Madison and why it begins with the left foot (which is atypical in
group choreography) is that reported in an Ohio newspaper in 1960.
According to that account, the dance was invented at a black social
club in Columbus, Ohio, in late 1957, by dancers under the mentor-
ship of William “ Bubbles” Holloway. It seems that Holloway had
just returned from a trip to New York City, where he had asked for
directions to Madison Avenue and was told to “take it to the left.”
When he returned home he recalled that phrase and used it as the basis
for the development of a new dance that began on the left foot and
which he named “The Madison.” The dance quickly spread through-
out Columbus and beyond, as Holloway took a team of dancers to

48 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Atlantic City and then to Cleveland, where they demonstrated the
new dance. Record producers hurried to put out recordings to accom-
pany The Madison, one of which featured calls (see below) by Balti-
more disc jockey Eddie Morrison, who helped popularize the dance
by teaching it to teens who performed it on the Baltimore television
dance program The Buddy Deane Show (see chapter 3).
The Madison was generally done in parallel, horizontal lines, with
everyone facing forward when performed in settings where there
was any sort of audience. At private parties, however, it was some-
times executed in a circle. Done to music with a 4/4 meter, the dance
features a six-count basic step that is interspersed with idiosyncrati-
cally named variations that are performed in response to the com-
mands of a caller, like in an American Square Dance. The basic step
includes six distinct movements, each done on one beat of the music:
a touch of the left foot as it reaches diagonally across the right, a touch
of the left foot out to the left side, another touch of the left foot di
nally across the right, a step forward on the left, a touch of the right
foot directly next to the left, and a backward step on the right. Hand
claps or fi nger snaps are sometimes added on the fi fth count.
The variations are slightly longer phrases that include novelty
movements representative of letters, sports and entertainment fi g-
ures, or character types. For example “The Jackie Gleason” (or “
We Go ”) variation involves the execution of three movements of the
same foot—a forward brush, a cutting action in which the foot ends
up crossed in front of the other ankle, and a low kick out to the side—
just like Gleason would do in his signature sign-off movement. The
move is often described as resembling the tap step known as “Shuf-
fl e Off to Buffalo” because the second of its three distinct movements,
the cutting across action, puts the legs into the signature “numeral 4”
shape contained in the Buffalo. Also, Gleason’s use of the step as an
impetus for his departure refl ects the Buffalo’s origins as a traveling
step that vaudeville-era dancers used to exit the stage.
Refl ecting the popularity of western novels, movies, and television
programs at the time—1959 was the peak year for TV westerns—a
variation called “ The Rifl eman” includes three hopping steps and the
pantomiming of holding, lifting, and shooting a gun. And a “Cow-
boys and Indians” variation incorporates the miming of pistol shoot-
ing. Other variations include the “Big M,” in which the dancer tak
steps that form a letter “M,” “ Make a T,” which uses a jumping-jack

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Floor 49
movement to symbolize the making of the letter, and sequences with
names such as Two Up and Two Back, the Big Boss, the Box, Cuddle
Me, and Flying High. Additional variations honor the legendary bas-
ketball player Wilt Chamberlain and quarterback Johnny Unitas with
movements that resemble hook shots and forward passes.
While the caller on the record indicates to The Madison dancers
when they are to start (“ Hit it ”) and stop (“ Erase it ”) a particular vari-
ation, the calls do not provide specifi c instructions on how to do the
basic step or any of the variations. The dancers had to have learned
the steps ahead of time and become familiar with all of the named
variations. While the moves were not physically challenging, they
were too intricate to pick up on the spot. The Madison, therefore, was
not a dance that allowed for spontaneous participation or improvisa-
tion. Rather than providing an outlet for adolescent tensions, it served
more to gratify the youth culture’s need for communal experience
and to underline conformist values. Music professor Tim Wall de-
scribed the dance as “a communal and individual display of cultural
competence achieved, in part, through a mastery of the fi gures, the
Cast members of the 2002 Broadway musical Hairspray dancing The Madison.
(Joan Marcus/Photofest)

50 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
unconventional timing, the knowledge of the cultural references in
the narration, and their interpretation as stylized movement imbued
with the insolence and understated swagger of youth.”
36 A large
group demonstration of The Madison is featured in the 1988 fi lm Hair-
spray (see chapter 5). As the decade wore on and rock ‘n’ roll music continued to surge
in popularity, new dances were invented, quickly popularized, and,
for the most part, tolerated by adults. Rock ‘n’ roll dancing also started
to lose some of its regional diversity as teenagers all over the country
were suddenly dancing the same dances at the same time and in sim-
ilar fashion. All of these dramatic changes—the creation of new
dances, their national dissemination, and the decline of parental op-
position—were the result of one transforming force: television. Just as radio had fueled the rock ‘n’ roll music explosion, televi-
sion catalyzed the further evolution and wider acceptance of rock ‘n’
roll dancing. With the introduction of some clever choreographic in-
novations, a sanitized image of teens, and the incorporation of com-
petitive and soap opera-like elements, a new kind of television show
emerged that changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll history. The proto-
type was American Bandstand, a landmark program that enjoyed un-
precedented popularity and proved that teenagers dancing to rock ‘n’
roll music could make for riveting, socially acceptable entertainment.
What is its story?

Teenage Terps on Television
If Philadelphians had had a more voracious appetite for old English
movies, American Bandstand —the most infl uential force in rock ‘n’ roll
dancing of the 1950s—might never have happened. Roger Clipp, the
station manager of Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV, a local ABC affi liate, was
looking to create a new program in the early 1950s to replace the sta-
tion’s daily afternoon showings of old English fi lms, which were
drawing a very small number of viewers. Clipp was eager for the new
program to make use of the several thousand dollars worth of short
fi lms of musical performances that the outlet had been talked into
buying and which had come to be known around the station as
“WFIL’s folly.” Clipp envisioned a program formed by stringing to-
gether the showing of these cinematic acquisitions, which were a col-
lection of “Snaders” and fi lms produced by Jimmy Roosevelt, son of
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Snaders was the informal term for Snader Telescriptions, which
were three-minute fi lms produced in the early 1950s by Louis D.
Snader. Made to be shown on television, Snaders documented live
musical performances by classical and popular artists. The Jimmy
Roosevelt fi lms were acquired from the movie distributor Offi cial
Films and were likely to have been “Soundies.”
2 A fi lm executive
with Samuel Goldwyn Productions in the late 1930s, Jimmy Roosevelt
founded his own fi lm company, Globe Productions, around 1940.
His company partnered with the manufacturer of the Panoram, a

52 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
“motion picture-jukebox” that played short fi lms of musical enter-
tainment. Roosevelt’s company produced those fi lms, which were
called “Soundies,” and are considered a precursor of the popular mu-
sic videos birthed in the 1980s. Supposedly the most contemporary
performer featured in WFIL’s lot of Roosevelt’s fi lms was the jazz
pianist Fats Waller, a popular entertainer of the 1930s. The Snaders,
on the other hand, included performances by famous 1950s pop sing-
ers, such as Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole.
Bob Horn’s Bandstand
To host the new afternoon TV program, the station chose Bob Horn, a
popular DJ who was then hosting a successful music show on WFIL
radio, yet was yearning to break into television, which he perceived
as the entertainment industry’s “wave of the future.” Since Horn’s
radio show had been called Bob Horn’s Bandstand, the name Bandstand
was kept for the new TV program, which debuted in September 1952
and was produced by Tony Mammarella. The fi rst show opened with
Horn seated at a table where he conducted an interview with the
trailblazing bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, followed by a Snader
of Peggy Lee singing “Manana.”
From the get-go, Horn knew that his show stank, but he was con-
vinced that success could be had by bringing the elements that made
radio shows popular—music and talk—to television. What he was
missing, however, was a consideration of TV’s essential aspect: its vi-
sual component. And as dance artists have known for centuries, one
of the most powerful ways to enhance visual expression is through
the addition of a kinesthetic element, that of human bodies in motion.
Watching other people’s movements, particularly those designed in
meaningful relationships to one another, is of infi nite interest to most
people and makes for unusually compelling entertainment. Mov-
ing bodies evoke a form of kinesthetic communication in which the
viewer experiences actual physical responses in empathetic reaction
to the motions made by or upon the bodies one is watching. It is like
the pain you feel in your own gut when you watch someone else get
punched in the stomach. Horn and the studio executives soon hit on the notion of adding
dancing teenagers to the Bandstand program. They got the idea from
The 950 Club, then one of the most widely listened to radio shows

Teenage Terps on Television 53
in Philadelphia. Airing on WPEN, and named for the station’s posi-
tion at 950 on the AM dial, the show was hosted by Joe Grady and
Ed Hurst, who invited local teens to stop by the studio after school,
when the show was on the air, and dance to the latest pop records.
Sometimes the teens were asked to introduce themselves to the lis-
tening audience and talk about the high school they attended.
The 950 Club model was adopted to boost Horn’s ailing Band-
stand, the new format for which also included the addition of a co-host,
Lee Stewart. Unsure of the show’s potential, wary station execu tives
insisted on hiring Stewart, since he came with a guaranteed spon-
sor, Muntz TV, a company for which Stewart appeared in television
commercials as a wacky character known as “Mad Man Muntz.”
Stewart was also brought onboard with the idea that he and Horn
could emulate the entertaining two-man banter of Grady and Hurst,
of “The 950 Club.” But it was the brilliantly simple concept of th
dancing teens that was responsible for transforming Bandstand from
a stodgy fi lms-and-interviews program to a trendsetting rock ‘n’ roll
music and dance show that would eventually capture the attention of
the entire country. More than 1,000 teens showed up to dance on Bandstand when it
premiered in its new format on October 7, 1952. But since only about
200 could fi t into the studio, the rest remained lined up outside, and
Horn showed a Snader every half-hour or so to give them time to ro-
tate in a new group. With the new format—which also involved the
addition of live appearances by top musical artists lip-synching to
their hit records, as well as dance contests and record-rating by the
teens—the show’s popularity skyrocketed. Broadcast live fi ve days
a week during the after-school hours, Bandstand became one of the
most watched programs in the city. Though its hosts were originally
intended to work as a comedy team—with Stewart as the funny guy
and Horn the straight man—their personalities never clicked. By 1955,

when the show had become so successful that the station no longer
needed to worry about attracting sponsors, Stewart was let go and
Horn hosted the show alone.
In the summer of 1956, Horn was arrested for driving while under
the infl uence of alcohol. Though such irresponsible behavior on the
part of the host of a show for youngsters would alone have been
cause for concern, in this instance it was especially embarrassing to th
station, as the company that owned WFIL also owned the Philadelphia

54 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Inquirer, which was in the process of promoting an aggressive cam-
paign against drunk driving. Horn was fi red immediately. Upon his
dismissal, Bandstand’s producer temporarily fi lled in as host of the
show. Soon, however, the position was taken over by a clean-cut,
26-year-old, ambitious DJ, Dick Clark, who had been hosting a music
show on WFIL radio. Clark would continue to host some version of
Bandstand for the next 30 years, as his name and persona grew vir-
tually synonymous with the promotion and presentation of rock ‘n’
roll in America. When Horn was let go from his position as host, some of the Band-
stand teens got very upset and protested with picket signs outside
the WFIL studios. Many other teens, however, were so eager to dance
on the show that they genially made the transition to working with
Clark. There were even others who did not miss Horn at all. He had
a rather gruff personality and made little attempt to relate to the kids.
One teenager who danced on Horn’s Bandstand described him as
“grumpy” and insincere, noting that his off-camera personality was
considerably less charming than the more pleasant manner he adopted
when on the air.
Most of the teens who danced frequently on the show came from
one of the three large high schools that were located close by the stu-
dios: West Catholic High School for Girls, West Catholic High School
for Boys, and the public West Philadelphia High School. While the
teens were essentially all white, there was an “ethnic” quality to the
show, as it seemed to attract a disproportionate number of Italian-
American teenagers from the working class neighborhoods of South
On any given day, there were many more teens who wanted to
dance on Bandstand than could fi t in the studio. The teens had to race
over quickly from school and wait in line to be selected, in what was
essentially a fi rst-come-fi rst-serve system, which is why those from
the closest schools were most often picked. However, there also de-
veloped a system of “regulars” that was known as “The Committee.”
These were teens who had been given special membership cards that
allowed them to move immediately to the front of the line and get
on the show virtually anytime they wanted. There even developed a
sub-system, whereby the regulars had the authority to bring friends
to the front of the line and into the studio with them.

Teenage Terps on Television 55
Bandstand was broadcast from the WFIL studios at 46th and Mar-
ket Streets, just across from The Arena, the city’s 4,000-seat sports and
concert stadium, and in a neighborhood populated almost equally by
blacks and working-class whites. From its inception, the show had
always featured many African-American musical artists as guest per-
formers. Nonetheless, one of the most common criticisms leveled
against Bandstand during the 1950s was that until 1957 it was, albeit
unoffi cially, a whites-only show in terms of its teenage participants.
And even after that, while black teens were not prohibited from ap-
pearing on the show, they were rarely seen on-camera, and were not
allowed to dance with white partners.
7 Their slim visibility on Band-
stand was grossly out of proportion to their signifi cant presence as
residents of the neighborhood where the WFIL studios were located.
Even though teenagers were demonstrating new notions of racial
relationships with their rock ‘n’ roll music preferences and dancing
Teenagers lined up outside the television studio in Philadelphia, hoping
to get
on the teen dance program
American Bandstand , circa 1959. (Temple University
Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA)

56 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
behaviors, the segregated nature of Bandstand is a clear reminder that
the 1950s was an era when the values of an older order still governed
the workings of societal and commercial institutions.
Dick Clark’s American Bandstand
An astute businessman who went on to become one of the most fi -
nancially successful producers in the American entertainment in-
dustry, the entrepreneurial Clark began making fervent pitches to the
ABC executives in New York, urging them to pick up his local Band-
stand program as a network show and broadcast it nationwide. In
less than 13 months, Clark got his way. When it was decided that Bandstand was to go national, a few al-
terations were immediately made. First, the name of the show was
changed from Bandstand to American Bandstand. Second, it was decided
that when the teens introduced themselves they would no longer
say the name of their high school, just their own name and their age.
And third, the set was re-designed. The painted, canvas record-store
backdrop and counter were replaced by a fi eld of gold records hung in
gold-trimmed frames. Clark stood in front of the records, up on a riser,
behind a podium. The kids sat on pine, pull-out, gymnasium-style
bleachers, which were off to Clark’s right, along with a table at which
the musical artists would sit and sign autographs. On the far wall
were three windows: one into the Control Room, another for sponsors
to watch from, and a third that opened into the studio executives’ of-
fi ces. The dance area was directly in front of Clark, and to his left was
a big, glittery-edged, cutout map of the United States, inside of which
a fl oor full of teens would appear dancing at the opening of each show.
There was a broken red line on the dance fl oor: one side designated
the dancing space, while the other was the camera area. The producer
would fi ght to keep the kids on their side of the line, as they would
often move up close to it, jockeying for position in front of the cam-
8 If the dance fl oor never looked uncomfortably crowded on tele-
vision, it was probably due to the skills of the cameramen. Pat Shook,
a teen who danced on Bandstand in the early years, recalls being
shocked when she entered the studio for the fi rst time and saw how
small the fl oor was. “We were bumper-to-bumper in there,” she said.
On August 5, 1957, American Bandstand made its national network
debut, airing on 67 stations coast to coast. It quickly became “the”

Teenage Terps on Television 57
show that teens all across America raced home to watch in order to
keep abreast of the latest rock ‘n’ roll records, to see what dances
were being done to the songs, and to emulate the fashions in clothing
and hairdos that the teens on Bandstand were exhibiting. Within just
a few weeks of going national, the show was receiving about 15,000
weekly fan letters and was reaching more viewers than any other pro-
gram on daytime television.
Along with the dancing teens and the lip-synched performances
by the rock ‘n’ roll stars, the show also featured a popular interactive
element: dance contests. Largely just a ploy to generate more fan mail,
specifi c dance contests were set up in which the regulars would all
do a particular dance and viewers would write in voting for their fa-
vorites. Within a normal week, American Bandstand would usually
receive about 45,000 pieces of mail, while during a contest week it
could get close to 150,000.
11 In the opinion of Arlene Sullivan, one of
the most famous American Bandstand regulars, the dance competi-
tions had very little to do with dance ability. “They were really just
popularity contests. The most popular couple always won fi rst prize,”
she said.
Another popular feature of American Bandstand was the special
segment called “Record Review.” (In the 1960s it was re-named “Rate-
A-Record.”) Three teens would be chosen to listen to and numerically
rate three new records. The teens could rate each record with a num-
ber from 35 (the worst) to 98 (the best). A fourth teen would be
charged with the task of calculating the average score for each re-
cord, which would then be posted on a board on the studio wall. When
the teens liked a record and were going to give it a high rating, they
would often say something to the effect of, “It’s got a great beat, and
you can dance to it. I’ll give it a . . .” Because of how often th
e teens
used those, or very similar, words, the phrase “It’s got a great beat, and
you can dance to it” has become immortalized as a symbol of Ameri-
can Bandstand. Simply say those words to anyone who was alive and
old enough to watch TV during the 1950s and they will know exactly
what you are talking about. As a reward for participating in the Re-
cord Review, the teens were always given some sort of gift. A teen
who got picked to rate the records one day in December 1957 recalled
receiving a recording of the iconic Philadelphia newscaster John
Facenda reading “The Nativity” and a copy of Elvis Presley’s Christmas
album as his gift.

58 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Typically, the Bandstand teens were quite accurate in their ratings
and gave high scores to many recordings that went on to be big hits.
On one occasion, however, they were embarrassingly wrong. It was
1963, and the teens were rating a recording of “She Loves You” by the
Beatles. They gave it an average score of just 73—a relative fl op on the
Bandstand scale—and laughed when they were shown a photograph
of the long-haired English foursome who sang it.
14 Who knew that the
Beatles were soon to take off as one of the greatest forces in rock ‘n’
roll history? Because American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday, audi-
ences grew very familiar with the show’s regular teenage participants
and wrote letters asking about their personal lives. For example,
most of the show’s regulars danced with the same partner all the time,
and fans wanted to know if the couples were boyfriend-girlfriend
and obsessively followed the ups and downs of their romantic rela-
tionships. It was for this exact reason that the Committee of regulars
was established, so that viewers could develop a familiarity and sense
of identifi cation with the kids. The show’s producers knew that the
program needed a continuity that would make spectators continue to
tune in every day. Though they were just average teens, with no spe-
cial talents other than some innate dance ability, the American Band-
stand regulars quickly became national “stars.” They were written
about in teen magazines, had fan clubs established in their honor,
and would typically receive several hundred fans letters a week.
The importance of American Bandstand for teenage America ex-
tended beyond just entertainment. Social-dance historian Julie Malnig,
who has conducted extensive research on televised teen dance pro-
grams, stresses how teens’ observation of dancing by other teens, with
whom they closely identifi ed, helped develop “a sense of commu-
nity, security, and familiarity” among the youth culture of the 1950s.
It “drew them into a ‘virtual’ community of dancers with whom they
could take vicarious pleasure.” Watching other teens dancing on TV,
which they might have done alone and perhaps in defi ance of their
parents, also played to the teenager ’s inherent confl ict between rebel-
lion and conformity. It allowed them to be alone, yet still together.
The dancers on American Bandstand had to be between the ages of
14 and 18: 13-year-olds could be too giddy, and prohibiting anyone
over 18 kept out military personnel. It was thought that the sight of
their young daughter dancing on TV with a soldier or sailor she had

Teenage Terps on Television 59
just met might prove threatening to any number of parents. The show
also maintained a specifi ed dress code and behavioral rules that got
more stringent when the show went national. The teens wore what
would then have been called “school clothes.” Boys were required to
wear a dress shirt, neat pants, and a jacket or a sweater and tie. Girls
had to wear dresses or skirts and were not permitted to wear pants
or sweaters that were too tight-fi tting. Gum-chewing was verboten.
Because of the vast infl uence the American Bandstand dancers had
on setting fashion trends among the teenagers of the late 1950s, there
developed an interest among fashion-conscious young girls all over
the country in a new style they referred to as the “Philadelphia collar.”
But unbeknownst to the teens who wanted to emulate the style, its
origins were completely inadvertent. Many of the girls who danced on
American Bandstand came from the neighboring Catholic high school,
where the administration did not approve of their students appearing
Clean-cut teenagers dancing on TV’s mega-hit show American Bandstand,
hosted by Dick Clark. It was by watching this program that teens nationwide
kept abreast of the latest trends in rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the 1950s. (ABC/

60 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
on national television dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music. “The Catholic
schools were very prudish then and frowned on us dancing on Band-
stand. They thought it was lewd,” said Jack Gunod, a Catholic school-
boy who danced on the show.
17 While their objections were in large
part rooted in the church’s stance against rock ‘n’ roll and its “immoral”
infl uences, the school offi cials also claimed that the desire to dance
on Bandstand was prompting students to leave school early so as to
be guaranteed a place at the front of the line. Since they could not le-
gally prevent their pupils from appearing on Bandstand, the school
instituted a policy that forbade any West Catholic High School stu-
dents from appearing on Bandstand wearing their school uniform.
Yet how could the girls fi nd time to change their clothes, and still get
to the studio on time, while not breaking the school’s rule concerning
leaving early? They couldn’t. Their solution was to bring a sweater o
some sort of top with them that they would quickly throw on to cover
their school uniform. What generally happened is that the collar of the
blouse they wore as part of their school attire would stick out over
the neckline of the sweater. With so many girls on the show sporting
this “fashion,” teens watching from outside Philadelphia assumed it
to be the latest trend in collar styles. Girls all over the country sud-
denly began inquiring as to where they could buy blouses that had
that Philadelphia collar. In addition to the trends it set in fashion, music, dance, and teenage
behavior, American Bandstand popularized the idea that audiences can
digest music through a visual medium. This idea infl uenced not only
the development of popular music, but also the evolution of television
as a conveyor of musical performance. A continuum can be traced all
the way from American Bandstand to the innovative music videos that
revolutionized the pop music industry in the 1980s.
18 The show was
also a prototype in the development of reality TV. A precursor to the
countless reality shows that 40 years later constituted the most popu-
lar “new” genre of television programming, American Bandstand ex-
hibited virtually all of the elements that characterize reality TV: the
voyeuristic viewing of ordinary people, competitive contests, and the
soap opera-like drama that is woven out of the personal lives of those
who appear on the show. Also, like most reality programs, American
Bandstand did not need to employ professional actors, writers, costume
and scenic designers, or hair and make-up artists on any kind of regu-
lar basis. It is because they save on these kinds of expenditures that

Teenage Terps on Television 61
reality shows can be produced so inexpensively, thus their great ap-
peal to the television networks and independent producers.
But perhaps the most pervasive infl uence exerted by American Band-
stand is the change it caused in the perception of rock ‘n’ roll among
the population at large. Whereas during the initial years of the show
the teens danced largely to popular music of the same ilk that their
parents might have listened to, by the time the show went national
rock ‘n’ roll had become the teenagers’ music and it was mainly to
rock ‘n’ roll records that the youth danced on American Bandstand. See-
ing a controlled group of ordinary, polite, well-dressed, largely white
teenagers dancing joyfully to rock ‘n’ roll did a lot to alter people’s
opinion of the music. Dick Clark also played an extremely important
role in this laundering of rock ‘n’ roll’s image. A debonair adult pres-
ence, with a boy-next-door quality, and youthful enough for the kids
to relate to, Clark made parents comfortable with the idea of teens
getting together and dancing to rock ‘n’ roll. Clark was also very
image-conscious in the selection of musical artists whom he invited to
appear on his show. Despite his status as an inventor of rock ‘n’ roll,
Jerry Lee Lewis found all his future bookings on American Bandstand
cancelled by Clark when it was announced, to much public outrage,
that Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin.
Yet for all he did to promote rock ‘n’ roll, Clark himself never danced
to rock ‘n’ roll music. He thought himself to be a very poor dancer.
Ironically, when Clark was growing up in Mt. Vernon, New York, his
family’s next-door neighbor was Arthur Murray. With his chain of
franchised ballroom-dance studios that proliferated during the 1950s,
his is perhaps the most famous name in the world of dance instruc-
tion. Though Clark never felt comfortable participating in rock ‘n’ roll
dancing, as a youth he was given a free set of ballroom dance lessons
by Murray. “I can still cut a mean Foxtrot,” Clark wrote in his 1978
book Rock, Roll and Remember.
Dancing Philly Style
Prior to American Bandstand ’s emergence as a national television show,
the kind of dancing that teens did to rock ‘n’ roll varied from place to
place and was based largely on personal adaptations of the Swing-era
Jitterbug. American Bandstand brought a large degree of homogeneity

62 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
to the practice of rock ‘n’ roll dancing and placed a prominence on
what could be described as the Philadelphia style of dancing. Ac-
cording to Ray Smith, a dancer who appeared frequently on Band-
stand from 1956 to 1959, the primary dance done on the show during
that period was the Jitterbug. However, Philadelphians had a dis-
tinctive way of dancing the Jitterbug that was cooler, smoother, and
more restrained than how it was danced elsewhere. “The thing about
Philadelphia-style dancing is that it’s very tight. You’re always pulling
in. In a sense it’s very ‘black,’ very understated, very ‘co
ol.’ You don’t
move wildly all over the place, or with a sense of reaching up and
out, everything is down. It’s as if there’s a constant rhythm that pulses
through your hips and down your legs,” explained Smith.
The popular American Bandstand regular Arlene Sullivan agrees
that there is a distinct Philadelphia Jitterbug style, but also notes that
the style differed from one neighborhood of the city to another. “You
would dance with guys from different parts of the city and they’d
dance differently. The guys from South Philly did more pausing, less
turning of the girls, more just fast moving of the feet. The North Philly
guys did more twisting of the arms. And the guys from Norristown
[a Philadelphia suburb] would put their two hands together and do
a kind of push that was very different from what we did in the city.
So the girls were the ones who were really good because we had to fol-
low these boys with all their different styles,” said Sullivan.
In addition to exhibiting their own dancing styles, the Philadel-
phians on American Bandstand also introduced the country to many
new dances that became Fifties fads. The fi rst 1950s dance that was
claimed to have been created or at least popularized by the Bandstand
dancers was not a rock ‘n’ roll dance, as it pre-dates the emergence of
rock ‘n’ roll music. It was the Bunny Hop, invented in 1952 to go with
a new recording by big band leader Ray Anthony.
During Bandstand ’s Bob Horn era, the head of the Committee of reg-
ulars was Jerry Blavat, who was considered the best male dancer on
the show. In loyalty to Horn, Blavat left Bandstand when its original
host was dismissed, but went on to become one of Philadelphia’s
leading DJs and the force behind the creation of many popular line
dances of the 1960s. Blavat feels there existed a special creativity among
the Bandstand dancers that was unique to Philadelphia and was lost
when Clark moved the show to Los Angeles, in 1964. “Out there the
kids did the same dance to every record,” Blavat opined.

Teenage Terps on Television 63
Ray Smith feels that the reason there was such enormous creative
activity going on among the Bandstand dancers was because of the
pressure to come up with something different to do each day to the
new songs. “You had to be creative. You knew people were watch-
ing and if you did the same thing all the time the show would be bor-
ing,” he explained. Mindful of the need to keep viewers interested
throughout the show’s lengthy time slot (which varied over the years,
and in different locales, from an hour to two-and-a-half hours), Clark
would play a wide variety of music. The teens were expected to come
up with something on the spot that would be suitable to dance to
each different record. “That was the fun of it,” said Smith, who also
claims that when American Bandstand was broadcast from Philadel-
phia, the kind of dancing exhibited on the show was a true refl ection
of how ordinary teenagers of the period danced. Whereas when the
show moved to California, “it became show biz kids, performing for
the camera,” he said.
Just because so many new dances were introduced on Bandstand,
it is not correct to assume that those dances were all created by the
Bandstand teens. Many people claim that the white Bandstand dancers
got a lot of their ideas for new moves, steps, and styles from watching
their black peers.
25 While African-American teens could be observed
dancing at school, record hops, or parties, the most widely visible
platform for the showcasing of black teen dancing in the Philadelphia
area was The Mitch Thomas Show. Described by some as “the black
Bandstand, ” the show was a local television teen-dance program, much
like American Bandstand in format, except that the participants were
all black. Broadcast in the late 1950s, originally from Wilmington,
Delaware, and then from a studio atop Suburban Station in center-city
Philadelphia, the show was named after its host, Mitch Thomas. Fea-
turing the latest in African-American dance styles, it was considered
an important source for learning new dance steps. According to Moe Booker, who was one of the members of The
Mitch Thomas Show ’s equivalent of Bandstand’s Committee of regulars,
“some of those same kids that would go on Bandstand would come
to The Mitch Thomas Show and watch the dances. . . . And so, conse-
quently, many of the dances that black kids had had a great deal to
do with made their way onto the Bandstand show.”
26 Even though to
most viewers American Bandstand may have appeared to be a white-
oriented operation, a close, informed, and analytical look at the show’

64 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
dancing teens reveals an important way in which black infl uences
were being infused into mainstream American culture in the 1950s. In 1959, the teenagers Jimmy Peatross and Joan Buck introduced a
new dance on American Bandstand called the Strand. A graceful, spin-
ning dance with lots of smooth, close, and intricate partner-work, the
Strand proved extremely diffi cult for most people to do. When on the
air one day Clark asked Peatross and Buck where they had learned
the dance, they said they made it up. In reality, they had not originated
the dance, but had seen it being done by their African-American high
school classmates. Despite its complexity, Buck and Peatross man-
aged to copy and perform it very well. They later admitted that Clark
caught them off-guard with his question and they only lied about
making up the Strand because they were afraid they would have
been frowned upon if they had said they had learned it from blacks.
Not only was American Bandstand responsible for manufactur-
ing many of the ’50s dance fads, but it also served as an important
“teacher” of the dances to kids all across the country. Sharon Decker,
a ’50s teen who grew up in a small farming town outside Madison,
Wisconsin, said, “We watched it every afternoon as soon as we got
home from school. That’s how we learned to dance.”
28 Dave Frees, di-
rector of the American Bandstand fan club, recalled how he employed
the refrigerator door as his partner while he got his daily “private
dance lesson” from the show. “[The door] was just the right weight,
not too heavy but not as light and fl imsy-feeling as say, a broomstick,
and it had this nice smooth motion on its hinges, and you could pull
it out and let it swing back, and almost close and then catch it, like
you were spinning your partner in a Jitterbug.”
Sensitive to the show’s role as an “at-home dance class” for the na-
tion’s teens, the Bandstand
cameramen spent a lot of time focusing in
tightly on the dancers’ feet, making it easier for viewers to pick up

the steps and to see exactly how the new dances were done. So impor-
tant was the “educational” camera-work—being able to capture the
dances close-up and from varying perspectives—that American Band-
stand was one of the last network television programs to switch from
black and white to color. In the late 1950s, color television cameras
were quite large and immobile. Only one color camera would have
been able to fi t into the small studio from which American Bandstand
was broadcast and it would not have been able to move around very
much. The use of multiple, mobile cameras was felt to be of central

Teenage Terps on Television 65
importance to the mission of the show, so it was not until 1967 that
American Bandstand was presented in color.
The Bop
The fi rst new rock ‘n’ roll dance to be introduced on American Band-
stand was the Bop, presented in the summer of 1957. The Bop was a
dance from southern California that was being done to the rockabilly
classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps. A couple
of teenagers from California, who were in Philadelphia visiting rela-
tives, had gotten onto Bandstand one day and started doing the Bop.
(It was common for teens from all over the country to urge their par-
ents to plan family trips to Philadelphia in the late 1950s so that they

could try to appear on American Bandstand. ) When Clark saw the Cal-
ifornia couple dancing the Bop in the studio, he asked to have the
couple hang around after the show and teach their dance to the Amer-
ican Bandstand regulars. Dancing the Bop entails jumping up and down as if on a pogo
stick, and grinding your heels into the fl oor each time you land. It is
done with a partner, yet not holding hands, because of the diffi culty
of doing so while jumping. The regulars found the dance exhausting,
but learned it and performed it on the show nonetheless. The rest of
the teenagers on the program imitated them, and within a week, all
the American Bandstand dancers were doing the Bop. That fall Vincent
released another Bop record, “Dance to the Bop,” which became a big
hit; its sales aided, no doubt, by the TV show’s role in popularizing
the dance.
When songwriter Artie Singer approached Clark with a new dance
tune, “Do the Bop,” Clark told him that by the time the song got r
corded and released the Bop dance fad would be over. Clark suggested
that the song be re-named and the lyrics re-written to express what
goes on at a record hop. To inspire the new lyrics, Clark conveyed
some of the slang phrases he had heard the kids using, described what
the current dances were like, and recalled typical record hop scenes.
Singer took Clark’s advice, and the song, recorded by Danny & the
Juniors, went on to become the rock ‘n’ roll classic “At the Hop.”
The Bop that was done on Bandstand is not to be confused with the
more generic term “Bop,” which is used to describe a form of Lindy-
based partner dance that has been done for many years by people of

66 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
all ages in African-American communities. This Bop started during
the bebop era of jazz music, in the 1940s, and was passed down from
one generation to another. The emphasis is on the display of indi-
vidual style or steps. Slightly different forms of the dance evolved in
different regions, fueled in part by the competitive spirit of African-
American dancers from different locales. For example, the Bop as
danced in Baltimore was stylistically different from the Bop done in
Washington, D.C., or Chicago. A dancer could be recognized as being
a native of a particular area based on the way he danced the Bop.
The “Philly Bop,” as it was practiced in North Philadelphia (whic
was different from the smoother, more conservative “West Philly
Bop”) consisted of a basic step—resembling the fundamental Jitter-
bug step—interspersed with breakaway sections during which the
partners freely improvised their own movements. The partners stayed
together musically during the breakaways by maintaining the com-
mon rhythm of the basic step. As the dance proceeded the couple
transitioned seamlessly back and forth between unison executions
of the basic step and the improvisational breakaway sections.
33 A
white teen who grew up in the Midwest remembers a friend teaching
her a dance that they referred to as the “Dirty Bop.” “It was like the
Jitterbug, but with no acrobatics, just lots of footwork, and you did it
to very fast rock ‘n’ roll songs,” she said.
34 Though originally per-
formed by adults to jazz music, during the 1950s the Bop was done
to rock ‘n’ roll, and continued to be danced afterwards to a variety of
pop music genres. A dancer was commonly taught the Bop by parents, siblings, aunts,
uncles, or even grandparents. And it is from this dance that the term
“teenybopper” is thought to be derived. According to oral folkloric
history, an African-American youngster learning how to Bop was
called a “teenybopper,” well before the term came into mainstream
usage as a general descriptor of adolescents.
Two instructional dance publications from the mid-1950s—Johnny
Sands’s How to Bop and Art Silva’s How to Dance the Bop —offer some-
what differing codifi ed steps for the dance. But as the two stress the
Bop’s roots in earlier African-American vernacular dances and its
strong improvisatory element, it is likely that they are both describ-
ing the generic Bop, not the fad dance performed on American Band-
stand. Silva presents a basic step that involves lifting the heels on the
off-beat and dropping them to the fl oor on the downbeat. Knee bends,

Teenage Terps on Television 67
torso tilts, and inward rotation of the legs are added to the foot ac-
tion. Variations included a traveling step, a “scooter” move in which
one leg is lifted while the other moves along the fl oor with a toe-heel
pattern, and a whole series of Swing-dance partner work done with
the basic Bop step. Silva claims that the dance’s closest “relative” is
the Charleston. Sands calls the dance a composite of Charleston, Swing, Jitterbug,
Boogie, and “the Negroe [ sic ] Shuffl e.” His descriptions of the Bop
fi gures include a basic step he calls a “Roll-Rock” that involves shift
ing the body weight from heel to toe and variations based on inward
and outward rotation of the legs, fl icking motions of the feet, and a
clapping action with the insides of the thighs, which he calls “Rubbe
Legs.” Sands suggests that the dance originated in Texas in 1948.
The Stroll
One of the most well-liked and pleasing to perform rock ‘n’ roll dances
of the 1950s, the Stroll was another fad dance popularized on Ameri-
can Bandstand. Much less rigorous than the Bop, the Stroll was intro-
duced on the show in 1957 by Chuck Willis. The Stroll had originally
been revealed on The Mitch Thomas Show and was enjoying great pop-
ularity among Philadelphia’s black community, where it was danced
to Willis’s rhythm and blues recording “C.C. Rider.” After the American Bandstand kids brought national attention to
the dance, Clark once again played an advisory role in the develop-
ment of a new record that surely profi ted from the publicity gener-
ated by his show. When the Canadian doo-wop quartet The Diamonds
appeared on American Bandstand in November 1957, performing their
single “Silhouettes,” the group’s manager saw the teens dancing
the Stroll. Clark told the manager that it was a popular dance that
needed a new song to go with it. The Diamonds immediately com-
missioned the writing of a song to fi t the Stroll movements and by
Christmas their recording of “The Stroll” was a top-selling record.
Ideally performed with what has been described as “a calcul-
ated urban ‘cool,’ ” the Stroll is a group dance done in two parallel
lines, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other, facing each
other like in a Virginia Reel.
38 The basic step of the Stroll is a 12-count
movement phrase, which is actually a 6-count phrase simply repeated

68 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
on the other side. The boys start the phrase with the left foot,
the girls with the right. Beginning with the feet together, the phrase
(on the boys’ side) starts with a left diagonal touch forward (count 1)
and then a touch of the left foot as it drags back into place next to th
right (count 2). Next comes a forward diagonal step out onto the left
(count 3), followed by a step onto the right as it cuts tightly behind
left (count 4). The phrase fi nishes with a step to the side with the left
foot (count 5), and a touch, next to it, with the right (count 6). T
he en-
tire sequence is then repeated starting with the right foot. It is the
cutting-under action on count 4 that gives the otherwise pedestrian
movement phrase its sense of style. It should be done with a slick
quality and a sense of letting the cutting movement impel the knee
of the opposite leg to bend as the heel lifts slightly. The addition of
a sensual lean of the body as the weight is transferred lends another
stylistic layer to the basic step. The other essential element of the dance is the solo stroll by each
couple. While the two lines of dancers perform the basic step, a couple
The Stroll, danced by teens on American Bandstand in early 1958. Well-known
program regular Arlene Sullivan appears on the far right. (Courtesy of the Libra
of Congress)

Teenage Terps on Television 69
formed from the boy and girl at the far end of the line (the end that
is toward the boys’ right and the girls’ left) dances together down the
aisle. The duo can take that opportunity to improvise movements of
their own choosing or execute a forward traveling variation of the
basic Stroll step. When the couple reaches the end of the lane, they
split apart and replace the boy and girl at the end of the lines, as a new
couple forms from the far end and begins their solo stroll. The nostal-
gic 1973 fi lm American Graffi ti
(see chapter 5) features a scene at a sock
hop in a school gymnasium, in which teenagers can be seen dancing
the Stroll.
The Slop, the Walk, and the Circle Dance
Another distinctive ’50s rock ‘n’ roll dance that originated in the Af-
rican-American community was the Slop. Generally thought of as a
“black” dance, it was not featured on American Bandstand. When danc-
ing the Slop the men would put their hands in their pockets and
yank up their pants legs as if showing off their shoes or their foot-
work. It was claimed that such action ensured that their pants did not
drag along the fl oor or that they would not accidentally get their foot
caught in their cuff. However, the gesture also lent a very distinctive
style to one’s dancing, which may have been the primary reason for
doing it.
39 The Slop was performed to music of moderate tempo, and
was done independently, without touching your partner. The move-
ments of the Slop were sometimes incorporated into the improvised
sections of the African-American Bop. While the Slop is generally
considered a highly personalized, improvisatory dance, in Albert
and Josephine Butler ’s exhaustive Encyclopedia of Social Dance , a cod-
ifi ed description of the Slop is provided that includes a basic step
featuring a shoulder dip and backward diagonal kick, as well as varia-
tions that involve swiveling on the balls of the feet and a “corkscrew
round” done by crossing one foot behind the other and making a com-
plete turn. Unlike the Slop, the African-American dance known as the Walk
was performed for a period on American Bandstand, though perhaps
in a modifi ed version from that originally done in the black commu-
nity. The Walk was performed to a 1958 hit song of the same name by
the jump blues singer Jimmy McCracklin. According to McCracklin,

70 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
he made the record just to prove how easy it was to meet the simple
taste of the rock ‘n’ roll audience. The success of his simple, repeti-
tive record can be viewed as proof of his point.
The Walk was done on American Bandstand in a Conga line–like
formation, with the dancers one behind the other, holding on to the
waist of the person in front of them. It traveled around the room with
a two-action movement done fi rst to one side then the other. The
movement involved throwing out the same arm and leg, as the torso
opened out to the side, and chugging forward slightly on the other
leg as the working leg returned to its original position. The music has a
heavy beat and a sloppy feel, which the style of the movement emu-
lated. However, George Gray, one of the black male dancers featured
on The Mitch Thomas Show, was known to be a master of the Walk.
When he danced it his knees would bend out and in and he was de-
scribed as looking “affl icted or deformed.”
Another short-lived dance fad, the Circle Dance, was invented on
American Bandstand and can best be described as a kind of Square
Dance fi gure done in the round. Three or four couples would stand in
a big circle and one person would begin the dancing. “You’d push off
the boy’s arm and turn,” recalls Arlene Sullivan, one of the American
Bandstand regulars involved in the creation of the dance. The girl
would then dance around the back of the circle, making hand contact
with everyone along the way. When she got back to her original spot,
the next person would take a turn dancing around the circle.
The Cha-lypso and Rock Hybrid Dances
The most choreographically noteworthy dance invented on American
Bandstand was the Cha-lypso, a combination of two popular partner
dances: the Cha-Cha and the Calypso. The Cha-Cha emerged in the
early 1950s as a simplifi ed version of the Mambo. By adding a triple
step in place of the Mambo’s unnatural rest on the fi rst beat of the
measure, the Cha-Cha was much easier for beginning dancers to coor-
dinate with the music. The Calypso is a sensual dance, characterized
by rocking steps and gentle hip movements. The fusion of the two
dances by the American Bandstand teens in 1957 resulted in a stylish
new dance with solo turns and a swinging feel that could be done to
a variety of different songs. When fi rst invented, the Cha-lypso was most commonly danced
to Billy and Lillie’s “La Dee Dah.” However, when it became evi-

Teenage Terps on Television 71
dent that the Cha-lypso would be around for a while, Clark stepped
into his usual advisory role, nurturing the writing of new songs that
would support the dances the teens did on his show. Clark suggested
to songwriters Bob Crewe and Frank Slay that they write a fresh
song for the cha-lypso. The result was “Lucky Ladybug,” which Clark
then played on his program every time he held a Cha-lypso contest.
A host of other hybrid dances developed in the late 1950s that
were terribly unimaginative dance-wise and are best viewed as re-
fl ections of the blatant commercialism that characterized the eco-
nomically abundant decade. While some of the dances that had been
invented to go with rock ‘n’ roll music may have sprung from gen-
uinely creative impulses, the same cannot be said about most of the
hybrid dances, which seemed to have been made simply as devices
to sell records. In attempts to capitalize on teens’ enthusiasm for any-
thing “rock ‘n’ roll,” familiar music and dances from the past were
often re-made with a rock sound and presented as something brand
new. It is important to remember that, unlike youngsters of earlier
eras, the youth of the Fifties had signifi cant buying power so many
cultural trends were instigated for no other reason than the goal of
capturing teen dollars. In 1958, Dave Appell and the Applejacks scored a hit with “Mexi-
can Hat Rock,” an instrumental, rock ‘n’ roll version of the traditional
Mexican Hat Dance tune. The record was promoted on American Band-
stand , where the teens stood in a circle and did what was essentially
the Mexican Hat Dance to the “new” rock ‘n’ roll record. Of virtually
no musical or choreographic signifi cance, “Mexican Hat Rock” and
its accompanying dance are meaningful only as exemplars of the
commercial exploitation of American Bandstand ’s power to sell re-
cords. Because teens nationwide looked to the show to help them
stay on top of the latest rock ‘n’ roll dance trends, any seemingly new
dance demonstrated on the television program could prompt huge
sales of even the most unoriginal of rock ‘n’ roll recordings. In 1959, Dave Appell’s combo came out with “Conga-Rock,” to
which the Bandstand kids lined up Conga fashion and did the basic
1-2-3-kick Conga step. The “new” rock ‘n’ roll record was essentially
conga music with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. Appell also came out with a rock
version of the Bunny Hop in the late ’50s, which revived that dance
craze for a short time. As it wasn’t just the teens who had money to spend in the 1950s
and the record producers who had entrepreneurial impulses, hybrid

72 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
rock ‘n’ roll dances were also invented by dance instructors eager to
exploit adult ballroom dancers interested in maintaining currency
with the latest cultural trends. In 1958, an article in the national trade
publication Dance Magazine described the “Hula Rock,” a new dance
invented by Betty Mae Harris, a ballroom dance teacher and studio
owner from Boone, Iowa. The dance combined basic ballroom dance
fi gures, such as the box step, with movements from the popular rock
‘n’ roll dance the Stroll. The dance steps were to be done with sway-
ing hip actions, reminiscent of the Hula.”
It is no coincidence that Harris’s Hula-inspired rock ‘n’ roll–ballroom
dance hybrid emerged when it did. During the late 1950s Amer-
icans were showing great interest not only in rock ‘n’ roll, but also in
Hawaiian culture. In the wake of the democratic revolution that took
place in Hawaii in 1954, an active campaign for statehood was un-
derway among its residents. In 1958, even though the circling of a big
hoop around one’s hips had been done in cultures all over the world
since ancient times, the Wham-O company made oodles of money
selling a fad toy version of it called the “Hula Hoop.” And on Au-
gust 21, 1959, Hawaii offi cially became America’s 50th state.
Prohibited Dances
While the ludicrously commercial, rock hybrid dances could be
thought of as artistically offensive, there were other rock ‘n’ roll
dances of the period that were considered socially offensive and an
affront to good taste. One such dance was the Dog, which was strictly
prohibited on American Bandstand. “Dick Clark wouldn’t allow any
dirty dancing,” said Arlene Sullivan.
45 A sexually suggestive dance,
the Dog requires the woman to turn around and bend over, angling
her pelvis up in the air, as her partner dances up close behind her.
The image is of two dogs engaged in sexual intercourse. Dancing too
close together or doing any kind of grinding movements while slow
dancing was also expressly forbidden on Bandstand.
Other Television Dance Shows
Though far more infl uential and much better known than any of
the others, American Bandstand was not the only, nor was it the fi rst,

Teenage Terps on Television 73
television program to feature dancing teens. It is TV Teen Club, hosted
by the famed 1920s jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman, which is com-
monly considered the fi rst teen television dance program. A Saturday
evening dance and talent show to which Whiteman invited local teens,
the ABC-TV network program was broadcast from Philadelphia and
premiered in 1949 when, of course, teenagers were not yet dancing
to rock ‘n’ roll.
By the mid-1950s, however, scores of teen-oriented television
dance programs driven by rock ‘n’ roll music sprung up in small and
major cities all across the country.
47 Chicago had DJ Jim Lounsbury’s
Bandstand Matinee, which debuted in 1954 and aired weekdays from
4 to 5 p. m . Detroit had Dale Young’s Detroit Bandstand, and New Ha-
ven had Jim Gallant’s Connecticut Bandstand. St. Louis had the Satur-
day afternoon St. Louis Hop, while New York had Studio Party, hosted
by Herb Sheldon, as well as Teen Bandstand, hosted by former Stork
Young teens dancing on Hi-Jinx in 1955. One of the many television teen dance
programs, this Saturday night dance contest show was hosted by Al Jarvis and
aired on KABC in Hollywood. (ABC/Photofest)

74 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Club orchestra leader Ted Steele. In Los Angeles, there was The Art
Laboe Show, and in Washington, D.C., the extremely popular Milt
Grant’s Record Hop (later re-titled The Milt Grant Show ), which aired
seven days a week at 5 p.m. Baltimore’s The Buddy Deane Show was
immortalized in the 1988 fi lm Hairspray, which bitingly satirized
the show’s whites-only policy. The movie’s fi ctional story revolved
around efforts to racially integrate a TV teen-dance show, clearly
modeled on Buddy Deane’s popular program. Though produced and
broadcast in different regions of the country, most of the teen-dance
programs employed a format very similar to that of American Band-
Large cities often had programs that featured solely African-
American teens, such as the Philadelphia area’s Mitch Thomas Show.
There were only a few television dance programs in the 1950s, how-
ever, that featured both black and white teens on the same show.
And none of the programs ever allowed an integrated couple.
One of the teen television dance programs of the era that was ra-
cially integrated from the get-go was the New York City–based show
The Big Beat, hosted by Alan Freed. And the show would prove to be
short-lived. Signed to host a 13-week television teen-dance series,
which debuted July 12, 1957, on the ABC network, Freed was deter-
mined to combat the wild image of rock ‘n’ roll that had developed in
association with many of his live music and dance events. Attempt-
ing to demonstrate that rock ‘n’ roll could be enjoyed by everyone in
the family, he enlisted many white pop-oriented singers among the
line-up of musical artists that appeared on his program. At the end
of each show the teenagers in the audience would get up and dance
to the music. It was during this dance segment, on the show’s sec-
ond episode, that one of the guest artists, the African-American singer
Frankie Lymon, grabbed the hand of a white teenage girl from the
audience and began to dance with her. Outrage ensued. The ABC net-
work received such fl ack from its southern affi liates that the spon-
sors said they would discontinue their support of the show unless
it would feature only white musical artists in the future. Freed refused
to agree with this compromise and the show was discontinued after
just two more episodes.
As the decade was drawing to a close, the most revolutionary in-
novation that rock ‘n’ roll dancing would bring to the larger world

Teenage Terps on Television 75
of social dance was just beginning to boil. It would come in the form
of a ridiculously simple dance that severed the defi ning element of
partner dancing and forever changed the way couples danced “to-
gether.” It was called the Twist. Why did it take the world by storm?
What did it signify? And how was it to affect the future of rock ‘n’
roll dancing?

This page intentionally left blank

Twisting into 1960
“It’s synthetic sex turned into a sick spectator sport,” opined
Trinidad-born American dancer-choreographer Geoffrey Holder, in an
Ebony magazine article he wrote about the Twist. “I deplore strongly
what the Twist is doing to social dancing in America. As a dancer I am
unmoved by it mainly because it is so static and downright dull and
1 Comedian Bob Hope likened the movements of the Twist to
“a dog coming out of water.”
2 Former President Dwight Eisenhower
claimed, “I have no objection to the Twist, as such, but it does repre-
sent some kind of change in our standards. . . . What has happened to
our concept of beauty and decency and morality?”
Despite its detractors, the Twist has the distinction of being the big-
gest dance fad in the history of American popular music.
4 The Twist
was also the fi rst rock ‘n’ roll dance to be embraced by adults as well as
by teens. Yet why, at the culmination of the 1950s, did so many Ameri-
cans go wild over a ludicrously simple dance that involved nothing
more than a rhythmic twisting motion of one’s torso? “Both dances
and contortions which pass for dances reveal something of the society
that produces them, that makes a vogue of them,” wrote Holder.
5 Tell-
ingly, the Twist emerged and entranced the American population dur-
ing a musically barren and emotionally disheartening period, a time
when the rock ‘n’ roll music scene was desperately seeking a revital-
izing infl uence, and America at large was in need of a reassuring boost
of confi dence.

78 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
By the late 1950s, the exciting and provocative “newness” of rock ‘n’
roll had begun to wane. Those who profi ted from the craze were fi nd-
ing it harder and harder to come up with fresh artists, sounds, songs,
and dances that would grab the teens’ interest, yet also meet with adult
approval. It was the frantic attempts to keep producing catchy new
rock ‘n’ roll records that resulted in many of those artistically pointless
hybrid songs and dances. And because of television’s increasingly im-
portant role in promoting the popularity of rock ‘n’ roll records, the vi-
sual and physical aspects of the singers became critical. Regardless of
their musical abilities, in the late 1950s it was vital that up-and-comi
rock ‘n’ roll performers look good on TV.
So important was television becoming to American culture dur-
ing the 1950s that even major political campaigns were seriously af-
fected by its powerful infl uence. Early in the decade, Rosser Reeves of
New York’s Ted Bates advertising agency ushered in a revolutionary
change in American political campaigning with his trendsetting tele-
vision commercials in support of Eisenhower ’s bid for the presidency.
The short campaign “spots” aired in October 1952 and featured the
candidate in a one-shot, alone in the frame, answering questions posed
by ordinary citizens. By the end of the decade, it was recognized that
television had become an integral part of campaign politics when the
televised debates between candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M.
Nixon proved a deciding factor in the 1960 presidential race.
Teen Idols
In an attempt to garner adult acceptance and a wider, mainstream au-
dience for the music, Dick Clark had signifi cantly sanitized rock ‘n’
roll with the kinds of performers, musical arrangements, and images
of teenage fans he put forth on American Bandstand. Since the televi-
sion program exerted such a strong infl uence on the record business,
the aesthetics of Clark’s show had come to dominate the rock ‘n’ roll
music of the era. “The raw black music, which was seen as a threat
by many adults, was out,” said American Bandstand dancer Ray Smith,
“because even in the late ’50s, there was still plenty of racism. People
would say unbelievable things like ‘it’s voodoo music that makes y
kids jungle savages.’ ”
The rock ‘n’ roll music of the late 1950s had taken on a calmer, more
visually oriented sensibility and was more heavily infl uenced by pol-

Twisting into 1960 79
ished pop sounds than by raw rhythm and blues. Its stars were no
longer the wild, defi ant types who had pioneered the new musical
genre. Rather, they were clean-cut, handsome young artists (usually
men) who sometimes, but not always, had musical talent. What they
all had, however, was the ability to incite the swooning adoration of
young teens. It was the era of the teen idol: a period of rock ‘n’ roll his-
tory that ran from 1958 to 1964, and that critics and hard-core rock ‘n’
roll enthusiasts characterize as a fallow time in terms of originality an
musical excitement.
American Bandstand was the main platform for the introduction of
the teen idols, most of whom became stars largely because of their fre-
quent exposure on the television program. This batch of late ’50s sing-
ing sensations has been referred to as “the Philadelphia phenomenon,”
as a disproportionate number of them hailed from Philadelphia or re-
corded on Philadelphia-based record labels.
8 Because they lived close
by the studio, Philadelphia-area performers would often get invited to
appear on American Bandstand when Clark had a last minute cancella-
tion from a performing artist and needed a quick replacement.
9 Even
a single appearance on the popular television show could turn an un-
known singer into a household name. Many of the teen idols were Italian Americans. For a lot of the fi rst-
and second-generation offspring of Italian immigrants, who populated
the tough, working-class neighborhoods of South Philadelphia in the
1950s, to be a performing artist or a professional athlete was seen as a
potential route to socio-economic advancement. The most popular of
the Italian-American teen idols from Philadelphia were Frankie Ava-
lon (Francis Thomas Avallone), Bobby Rydell (Robert Ridarelli), and
Fabian (Fabiano Forte). Other well-known singing idols of the period
included the Canadian Paul Anka, Jimmy Clanton from Louisiana,
Freddy Cannon (Frederick Anthony Picariello) from Massachusetts,
and Dion (Dion Francis DiMucci) and Bobby Darin (Walden Robert
Cassotto) from New York. It has been suggested that Dick Clark in-
tentionally sought out Italian-American singers so as to capitalize on
the immense popularity of such crooners as Frank Sinatra and Perry
Como, hoping that the public would carry over their association of
Italians and singing talent from pop and opera into the rock ‘n’ roll
With their youthful good looks, the teen idols appealed directly to
American Bandstand ’s primary viewing audience, which according to a

80 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Gallup poll was made up largely of high school freshmen and sopho-
mores, and three times as many girls as boys. Over time, the show’s
audience had also grown to include many mothers of teenagers, who
watched the program to learn about the music, dances, and fashions
their youngsters preferred. Always the entrepreneur, Clark appealed
directly to the mothers in his audience by issuing press releases boast-
ing “Age No Barrier to Bandstand Beat.” When he was on the air he
would invite housewives to “roll up the ironing board and join us when
you can.”
Adolescent girls were clearly mesmerized by the teen idols’ ro-
mantic charms, and their mothers were undoubtedly comforted by
the singers’ boy-next-door qualities. Yet, despite their popularity and
broad appeal, for the most part, the teen idols did not contribute sig-
nifi cantly to the musical development of rock ‘n’ roll. By the end of the
1950s, it appeared that the rock ‘n’ roll revolution was a fad that was
fi zzling. In his textbook Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Develop-
ment, Joe Stuessy wrote that, by 1960, “much of the power of the fi rst
rock-and-roll shock wave had dissipated.”
As if to symbolically mark the culmination of that fi rst tumultuous
era of rock ‘n’ roll history, while fans were beginning to embrace a new,
gentler style of performer, on March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted
into the army. With Presley’s induction into military service, rock ‘n’
roll seemed to have lost its prototypical performer, the artist most fa-
mously associated with the music’s potential to shock and ignite con-
troversy. It was around this same time that Little Richard turned away
from rock ‘n’ roll to follow his fundamentalist religious beliefs, Jerry
Lee Lewis was publicly ostracized for marrying his adolescent cousin,
and Chuck Berry’s popularity declined when he was arrested for vi-
olating the Mann Act, after allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old
Apache waitress he had transported over state lines. Also, on Febru-
ary 3, 1959, three beloved 1950s rock ‘n’ roll performers were killed in
a plane crash: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper”
Richardson. Together on a rock ‘n’ roll concert tour through the Mid-
west, the three men were fl ying from a venue in Clear Lake, Iowa, to
their next gig in Minnesota. Also on the tour was the singer Dion, who
felt he could not afford to spend his money on air travel. Fortuitously,
instead of getting onboard the fated fl ight, Dion chose to take the bus.
In his song “American Pie,” Don McLean called the date of the fata
crash “the day the music died.”

Twisting into 1960 81
While the music scene was adjusting to the pacifying changes in
rock ‘n’ roll, the social-dance world was darkened by the dubious busi-
ness methods of the big commercial dance-instruction studios. While
most teens learned how to do the latest dances by copying their peers
on American Bandstand, many adult social-dancers of the era fl ocked to
professional dance studios, where they were taught ballroom dancing
as well as some of the new rock ‘n’ roll dance trends. By the late 1950s,
legal complaints were being lodged throughout the state of New York
by patrons of instructional dance studios, who were claiming to have
been swindled out of enormous amounts of money. One case involved
a woman who agreed to pay $80 for four lessons and wound up in a se-
ries of contracts for which she had to pay more than $9,000. In another
instance, a woman was forced to use $6,000 of her insurance savings
to pay a dance studio bill, and a blind newsstand operator somehow
found himself obligated for $11,000 worth of dance lessons. In 1958,
New York state assemblyman Malcolm Wilson, of Yonkers, proposed
a regulatory bill that would place strict controls on commercial dance
studios, curbing the studios’ apparently standard practice of utilizing
high-pressure sales techniques.
Prompted by complaints from hundreds of students—some claim-
ing they had been induced to sign lifetime contracts “far in excess o
their ability to pay”—a state-wide investigation was launched into
business practices of dance studios. The investigation revealed that
some life-membership contracts required an upfront payment of more
than $12,000. Three of the leading ballroom-dance franchises—the
Dale Dance Studios, Fred Astaire, Inc., and the Arthur Murray Dance
Studios—were accused of having violated lesson agreements. In the aftermath of the investigation, the state’s attorney general,
Louis J. Lefkowitz, drew up a code of ethics for dance studios. All three
of the major studios signed agreements to abide by the code, which re-
quired, among other things, that dance-lesson contracts be in writing,
and include cancellation provisions.
14 In the early 1960s, similar legal
initiatives in the state of California brought forth charges against the
Fred Astaire and Arthur Murray chains, accusing them of fl eecing cus-
tomers through a “dancing-studio racket” that, as reported in the New
York Times, has “probably reaped many millions of dollars from gull-
ible persons throughout the country.”
15 But it was not only the dance-
teaching business that had its reputation tarnished in the 1950s. The
decade was marked by disturbing congressional investigations and

82 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
political events that upset Americans’ faith in many aspects of their
country and culture. Since the early years of the decade, Senator Joseph
McCarthy had been scaring the country with accusations and hear-
ings on Communist subversion in the government, Hollywood, and
the military. Highly publicized hearings were also held in the ’50s on
organized crime activity and corruption in labor union leadership. By
the end of the decade, Americans had grown fearful that disruptive
forces and fraud were everywhere.
Contributing further to the nation’s crisis of confi dence, in 1957 the
Russians scored a major victory in the space race with the launch of the
fi rst satellite, Sputnik. Such demonstration of technological achieve-
ment on the part of our Cold War enemy only exacerbated Americans’
fears of Russia’s nuclear weapons capabilities. And it was not long
after the freedom fi ghter Fidel Castro took over the island of Cuba,
on January 1, 1959, that it became clear to Americans that there was a
Communist sympathizer governing a Soviet-allied country right off
the shores of Florida. Among the unsettling occurrences of the latter half of the decade,
however, those most relevant to the world of rock ‘n’ roll music and
dance were the scandalous goings-on in the television and radio in-
dustries. In 1955, the CBS television network scored a big hit with the
blockbuster quiz show The $64,000 Question. In an attempt to emu-
late CBS’s success, the NBC network debuted its own television quiz
show, Twenty-One, which had as one of its winning contestants
Charles Van Doren, son of Columbia University professor Mark Van
Doren. In 1957, a former champion contestant, Herb Stempel, revealed
that the show was rigged and confessed to having been forced to in-
tentionally lose to Van Doren, whom the show’s producers felt would
be a more appealing “character” to the television viewers. Stempel’s
claims, which were proven to be true and also involved dishonesty on
Van Doren’s part, set off a huge scandal that called into question the in-
tegrity of all of the television quiz shows. Historian David Halberstam
identifi es this as a traumatic moment for the country, one that marked
the “end of American innocence,” as Van Doren had been a symbol of
“the best America had to offer.”
Democratic congressional leaders were particularly interested in
looking into any wrongdoings within the television industry, as it was
suspected that, throughout the Fifties, members of the stations’ reg-
ulatory body, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), were

Twisting into 1960 83
being increasingly infl uenced by private enterprise. As Eisenhower ’s
vice president, Richard Nixon, was now running for president, the
Democrats sought to gain political advantage by emphasizing the de-
gree of corruption that had been tolerated by the Eisenhower adminis-
tration. They saw aggressive investigation of the television quiz shows
as an opportunity to do so.
17 By 1959, most of the quiz programs had
been taken off the air, their reputations ruined, as audiences felt they
could no longer trust in the fairness of the competition. In the radio industry, meanwhile, an even larger scandal was brew-
ing. From the very beginning of rock ‘n’ roll music, manufacturers and
distributors of rock ‘n’ roll recordings depended heavily on radio dee-
jays for the promotion of their records. Frequent airplay on leading
radio programs is what established a record’s popularity and drove
its sales. It became common practice, therefore, for record companies
to give DJs signifi cant sums of money or gifts in exchange for play-
ing their records on the radio. This granting of what was often lavish
compensation to the DJs was referred to as “payola.” Countless DJs
all across the country were receiving payoffs from record companies
in many different fashions. Accused of being one of the primary re-
cipients, Alan Freed took payola from a record distributing company
in the form of checks made out to his wife’s maiden name. Though
never convicted of payola charges, Dick Clark was promoting singers
on his television show who performed songs recorded by companies
in which he had a fi nancial interest. As soon as Congress started inves-
tigating payola charges, Clark relinquished all of his interests in music
recording and publishing companies. Even if they had nothing to do
with the creation of a song, DJs were sometimes offered shared song-
writing credit on a rock ‘n’ roll record, as incentive to play it as often as
possible on their radio shows. The more copies a record sold, the more
money the song’s “co-writer” would earn in royalties. While it is easy to fi nd ethical fault in the widespread practice of
payola, it was largely out of other political and economic motivations
that a variety of forces banded together to expose the practice and bring
down the people and institutions involved. Despite extensive prob-
ing by the congressional investigative committee, the quiz show fi xers
had never been charged with breaking any actual laws. Eager to capi-
talize on the sentiments of many voters who were infuriated at being
hoodwinked by the television industry with its rigged game shows,
congressional leaders were happy to investigate payola charges, as

84 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
the charges involved not only DJs, but players throughout the entire
broadcasting industry.
The anti–rock ‘n’ roll music licensing organization ASCAP was also
eager to play a role in exposing payola since it so directly involved
rock ‘n’ roll DJs, as well as the producers of rock ‘n’ roll records, and
the broadcasting outlets that played rock ‘n’ roll music. Still looking
to bring down its competitor, BMI, which represented many rock ‘n’
roll songs, ASCAP saw the payola issue as a good opportunity to de-
face the rock ‘n’ roll industry at large. On November 6, 1959, ASCAP
presented a letter to the Congressional Subcommittee on Legislative
Oversight charging bribery of DJs in the determination of what songs
got radio airplay and what records the public was “surreptitiously in-
duced to buy.”
18 They alleged a conspiracy between DJs, broadcasters,
and BMI to suppress genuine talent and to trick the public into buying
mediocre records. As Congress began its payola investigations, anti-rock ‘n’ rollers
had a fi eld day proclaiming how relieved they were to hear that DJs
had to be paid to play such awful music,
19 and many DJs ultimately
lost their jobs. Though proof of payola could cause a station to lose its
FCC license and an individual could be charged with tax evasion if he
or she did not report payola income, the practice itself had not been a
federal crime. Only a few states had a criminal statute against it. How-
ever, after much investigation and prolonged hearings, in September
1960, a federal bill was passed making payola a criminal offense. Although the word “payola” is notoriously associated with the
shameful bribery practices that permeated the radio and rock ‘n’ roll
music industries of the late 1950s, the practice of paying for song pro-
motion is fi rmly embedded in the history of American music. Lobby-
ing to have one’s song exposed to the public can be traced back to 18
when the composer of “Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground”
gave the leader of the era’s famous Hutchinson Singing Family a share
of the song’s royalties if the group would sing it at their enormously
popular concerts. Around the turn of the 20th century, Tin Pan Alley
composers commonly paid performers to sing their songs in a practice
that was called “song plugging.” The word “payola” fi rst appeared in print in the entertainment-
industry trade publication Variety in 1916 when the Music Publishers’
Protective Association was formed to curtail song plugging. The in-
vention of the phonograph temporarily put an end to the practice, but

Twisting into 1960 85
it was quickly revived with the emergence of radio broadcasting in
the 1920s. By the 1950s, the practice of payola was at an all-time high
as the small, independent labels that produced many of the early rock
‘n’ roll recordings needed some way of combating the infl uence of the
large record companies.
20 It could be argued that without payola, rock
‘n’ roll might never have evolved as successfully as it did. Nevertheless, the payola scandal is often cited as a contributing fac-
tor to the dismal state of the rock ‘n’ roll scene at the end of the ’50s
and into the early ’60s. As radio stations instituted measures to guard
against future payola accusations, DJs were robbed of much of their
freedom to choose which records to play. Many radio stations adopted
Top 40 formats, in which the disc jockeys were required to play only
the most popular hits, over and over again. This practice stifl ed the
wide range of rock ‘n’ roll songs that had previously been heard over
the airwaves. With each station now playing the same songs, dictated
by mainstream tastes, rock ‘n’ roll music seemed to take on a monot-
onous homogeneity.
21 In addition, since the introduction of the teen
idols, rock ‘n’ roll was losing its emphasis on driving dance rhythms.
The words, vocal sounds, and physical attractiveness of the perform-
ers were becoming preeminent.
22 Nonetheless, young people were still
eager to get out on the dance fl oor and move. And it may be mainly for
this reason that a disillusioned America went crazy for a ridiculously
rudimentary dance that reignited the population’s enthusiasm for rock
‘n’ roll music and dancing.
The Twist
It was in the summer of 1960, the fi nal year of the Fifties, that the Twist
took off and ultimately catapulted to unprecedented popularity. It
was danced all across the country to singer Chubby Checker ’s hit re-
cording of “The Twist.” In his comprehensive book on the phenom-
enon, The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World,
author Jim Dawson noted, “Chubby Checker ’s recording of ‘The Twist’
is the only non-holiday single ever to hit number one on the Hit Parade
(in 1960), drop completely off the charts, and then, in a new burst of
popularity, rise all the way to number one a second time (in 1962). . . .
‘The Twist’ occupied Billboard ’s Top Forty for a combined thirty-three
weeks, longer at the time than any other record except Bing Crosby’s

86 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
‘White Christmas.’ ” 23 However, the Twist did not begin with Chubby
Checker ’s record, nor did it originate in 1960. Like virtually all American vernacular dances, the Twist has its roots
in African-American culture, and the form of the dance that became a
national sensation is an altered version of the original movements. Re-
leased in 1959, the original recording of “The Twist” was by African-
American rhythm and blues singer Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.
Though Ballard is credited with having written the song, “The Twist”
was actually a combination of modifi cations of two earlier songs. Bal-
lard’s recording became popular among black teens, who danced to
it with torso-twisting motions.
24 According to Ballard, the actions of
the dance were derived from spontaneous twisting movements that
he had observed his musicians doing while they were playing their in-
struments. When Ballard’s musicians twisted their torsos, they would
also lift one of their legs up in the air. “It was dirty how they lifted their
leg,” Ballard has said. From these observations, Ballard got the idea to
write a song about doing “the twist.”
It was when Ballard’s group performed “The Twist” at a concert in
Baltimore that the dance was fi rst seen by the white teenagers, who
sparked its explosion into a global craze. The white teens took the song

to the city’s popular TV teen dance program, The Buddy Deane Show,
where they performed their own version of the dance. From there, the
Twist spread to Philadelphia and was soon being done by the teens on
Dick Clark’s trend-setting American Bandstand.
There are two differing versions of the story of how the Twist ini-
tially came to Clark’s attention. One version claims that Buddy Deane

called Clark and told him about a new dance the kids were doing on
his show to Ballard’s “The Twist.” He spoke of how innovative it was
that the teens were dancing without touching their partners.
26 A raw-
styled rhythm and blues singer who had a somewhat bawdy reputa-
tion and whose song lyrics were full of lewd double entendres, Ballard
was not the kind of musical artist Clark would have welcomed on his
show. Clark told Deane that he was not interested in Ballard’s record-
ing and described it as “a dirty record.”
27 In another version of the
story, which he relates in his memoir Rock, Roll and Remember, Clark
claims that the Twist originally came to his attention when he saw a
black couple doing it in the studio on American Bandstand. He described
what they were doing as “a dance that consisted of revolving their
hips in quick, half-circle jerks, so their pelvic regions were heaving in

Twisting into 1960 87
time to the music.” Clark advised the cameramen to keep away from
the black couple because, with its isolated pelvic actions, their dancin
was “too suggestive” for his program. The white teenagers, however,
were fascinated by the dance and started to imitate it.
Because of how avidly the Philadelphia teens took to doing the Twist,
Clark ultimately relented and allowed it to be danced on American
Bandstand. However, he remained opposed to Ballard’s record, which
he deemed “too black.”
29 Once committed to promoting the new dance
on his show, Clark made it known to the owner of the Cameo-Parkway
recording company that he wanted a cover version of Ballard’s “The
Twist” that he could use on American Bandstand. It was decided that
the song would be recorded by a relatively unknown local African-
American singer named Ernest Evans, whose youthful, upbeat, dis-
arming persona was the opposite of Ballard’s threatening edginess. It
Hank Ballard, the rhythm and blues singer credited with writing “The Twist.”
Ballard recorded the song in 1959, but it wasn’t until Chubby Checker’s cover
version was released in 1960 that the song launched a dance craze that forever
changed the way couples danced to rock ‘n’ roll music. (Photofest)

88 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
was supposedly Clark’s wife (clearly thinking of Fats Domino) who
came up with the idea of changing the mild-mannered, pudgy singer ’s
name from Ernest Evans to Chubby Checker.
Checker ’s specialty had been performing spot-on impressions of
other vocal artists and his recording of “The Twist” was done as an
exact mimicry of Ballard’s rendition. Ballard recalls the fi rst time he
heard Checker ’s cover version of the song, it was playing on a pop radio
station in Miami. Checker ’s imitation was so dead-on that for a mo-
ment Ballard was thrilled at the thought that his records might fi nally
be breaking through to white markets, before he realized that what he
was hearing was not his recording.
31 Checker ’s cover was released in
July 1960 and prominently featured on American Bandstand. Suddenly,
the Twist was all the rage among America’s teens. The Twist as “introduced” by Checker, however, did not involve any
of the “naughty” leg lifting of Ballard’s musicians. Checker danced
it with both feet fi rmly planted on the fl oor, one slightly in front of
the other, and with knees bent. In teaching TV audiences how to do
Chubby Checker performing the Twist, circa 1962. (Photofest)

Twisting into 1960 89
the Twist, Checker advised, “just pretend you’re wiping your bottom
with a towel as you get out of the shower, and putting out a cigarette
with both feet.”
32 While lip-synching to his record, Checker also added
some jerky movements of the arms, generally keeping them waist-
level and moving in opposition to one another, yet occasionally lifting
one arm overhead and gesturing as if twirling a lasso.
33 But according
to American Bandstand dancer Ray Smith, Checker only did those big
arm movements because he was a performer and was trying to make
the dance more visually entertaining to watch. “When we danced the
Twist, it was just the hips moving,” said Smith.
When the Philadelphia teenagers fi rst starting doing the Twist, be-
fore the broad acceptance it eventually garnered, the dance was con-
sidered sexually daring and was frowned upon by adults. At record
hops at the Catholic schools, Smith remembers teenagers dancing it
while surrounded by a circle of onlookers who would serve to block
the dancers from view. As soon as the chaperones realized what was
going on, they would break up the circle and reprimand the kids they
had caught “Twisting.”
Deejay Jerry Blavat recalls playing the Hank Ballard version of “The
Twist” at a dance he ran at the Dixon House in South Philadelphia in
the late 1950s. “It was the summer, so the kids were dancing outside,”
he said. “The neighbors across the street would sit out and watch them
and when they saw the kids doing the Twist they complained to Dixon
House. They said the kids were doing a lewd, dirty dance, ‘shaking
their asses.’ I had to go from house to house explaining to all the neigh-
borhood residents that the Twist was not something dirty; it was just
a dance.”
Just as Dick Clark did much to sanitize rock ‘n’ roll in general,
Chubby Checker played a tremendous role in cleaning up the Twist,
which is surely what allowed it to achieve such widespread popular-
ity. Checker has admitted that the Twist involved “moving the hips
and that was nasty” in 1960. But with his warm, teddy-bear image
when he did the Twist, Checker explained, “it wasn’t nasty.”
There are no actual steps to the Twist. The dance consists simply
of standing in one spot and rotating at the waist in time to the beat of
the music. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the monotony of its one
and only motion, individuals evolved different styles and variations to
distinguish their personal way of Twisting. According to Checker, you
didn’t have to be a great dancer to do the Twist; all that was needed

90 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
was a little imagination. “That was the success of it,” he has opi
ned. 38
Nevertheless, once the dance became a fad, the Arthur Murray studios
advertised Twist instruction in “6 Easy Lessons for $25.”
Although Ballard indisputably inaugurated the Twist dance fad,
dance historians Marshall and Jean Stearns, in their book Jazz Dance:
The Story of American Vernacular Dance, point out the existence of earlier
forms of twisting dances. According to the Stearns, “the swaying mo-
tion of the Twist was employed long ago in Africa and by the Negro
folk in the South . . . blues shouters of the twenties used it as they r
their arms to belt out a tune; and in the thirties it was inserted durin
the breakaway (where partners separated) of the Lindy.”
40 Around the
turn of the 20th century, the legendary African-American entertainer
Bert Williams performed a dance dubbed the Williams Mooche, or
Grind, which the Stearns describe as “employing movements similar
to the Twist . . . [and having] a subtle fl ow that would have made our
rock-and-roll devotees look like mechanized monkeys.”
41 In 1912, the
lyrics of a popular song of the day, “Messin’ Around,” instructed danc-
ers to “stand in one spot, nice and light, twist around with all your
42 The 1913 song “Ballin’ the Jack,” which inspired a wildly pop-
ular dance craze, included similar lyrics, instructing dancers to “twis’
around and twis’ around with all your might.” Those lyrics, however,
were interpreted, not as the back-and-forth, washing machine-like ro-
tating motion of the Twist, but rather as a sequence of movements in
which the protruding pelvis is rotated around in a circle, usually with
a bounce on each beat.
43 Yet it is highly likely that Americans, par-
ticularly in African-American communities, had been “twisting” on
the dance fl oor for many years prior to 1960. Dating all the way back
to the 1840s (with the “Grape Vine Twist”), and particularly since the
1920s, many popular songs can be found that feature the word “twist”
in their title or lyrics.
Unlike the other rock ‘n’ roll dances of the 1950s, which were
symbolic badges of the era’s youth culture, the Twist underwent an
amazing “cross-over” into the adult population. Though the dance’s
popularity receded among teens at the end of 1960, the lull in the ex-
citement was simply a reprieve. The dance was soon to morph into
an extraordinary phenomenon that was enthusiastically embraced by
Americans of all ages, races, and classes. The astounding resurgence
in the Twist’s popularity was launched in the fall of 1961, in the most
unlikely of places.

Twisting into 1960 91
It happened at the Peppermint Lounge, a dingy rock ‘n’ roll bar
on West 45th Street in New York City. Needing to spark business, the
Lounge’s publicist arranged for celebrities and members of society to

visit the club, where they rubbed shoulders with its regular clientele
of working-class toughs and danced to the Twist tunes played by the
house band, a group from New Jersey known as Joey Dee and the Star-
liters. The presence of the celebrities attracted the New York Journal-
American ’s society columnist Igor Cassini, a.k.a. Cholly Knickerbocker.
After watching a Russian-born aristocrat dance the Twist at the club
one night, Knickerbocker wrote in his “Smart Set” column, “The Twist
is the new teenage dance craze. But you don’t have to be a teenager t
do the Twist.” Reports on dancing the Twist at the Peppermint Lounge
soon followed in other newspapers and magazines and within just a
short time noted names from the theater world—the club was located
in Manhattan’s theater district—began stopping in to see what all
the excitement was about. Truman Capote, Marilyn Monr oe, Tallulah
Bankhead, Shelley Winters, and Judy Garland started dropping in
to dance the Twist.
45 The Peppermint Lounge very quickly became
“the” place to go and the club’s usual clientele was enmeshed w
The Peppermint Lounge on West 45th Street in Manhattan, the New York night club
where celebrities and working-class toughs gathered to dance the Twist, circa
1961. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

92 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
high-society types, show business celebrities, and prominent political-
fi gures. The atmosphere at the Peppermint Lounge was described as
the Rolls Royce set beginning to mingle with the Motorcycle set.
The New York Times reported, “Café society has not gone slumming
with such energy since its forays into Harlem in the Twenties. Greta
Garbo, Noel Coward, Elsa Maxwell, Tennessee Williams, the Duke of
Bedford and Countess Bernadotte—often in black tie or Dior gown—
vie with sailors, leather-jacketed drifters and girls in toreador pants
for admission to the Peppermint’s garish interior . . . the lure is a tiny
dance fl oor undulating with the Twist.”
47 Eventually a professional
choreographer was brought in to stage a show by “The Peppermint
Twisters,” an ensemble of stage dancers who performed the Twist so
fast that it was said that the fringe on their costumes moved at a speed

of 80 miles an hour.
A Peppermint West franchise was opened in Hollywood, and
clubs, restaurants, and dance halls all over the country rushed to pro-
vide places for people to congregate and dance the Twist. A nation-
wide Twist mania ensued. On television, Dick Van Dyke and Mary
Tyler Moore, as well as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, were seen doing
the Twist, while the news programs broadcast fuzzy images of Mer-
cury astronauts Twisting in zero gravity. In a scene from the Broadway
play Come Blow Your Horn, when he normally danced the Cha-Cha,
actor Hal March did the Twist instead. And in a performance for an
audience of airmen at advanced-warning radar bases in the Arctic Cir-
cle, Bob Hope quipped: “A guy froze to death doing the Twist; they
couldn’t bury him, they had to screw him in the ground.”
49 It was
even reported that the President and Jackie Kennedy, along with the
First Lady’s sister Princess Lee Radziwill, were spotted Twisting at a
black-tie party in the Blue Room of the White House.
50 The 1962 Broad-
way musical Mr. President, choreographed by Peter Gennaro, featured
a lively White House party scene in which the guests danced “The
Washington Twist.” It was not just adults whom the Twist attracted to the rock ‘n’ roll
dance fl oor, but children, too. This author remembers, as a three-year-
old, attending a birthday party for the little girl who lived next door, in
the very early 1960s. Along with the typical “Pin the Tail on the Don-
key”–type games, the party festivities also included a Twist contest for
the tots. (The author won fi rst prize.)

Twisting into 1960 93
By the early 1960s, the Twist had become an unoffi cial “brand,” with
every form of business imaginable trying to capitalize on the dance’s

widespread popularity. One could purchase Twist Barbie dolls, hats,
shoes, boots, dresses, slacks, garters, cuff links, sweaters, and girdles,
and even acquire a Twist hairdo, along with specifi c Twist hair prod-
ucts, as well as a corkscrew-shaped Twist chair, or a spaghetti line
called the Twist developed by a Brooklyn pasta company.
51 The record
industry went crazy producing Twist-inspired singles, such as Chubby
Checker ’s “Let’s Twist Again” and “Slow Twistin’,” along with Joey Dee
and the Starliters’ “Peppermint Twist,” Gary “U.S.” Bonds’s “Dear Lady
Twist,” Bobby Rydell’s “Teach Me to Twist,” Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the
Night Away,” Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City Twist,” The Champs’
“Tequila Twist,” Jimmy Clanton’s “Twist On Little Girl,” Billy Haley &
His Comets’ “Florida Twist” and “The Spanish Twist,” and the Chip-
munks’ “The Alvin Twist,” plus countless more, as well as multitudi-
nous long-playing albums of Twist songs. Hollywood followed suit with the rapid production of four low-
budget fi lms with Twist in the title: Twist Around the Clock (1961) and
Don’t Knock the Twist (1962), both starring Chubby Checker and pro-
duced by Sam Katzman (who had made Rock Around the Clock and

Don’t Knock the Rock); Hey, Let’s Twist (1961); and Twist All Night (1961),
starring Louis Prima. All were critical bombs, though fi lm buffs fi nd

Hey, Let’s Twist of note in that it represents the screen debut of actor Joe
Pesci, who was a guitarist with the Starliters at the time and appears
as an extra in the fi lm.
Despite its confounding popularity, the Twist also had its critics.
Lou Brecker, the owner of New York’s famous ballroom dance estab-
lishment, Roseland, said of the Twist: “It is lacking in true grace, and
since we have previously outlawed rock and roll as a feature at Rose-
land, we likewise will not permit the Twist to be danced.”
52 In No-
vember 1961, an orthopedic surgeon reported to the Medical Tribune
that he was seeing more and more knee injuries—the kind usually
sustained while playing football—among Twisting teenagers. He ex-
plained that the injuries were caused by vigorous rotation of the knee,
the ligaments of which are not designed to handle such lateral move-
ment. When excessive strain is put on knee ligaments, the person usu-
ally stops doing whatever is causing the pain, but in the case of the
Twist, the surgeon opined that teenagers seem to be so hypnotized by

94 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
the music and rhythm that they are not aware of the strain. The So-
ciety of New Jersey Chiropractors came out with a public statement
against the Twist, branding it “a potentially hazardous torque move-
ment causing strains in the lumbar and sacroiliac areas.” A Chicago
physician reported treating three back injuries in patients he deemed
old enough to know better than to do the Twist.
The most signifi cant aspect of the Twist, however, has nothing to do
with its physical twisting actions, nor its extraordinary popularity. Its
real import lies in how defi nitively it broke up the dancing couple. A
couple doing the Twist together actually danced completely indepen-
dently from one another. Unlike the Jitterbugging that had been the
mainstay of earlier rock ‘n’ roll dancing, the Twist was done without
making physical contact. Partners positioned themselves just casually
facing each other, their relationship evoking a cool, impersonal tone.
Displaying no outward concern for what one’s partner was doing, the
Twister was utterly absorbed in his or her personal involvement with
the music and the experience of moving to it.
Performers dancing the Twist in the 1961 film Hey, Let’s Twist . Considered a
bomb, the movie is noteworthy only because actor Joe Pesci makes his scr
debut as a guitarist with Joey Dee and the Starliters, the house band th
at played
the Twist music at the Peppermint Lounge. (Paramount Pictures/Photofest)

Twisting into 1960 95
By granting social dancers the permission to move independently,
the Twist boldly defi ed dance-fl oor conventions. It was perhaps for
this reason, its celebration of the individual, a notion that lies at the
heart of American ideology, that this silly dance was so zealously em-
braced. At a time when Americans had become doubtful, distrustful,
and disappointed by so many aspects of their culture, the Twist pro-
vided the opportunity to celebrate a very American ideal, the practice
of individual freedom. In his 1972 book The Story of Rock , author Carl Belz suggests that the
independent-yet-together nature of the Twist could be viewed as a vi-
sual refl ection of how rock ‘n’ roll music had always been experienced
by its teenage fans. Fifties teens had listened to rock ‘n’ roll on personal-
sized transistor radios or with a mass audience that was sharing the
same experience but feeling it individually. The bond among the teen-
age dancers was in the music they were hearing, but their physical sep-
aration from one another showed that that bond was privately felt.
Unlike artistic forms of dance, which can be individual platforms
for personal expression, social dance forms are always refl ections of
the larger society. As such, the pre-Twist rock ‘n’ dancing practiced
by the Fifties teens served, in part, to reinforce the era’s conventional
norms of social behavior, dress, and gender roles. When attending a
dance event, it was important to be appropriately attired and to ex-
hibit proper manners when asking or being asked to dance. Since most
of the rock ‘n’ roll dances of the period were still partner dances, boys
were expected to politely approach a girl and invite her to join him on
the dance fl oor. Not only would he initiate the invitation, but through-
out the dance he would select and lead her through specifi c moves, and
afterwards escort her back to where she had been sitting—all by way
of echoing the traditional male roles of leader, thinker, and protector.
While the rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the 1950s represented changing
social attitudes, for many years it also continued to refl ect elements
of the conformist and conservative values of the decade. For exam-
ple, while teens may have started dancing “alone,” they were usually
all engaged in performing the same basic dance movements. Though
they may have been imbuing the movements with their own individ-
ual styles, all of the dancers on the fl oor at any given time would be
doing the Twist, or some other commonly designated dance. And also,
while it was widely accepted for girls to dance with girls at record
hops or parties, one would not have seen two boys dancing together

96 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
in public. “Boys never danced with boys—absolutely never,” said Al
Decker, who was a teenager living in the Midwest during the 1950s.
Such an act would have carried a sexual connotation that the conser-
vatism of the times would not have permitted. Although the teens may have observed many of the conventions of
social dancing they had been taught by adults, when the young ’50s
rebels began to dance to rock ‘n’ roll music, even before the Twist, they
were already starting to change some of the old social rules. During
the Swing era, one sometimes saw women Jitterbugging with other
women at family gatherings or at parties, as the carefree movements of
the dance could easily be performed with gender-neutral partnering.
Yet the Swing-era women typically danced with each other only when
their husbands or dates did not want to dance, or when they were out
together with a group of women and did not have access to a male
partner. It was during the early rock ‘n’ roll era that it became increas-
ingly more common to see girls Jitterbugging with girls in complete
defi ance of adult social conventions. Unwilling to wait to be asked to
dance by a boy, or not wanting to dance with a boy at all, girls would
go out onto the dance fl oor with one another and Jitterbug together,
perhaps taking turns playing the roles of leader and follower.
57 Rock
‘n’ roll music provided such a powerful impetus to move that the girls’
desire to dance trumped any respect they might have had for social-
dance rules. By the end of the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll dancing no longer prioritized
the traditional male-female couple, but rather the individual. When
the independent dancing came in, said one Fifties teen, “the social c
tact was lost, it was more like show time.”
58 The sight of individuals
out on a dance fl oor Twisting freely and separately from each other in
improvised actions of their own invention fl ew in the face of so many
social conventions, which were soon to be challenged within society
at large. With no leader or follower or partner-work rules, traditional
gender roles became utterly meaningless. The rise of individualized
dancing that began with the choreographed group dances and took off
with the Twist foreshadowed not only the rise of feminism, but also
the values of the “Me Generation” of the 1970s. When dancing inde-
pendently with a partner women were suddenly equal to men, and the
most important goal was for each person to create and perform his or
her own movements.

Twisting into 1960 97
Moving On
As the 1950s drew to a close, the focus of the rock ‘n’ roll music and
dance industry was on the commercially driven goal of coming up
with the next “Twist,” a new dance fad that would emulate the Twist’s
remarkable simplicity and broad appeal. Tellingly, though the Twist
did not become passé among the general population until the summer
of 1963, it was not long after the adults began Twisting in 1961 that
American teenagers rejected the dance. It was no longer “their” dance
and if their parents were doing it, it could no longer represent any
kind of rebellion. Fearful of losing out on teen dollars, record produc-
ers worked furiously to come up with new dances that the teenagers
could adopt as their own. It is undoubtedly for this reason that the fi rst
few years of the 1960s featured the invention of a mind-boggling pa-
rade of new dances, which were performed like the Twist, positioned
across from yet moving independently from one’s partner. Also like
the Twist, the dances typically consisted of one basic body action or
gesture that was a pantomimic, “charades”-like representation of the
words of the song. The litany of these early ’60s dances included the
Mashed Potato, Monkey, Frug, Hitch-Hike, Fly, Hully Gully, Watusi,
Swim, Jerk, Elephant Walk, Loco-Motion, and dozens of others. Yet it was not just the infl uence of the Twist that makes the rock ‘n’
roll dance fl oor of the early Sixties feel very much like that of the late
’50s. Many American historians mark the end of the 1950s in the Six-
ties, usually at the end of 1963. The cultural trends and essential spirit
of the 1950s are commonly considered to have ended with the assassi-
nation of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The years
that followed Kennedy’s death were decidedly different from those
that preceded it in ways too numerous and profound to contemplate
in these pages, while the years before his death in many ways refl ect
a continuation of the attitudes that drove and characterized the previ-
ous decade. The history of rock ‘n’ roll and the dancing it provoked can be drawn
along a similar timeline. The end of the Fifties era in rock ‘n’ roll music
is generally marked by the beginning of the “British invasion,” a
vivifying new movement launched by the arrival in the United States
of the Beatles. The revolutionary new rock ‘n’ roll group from En-
gland took America by storm with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan

98 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Show on February 9, 1964—just 11 weeks after JFK was shot. The Bea-
tles were seen by an estimated 73 million viewers, the largest audi-
ence, by far, in the history of television.
59 America’s fading rock ‘n’ roll
scene was injected with Beatlemania, a fresh force that would set it
on a whole new evolutionary path, both musically and dance-wise—
or, more accurately, non-dance-wise. By 1964, not only were teens no longer Jitterbugging to the latest
rock tunes, but they had long since discarded the idea of partner danc-
ing, and even the Twist was a relic of the past. A signifi cant amount
of the rock ‘n’ roll music written in the 1960s was designed for listen-
ing rather than dancing, much like the cerebral jazz music that had
preceded the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. In the liner notes for the fi rst album
recorded by the trendy Sixties folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, in 1962,
instructions are given as to how to listen to the record: “It [the music]
deserves your exclusive attention. No dancing, please.”
60 Clearly, the
pendulum had swung. But that’s the beginning of another story.

Fifties Nostalgia
By the end of the 1960s, the United States was in a state of discord.
Americans were struggling to come to terms with such divisive issues
as the war in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, hip-
pies, and rampant drug use. Tensions continued to mount over the
next few years with the Kent State shootings, Watergate, and the oil
crisis. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the early 1970s the Ameri-
can population, surely desirous of an escape from present conditions,
got swept up in a surge of Fifties nostalgia. Worn down by the rend-
ing issues of the day, Americans rushed to devour the music, danc-
ing, spirit, and fashions of the 1950s, seemingly ravenous for a coming
together, a re-affi rmation of traditional values, and a return to a time
when all was well in America— or at least a time when all appeared
to be well. According to historian David Halberstam, it was the falsely har-
monious portrayal of the Fifties featured in the era’s television pro-
grams for which Americans of the 1970s grew nostalgic.
1 In reality,
the cultural tensions that exploded in the Sixties had been brewing
throughout the 1950s. Nonetheless, warm feelings and an ardent long-
ing for the 1950s emerged with a vengeance at the beginning of
the Seventies as the country conjured fond remembrances of the era
through recreations of the period’s fun music and dancing, the sport-
ing of Fifties clothing fashions, and the adoption of the “greaser ”
(see below) as the iconic image of the period. While the professional
entertainment industry produced ’50s-themed concerts, stage shows,

100 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
movies, and television programs, schools, recreational centers, and
community groups all over the country were hosting proms, dances,
performances, and gym nights based on the rock ‘n’ roll music, dances,
attitudes, and symbols of the bygone era. While it was the general po-
litical and cultural climate of the early 1970s that provided the perfect
fuel for this escapist trip down memory lane, the ’50s nostalgia trend
was directly instigated by a rock ‘n’ roll revival movement, which was
ushered in by a musical group that came to be known as Sha-Na-Na.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival
The notion of revisiting the early rock ‘n’ roll music of the 1950s was
not an idea born of the early ’70s. Fifties musical nostalgia had ac-
tually been going on since the late 1950s, the period when the style
of rock ‘n’ roll music had changed dramatically and taken on a more
mainstream passivity and homogeneity. It was at that time — after end-
less requests from listeners to play the old rock ‘n’ roll songs which
had launched the genre in the mid-’50s — that Hollywood-based dee-
jay Art Laboe started to air a show entirely devoted to these older re-
cordings. He coined the term “oldies but goodies” to describe the old

records. He then issued a compilation album of the old songs, which
he titled “Oldies But Goodies in Hi-Fi.” The recording entered Bill-
board’s chart of best-selling albums on September 21, 1959, and re-
mained there for three years. In the album’s liner notes, Laboe opined
that those early rock ‘n’ roll songs had a Proustian power to bring
back past memories.
2 The playing of oldies quickly became, and has
remained, a popular component of radio rock music programming. So
by the time the rock ‘n’ roll revival movement took off in the early
’70s, it was already known how potent a nostalgic tool ’50s rock ‘n’
roll music could be. The original rock ‘n’ roll revival group of the ’70s was formed at Co-
lumbia University in 1969 when The Kingsmen, the college’s male a ca-
pella group, began adding ’50s doo-wop songs to their repertoire. They
soon became a campus craze and ultimately changed their name to
Sha-Na-Na. The name derives from chanted syllables in the chorus of
the 1958 hit song “Get a Job,” by the Silhouettes.
3 The group’s fame sky-
rocketed after they performed at the watershed Woodstock rock music
festival in August 1969 and then appeared in the 1970 fi lm document-
ing the festival. Sha-Na-Na also made an appearance in the blockbuster

Fifties Nostalgia 101
’50s nostalgia fi lm Grease (see below), and starred in their own hit tele-
vision show, a syndicated program that aired from 1977 to 1982. Sha-Na-Na’s initial success can be largely credited to the promo-
tional ef forts of Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records. “ To build this
group,” Bogart has said, “ we created a music industry trend. We called
it rock ‘n’ roll revival. With slogans, stickers, buttons, and industry and
consumer contests, and even black leather jackets for our promotion
staff, we brought back the fi fties.”
In their highly entertaining, intricately choreographed shows, the
group performed the old hit songs with an abundance of energy and
an air of affectionate satire. Designed more to entertain than to refl ect
the authentic rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the era, the group’s choreography
has been described as “callisthenic,” and performed “ with the preci-
sion of the Rockettes.”
5 A New York Times critic opined that Sha-Na-Na’s
“massive choreography makes each number a virtual Busby Berkeley
routine” and that they “ leap around the stage, from microphone to mi-
crophone, posing, and doing unison dance steps.”
6 Group members
were also known to imitate the movements of the original musical art-
ists, giving their renditions of Chuck Berry’s famous duck walk or
Sha-Na-Na, the fun-loving group that started the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll revival move-
ment of the early 1970s. ( Photofest)

102 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
scrambling all over the piano keys à la Jerry Lee Lewis. 7 But while
they imitated their movements, the group members did not costume
themselves like the original artists. Sporting slicked-back hair, white
socks, and cigarette packs rolled in their T-shirt sleeves, they dressed,
instead, as “greasers,” the delinquent juveniles, or “ hoods,” whom the
media liked to portray as the fans of early rock ‘n’ roll.
Menacing gangs of rock ‘n’ roll-loving, motorcycle-riding or hot
rod car-racing hoodlums, “greasers ” were a working-class youth sub-
culture that emerged in the 1950s, contributing considerably to rock ‘n’
roll’s ignoble reputation. While their greatest enthusiasm was for trou-
blemaking, so strong was their affi liation with rock ‘n’ roll music —
usually of the rockabilly type —that the U.K.’s equivalent of greaser
gangs in the 1960s were called rockers. The greasers’ primary identify-
ing characteristic, however, was the pomade, or other kinds of greasy
gels and creams, they used to fashion their hair. They would style
their hair slicked back, built up high into a pompadour, or with the
sides combed to the back and then impolitely parted in a manner that
was considered to resemble a duck’s behind and was called a “duck-
tail,” “duck’s ass ” or “ DA.” Greaser attire usually consisted of jeans, a
black or white T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves (in which a pack of ciga-
rettes could be stashed), a leather jacket, and motorcycle boots. As these toughs were seen to represent teen rebellion at its most
extreme, their hairdos and clothing styles were undoubtedly adopted
by teenage boys who wanted to be perceived as “cool.” Fictionalized
images of greasers were typically portrayed as urban ethnic types or
rural Southerners, such as those in the 1953 Hollywood fi lm The Wild
One. Yet while the “greaser” look and persona, as recreated in nostalgic
movies and television programs of later years, has become the signa-
ture image of the defi ant young ’50s rock ‘n’ roll fan, it is unlikely that
most boys who listened and danced to rock ‘n’ roll in the ’50s actu-
ally dressed or acted like greasers. Inadvertently, though perhaps tellingly, with Sha-Na-Na’s revivi-
fi cation of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll music, the rock ‘n’ roll dance fl oor once
again served as a platform for the display of racial issues. In 1983
Sha-Na-Na performed a concert in the South African territory of Bo-
phuthatswana (then an independent province). During the concert,
the musicians invited audience members to come up onstage and
dance with them. Denny Greene, who was the group’s sole black musi-
cian, was the only performer who could not fi nd a partner who would

Fifties Nostalgia 103
agree to dance with him onstage. He extended invitations to four dif-
ferent white women, each of whom refused him. In a rage, he stormed
offstage. When audience members yelled out, “ Where’s Greene?”
Sha-Na-Na member Jon “ Bowzer ” Bauman told them Greene would
come back if someone would dance with him. Bauman was success-
ful in recruiting a volunteer who agreed to dance with Greene. How-
ever, Greene did not return to the stage and was quoted the next day
in a South African newspaper alleging racism. Subsequently, an ex-
ecutive from the concert venue, the Sun City Superbowl, refuted
Greene’s claims of racism by explaining that the reason Greene could
not readily fi nd a dance partner was because South African people
are too shy to join in that kind of audience participation.
Despite their enormous popularity, Sha-Na-Na did have its detrac-
tors and they came from two opposing camps. Because the group
brought both homage and fun to their renditions of the music they
were criticized by early rock ‘n’ roll fans for spoofi ng such “ impor-
tant ” music and by sophisticated rock fans for devoting their efforts
to the performance of such simplistic, silly songs.
10 Nonetheless, Sha-
Na-Na’s infl uence on the ’70s generation was tremendous. Not only
did they motivate young people to want to go back and hear the orig-
inal recordings of the music they performed, but they also inspired
many teens to want to play that sort of rock ‘n’ roll music themselves. “ The real attraction to Fifties music for me in the Seventies came
through Sha-Na-Na— we were just trying to do them. The fact that the
songs are basically three and four chords didn’t hurt either — a bad
guitar player like myself could play them well,” explained Craig Evan
who was typical of many teenagers drawn to the performance of early
rock ‘n’ roll music during the ’70s nostalgia craze. Evans formed a
Fifties “garage band” when he was in junior high and continued it
through his high school and college years. Like Sha-Na-Na, Evans’s
group exuded both a respect for the music and a sense of humor about
the performance of it. “One of the teachers named us the Eggsuckers
as a joke and we kept it,” explained Evans. “At college we were called
Waldo and the Geeks — Geeks being the term for non-Greeks, although
most of us were frat guys. The name is sort of like the Eggsuckers in
that regard.”
While Sha-Na-Na is generally considered the catalyst for the nos-
talgia trend that blasted off in the early ’70s, one of the group’s original
members, vocalist Richard Joffee, argued that the group’s popularity

104 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
could not be attributed to nostalgia alone. A large percentage of the
group’s fans were teenagers who would have been too young to even
remember the 1950s. Joffee claimed that those teens’ interest in em-
bracing the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll revival movement was their generation’s
way of acknowledging that the changes they had been working for
throughout the Sixties had occurred. Now that they felt they had put
their stamp on American culture, it was okay for them to look back
and embrace history. “ In short,” Joffee wrote in a 1973 article in The
Village Voice, “the pervasive feeling that sparked the revival was a
two-sided attitude toward the ’50s. We could now enjoy the past be-
cause we had succeeded in transcending it.” Joffee characterized the
nostalgia craze as a ritual by which the current youth culture reaf-
fi rmed itself by assimilating the past. “ In the nation at large the feeling
of community has vanished,” he wrote. “ There is a void crying to be
fi lled.” Rock is establishing that sense of community by welcoming in
all of it, he opined, and creating a sense of continuity by acknowledg-
ing rock’s roots.
Fifties Nostalgia on Stage and Screen
Yet, while the pop music scene was beginning to enjoy a revival of
Fifties rock ‘n’ roll, it was the hit 1972 Broadway musical Grease
that reinforced that trend and ignited the Fifties nostalgia movement
among the general population. An affectionate spoof of ’50s teens,
Grease is set in 1959 and features ’50s-style rock ‘n’ roll music and
dancing, yet its theme of high school life explores timeless issues to
which virtually all audiences can relate. An enormous hit, playing
3,388 performances before it closed in 1980, Grease became Broad-
way’s longest-running show. (It held that distinction until 1983, when
A Chorus Line beat its record.) “ Grease appeared at the right time. Had
it opened in the late ’60s, it would have been politically tear-gassed
and given those two fatal labels: irrelevant and escapist,” opined a
critic for New York’s Daily News.
13 In 1978, a fi lm version of Grease
was released, starring John Travolta. A blockbuster hit, it remains
one of the most commercially successful movie musicals ever made.
According to a fi lm critic writing in The Village Voice, “ The dances
(mainly mass shimmy-twists or parodies of old doo-wop acts) are the
best things in the movie.”

Fifties Nostalgia 105
The cast of the 1972 Broadway musical Grease, an affectionate look back at the
music, dancing, and teenage culture of the 1950s. ( Photofest)
But while Grease was not its fi rst Fifties rock ‘n’ roll musical, Broad-
way had been notably slower to embrace the rock ‘n’ roll craze than
Hollywood had been. While rock ‘n’ roll movies had been produced
by the dozens since the mid-1950s, it wasn’t until 1960 that the fi
rock ‘n’ roll stage musical, Bye Bye Birdie, opened on Broadway. An up-
beat satire of the impact of rock ‘n’ roll on the American public, Bye
Bye Birdie was about a soon-to-be-inducted-into-the-army rock ‘n’ roll
star, clearly modeled on Elvis Presley. “ In its celebration of fi fties
America, the musical was slyly nostalgic for an innocence already lost.
It deftly appealed to and mocked American credulity,” wrote drama
critic John Lahr.
Yet, despite its historical signifi cance as the fi rst rock ‘n’ roll musi-
cal, unlike Grease, which is driven by a score of ’50s-style rock ‘n’ roll
tunes, Bye Bye Birdie really contains only two rock songs, performed as
parodies, with lots of Elvis-like gyrating. And even though the show

106 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
contained a wealth of acclaimed choreography, the dancing consisted
mainly of theatre-dance routines featuring the show’s leading lady,
actor-dancer Chita Rivera, and vaudevillian antics by the musical’s
other adult star, song-and-dance man Dick Van Dyke.
Though the show was originally conceived in 1958, it took two years
of re-writes and much persuasion by the show’s producer Edward
Padula before Bye Bye Birdie ’s director-choreographer Gower Cham-
pion could be convinced to take on the job. Champion and his wife,
Marge, were well known as an adagio dance team, performing in
nightclubs, movies, and on television. Yet, Champion loathed rock ‘n’
roll. He viewed it as a fad and had always refused to incorporate it
into the couple’s dance act. It was because he felt the original vers
of Bye Bye Birdie was nothing more than a straight satire on a rock ‘n’
roll singer that Champion initially turned down the invitation to di-
rect and choreograph the show. “ I wanted social commentary,” he said,
“with the emphasis not on the singer but on how and why masses of
people reacted to him.”
16 And it was exactly this concept that the one
John Travolta, as a Fifties teen, dancing with Annette Charles (as actress Eve
Arden looks on) in the 1978 blockbuster film musical
Grease. ( Paramount Pic-

Fifties Nostalgia 107
rock ‘n’ roll number in the show that contains choreography con-
veys. As Conrad Birdie, the Elvis-inspired character, sings “ Honestly
Sincere,” his pulsating body movements generate a delirium among
the teens and townsfolk that results in a mass collapse of everyone
onstage. Champion has said that he originally tried to stage this num-
ber with formal dance patterns, but ultimately realized it was stifl ing
the fun of it. “ The scene needed a wild, improvisational quality and
I think I fi nally achieved it with twisting, falling bodies fi xed in posi-
tion. The only person who moves around a lot is Birdie.”
The popular 1963 fi lm version of Bye Bye Birdie, starring Ann-Margret
and choreographed by Onna White, featured little more in the way of
’50s rock ‘n’ roll dancing than did the Broadway show. While one can
catch quick glimpses of Jitterbugging couples in the “ Honestly Sin-
cere” scene, the big teen ensemble dance sequence, “ Lotta’ Livin’ To
Do,” is essentially a Swing-fl avored show dance number with Cha-Cha
steps, Jive footwork, and Bob Fosse-inspired movements dominat-
ing the choreographic vocabulary.
Dick Gautier playing Conrad Birdie (a take-off on Elvis Presley) surrounded by
adoring fans in 1960’s
Bye Bye Birdie , the first Broadway musical to revisit the
early years of rock ‘n’ roll. (Photofest)

108 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
While the Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll fi lms of the 1950s theatricalized
the depiction of the era’s rock ‘n’ roll dancing through choreography
that drew upon the advanced skills of professional Swing dancers, the
Broadway rock ‘n’ roll musicals (and the fi lms subsequently based on
them) theatricalized the period dancing largely through the incorpo-
ration of theater-dance vocabulary and a Broadway-jazz performance
style. While the raucous dance numbers in Grease, choreographed by
Patricia Birch, were certainly modeled on the actual social dances of
the period (most notably the invigorating “ Hand Jive” sequence), the
choreography also incorporates familiar show-dance steps. While the
utilization of theatrical dance steps and styles compromises the cho-
reography’s period authenticity, it does not seem to detract as much
from the productions’ depictions of Fifties’ youth as did the use of pro-
fessional Swing dancers and their competitive maneuvers in the rock
‘n’ roll fi lms made in the 1950s. Many of the show-dance steps that the
Broadway choreographers combined with Fifties rock ‘n’ roll moves
had a juvenile quality to them that worked to further the development
of the teenagers’ young, fresh characters. As long as the dancing feels
true to the characters performing it, audiences are likely to accept it as
“real.” While they may seem truer to reality, the nostalgic stage and
screen depictions of the rock ‘n’ roll social dancing of the 1950s are
probably no more authentic choreographically than those presented in
the Hollywood fi lms made during the 1950s. However, when the no-
tion of dance “authenticity ” is extended to include not just physical
maneuvers, but the larger attitudes, energies, spirit, and cultural forces
that underpin and are expressed through the dancing, then the later,
nostalgic portrayals of the rock ‘n’ roll dancing of the 1950s may be
considered reliable depictions. As Grease was propelling the ’50s nostalgia movement on stage
and screen, music-industry producer Richard Nader furthered the
‘50s rock ‘n’ roll revival movement with the presentation of gigan-
tic concert events at large-scale entertainment venues, such as New
York’s Madison Square Garden. Nader ’s shows featured famous musi-
cal artists from the 1950s performing their old hits. In 1973, Columbia
Pictures released Let the Good Times Roll, a feature fi lm documenting
some of these musical events. Described in a press release as “a fi lmic
concert” that jumps from past to present so time has no meaning and
the viewer is being taken on a boundless memory trip, the movie
intercut newsreel, fi lm, and television clips from the 1950s with the

Fifties Nostalgia 109
1970s concert footage. 18 The fi lm garnered generally positive reviews
from the critics, with Women’s Wear Daily deeming it “one of the best
documentaries ever made on culture.”
19 It was effusively praised by a

New York Times reviewer who wrote, “ More than a nostalgic look at the
great originators of rock ‘n’ roll, it evokes the real beginnings of the
youth pop culture that blossomed in the sixties and caused so much
social change.”
Let the Good Times Roll was photographed at two large concert
events — one held in Detroit in April 1972 and the other at New York’s
Nassau Coliseum in May of that same year — and also includes foot-
age from a Fats Domino show in Las Vegas. The fi lm includes per-
formances by Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker,
Bill Haley and the Comets, Danny and the Juniors, several doo-wop
groups, and others. While the artists’ performances were irresistibly
energizing and sparked lots of bopping around by the young audi-
ence members, some of the most entertaining parts of the movie are
the vintage fi lm clips, such as that of a group of teens sanding down
the soles of their shoes to make for better Twisting, and a demonstra-
tion of what was considered proper, versus objectionable, school attire
for ’50s teens at Hicksville Junior High School on New York’s Long
Island. While the use of the archival footage lent a playful, irreverent tone
to the movie, much like that of a Sha-Na-Na performance, the fi lm also
exhibited strong 1970s sensibilities. Many of the concert performances
were clearly infl uenced by developments that had occurred in rock
music throughout the Sixties. Though they featured Fifties music, the
concerts were obviously designed to appeal to the tastes of, and what
was familiar to, the youth of the early Seventies. It was apparent that
the performers were more concerned with playing to the audiences in
front of them than with recreating the past. With the exception of the
archival clips, Let the Good Times Roll is less valuable as historical doc-
umentation of the ’50s and more important as a record of how the
rock ‘n’ roll of that era was re-packaged to suit the sensibilities and
fulfi ll the nostalgic interests of Seventies audiences. The more important 1973 fi lm, and a big boost to the era’s ’50s nos-
talgia movement, was American Graffi ti, Hollywood’s fi rst rock ‘n’ roll
blockbuster . Even though the movie was set in 1962, its soundtrack is
a compilation of classic rock ‘n’ roll songs of the 1950s, a refl ection
of the period’s “oldies but goodies” movement. Directed by George

110 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Lucas, the plotless, atmospheric fi lm about a group of cruising teen-
agers uses the ’50s rock hits to evoke a lost world of youthful inno-
cence. “ I wanted to preserve what a certain generation of Americans
thought being a teenager was really about —from about 1945 to 1962,”
said Lucas.
21 The movie’s soundtrack album became the most pop-
ular collection of vintage ’50s rock ‘n’ roll since Laboe’s original “Oldies
But Goodies,” selling more than one million copies.
22 While most of
the fi lm’s “choreography ” is in the cruising movements of the cars,
which “dance” a sort of motorized ballet, the movie does contain a

scene at a sock hop in a school gymnasium and some footage of au-
thentically recreated rock ‘n’ roll dances, most notably the Stroll. It was the enormous popularity of American Graffi ti that ultimately
led television to join the rest of the entertainment industry in riding
the early ’70s wave of ’50s nostalgia. On January 14, 1974, ABC pre-
miered the situation comedy Happy Days, a show about a clean-cut
high school guy and his pals, set in Milwaukee during the 1950s. The
program’s creator and executive producer Garry Marshall had been
asked a few years earlier to create a show about young people that
avoided the subject of drugs. But in light of the extensive role that
drug use played in the lives of the youth of the early ’70s, in order to
comply with what he had been asked to do, Marshall decided to set
his show in the 1950s. He also thought such a time shift might help
the show attract contemporary viewers who, in his opinion, “ were
tired of the uncertainty of the ’60s,” and would like the innocence of
that era.
23 A pilot of Marshall’s show, then titled New Family in Town,
was produced in 1971, but it was deemed too gentle, wholesome, and
innocent, and was shelved. The pilot was recycled, re-titled to Love
and the Happy Days, and aired in February 1972 on ABC’s anthology
series, Love, American Style. It is said that director George Lucas viewed
the pilot to determine if its star, Ron Howard, would make a suitable
early 1960s’ teenager in his fi lm American Graffi ti.
24 As soon as Ameri-
can Graffi ti emerged as a hit movie, with Howard in the lead, Marshall
was asked to re-try his ’50s show and to maybe bring into the cast
some characters from the wrong side of the tracks. It was then that
the greaser Arthur Fonzarelli, affectionately known as “ Fonzie,” was
added to the show and Happy Days went on to become a huge hit.
Happy Days aired from 1974 to 1984, and spawned the spin-off La-
verne and Shirley, an equally successful program, also set in the 1950s,
which ran from 1976 to 1983. An animated version of Happy Days was

Fifties Nostalgia 111
broadcast on Saturday mornings from 1980 to 1983. Though as a non-
musical, comedy series, the program featured no regular dance com-
ponent and provides little in the way of historical documentation of
period rock ‘n’ roll dancing, Happy Days constituted a major force
in the Fifties nostalgia movement of the 1970s. The show was so pop-
ular that the character of Fonzie has become an American icon. His
leather jacket is among the treasures housed in the Smithsonian
National Museum of American History. While the rage for ’50s nostalgia began to wane at the end of the
1970s, for the next 30 years music, theater, fi lm, and television produc-
ers continued to revisit the 1950s periodically, with concerts, shows,
and movies of varying degrees of quality, popularity, and importance
in terms of their depiction of the era’s rock ‘n’ roll dancing. Least im-
portant dance-wise were the many bio-pics portraying the typically
turbulent lives of the famous pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music. The 1978
fi lm American Hot Wax ( harshly criticized for its overly reverential
portrait of DJ Alan Freed) featured appearances by Chuck Berry and
Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Though it did include footage of Berry
doing his duck walk and scenes depicting a Freed concert at the
Brooklyn Paramount in which teens could be seen dancing in ra-
cially mixed couples, the movie includes no full-blown dance num-
bers. Released that same year, The Buddy Holly Story is also devoid of
any dancing, other than some brief Jitterbugging clips. Based on the
life of Ritchie Valens, the 1987 fi lm La Bamba contains what appear
to be authentically recreated Jitterbugging and slow dancing scenes,
yet they constitute no more than a few seconds of screen time. A
biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, the 1989 fi lm Great Balls of Fire! choreo-
graphed by Bill and Jacqui Landrum, includes a scene in an African-
American jook joint that shows some Bopping and two men dancing
movements that resemble those of the Slop. The 2008 fi lm Cadillac Re-
cords about Leonard Chess and the formation of his company, Chess
Records, features no dancing whatsoever. Though these bio-pics add little to the on-screen documentation of
the social dancing of the 1950s, they do serve as important reminders
of the centrality of movement to the performing styles of the early rock
‘n’ roll artists. The performances by the original artists in American Hot
Wax, and the actors portraying the rock ‘n’ roll legends in the other
fi lms, compellingly illustrate the idiosyncratic movements adopted by
these artists as they performed their trend-setting rock ‘n’ roll music.

112 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
Perhaps the most valuable piece of cinematic ’50s nostalgia, in
terms of documentation of the era’s rock ‘n’ roll dancing, is the 1988
John Waters fi lm Hairspray. An offbeat satire, the movie features an
extended ensemble sequence of teens dancing The Madison, clearly
showing the basic step as well as many of the variations. Because Hairspray ’s story is set in 1962, its other dance numbers all
refl ect the social dancing of the early ’60s. Yet the fi lm’s choreogra-
phy vividly illuminates an important aspect of rock ‘n’ roll dancing
common to both the ’50s and the early ’60s. As the fi lm’s storyline
centers around a teenage girl’s attempt to integrate the whites-only
“Corny Collins Show,” a television teen dance program modeled on
Baltimore’s Buddy Deane Show, the fi lm’s choreographer, Edward
Love, drew upon his memories of the period dances he had watched
his older sisters doing when he was a kid. Love also brought in one
of the dancers who had appeared on The Buddy Deane Show to help
Dennis Quaid emphasizing the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s unbridled movements in
his depiction of Jerry Lee Lewis for the 1989 biopic
Great Balls of Fire! (Orion

Fifties Nostalgia 113
him get the “right look.” Love has described his choreography as “ef-
fi cient in deciphering the stylistic differences between dancers from
white and black neighborhoods” and it is in this regard that the fi lm’s
dance numbers exhibit signifi cant historical value. “ The dancers on
the ‘Corny Collins Show’ are white, and even though they do dances
such as the Roach, which has black origins, there’s no soul to it really.
But the black dancers from the fringe neighborhoods doing the Slow
Drag and Dirty Boogie really let loose. They didn’t have to worry
about looking pristine or avoiding the TV censors, since they weren’t
generally allowed to be on the show anyway,” Love has said. Love has
also pointed out that the dancing in the fi lm “resists the temptation
to be overly theatrical. It looks normal, not slick. . . . I would go ho
at the end of the day thinking [the dances] were going to look boring,
but in the context of a live TV show, the dances are exactly right. The
kids look authentic.”
When Hairspray was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2002, the
stage production featured a Madison dance sequence, as in the movie.
However, in 2007, the Broadway show was made into a movie musi-
cal, starring John Travolta, and for that fi lm The Madison dance num-
ber was eliminated. In 1990, Waters made another rock ‘n’ roll-oriented period fi lm, Cry-
Baby, which was set in 1954 and took a darkly satirical look at rocka-
billy music and its fans. In a grotesquely exaggerated depiction of
the Baltimore teens who embraced the rockabilly genre, the fi lm of-
fers up dancing that is the complete opposite of the polished, theatri-
calized choreography often found in nostalgic ’50s shows and movies.
The dancers in Cry-Baby perform with a dorky awkwardness, clomp-
ing through basic Jitterbug moves with no sense of style, smooth-
ness, or joy. While their skill level may have resembled that of many
average ’50s teens, their detached, draggy attitudes were more refl ec-
tive of the fi lm’s parodic tone than of the kind of spirit or emotions
likely to have been projected by actual teenagers as they danced in
the ’50s. As Hollywood revisited the Fifties largely through bio-pics and
satiric comedies, one of the methods by which Broadway continued
to look back at the decade was also through biography. Based on the
life of Buddy Holly, the 1990 Broadway musical Buddy: The Buddy
Holly Story (which originated in London) contained virtually no on-
stage choreography. However, the show’s second act was a re-creation

114 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
of the last concert Holly gave before his tragic death in the plane
crash. Though surely inadvertently, the production generated danc-
ing that replicated what had occurred at rock ‘n’ roll concerts in New
York theaters in the 1950s. At the Broadway show’s opening night
performance, during the second-act “concert,” audience members got

out of their seats and danced in the theater aisles. As in the old days,
structural engineers were called in to examine the theater building
and deemed such dancing dangerous. From then on large signs had
to be posted in the theater ’s mezzanine and balcony warning, “ No
Dancing” during the performance. In addition, the show’s programs
were stuffed with “No Dancing ” notices, and the theater ushers were
instructed to fl ash their lights at anyone seeming to have the urge to
dance. If any audience members rose to dance, security offi cers were
called in to stop them.
The other primary manner in which Broadway continued to re-
visit the 1950s was through the creation of “ jukebox musicals.” A
revue-like genre of musical theater, jukebox musicals use the body of
work of a single composer, musical artist, or group to form the struc-
ture of a theatrical production that consists largely of musical num-
bers, usually tied together by a simple plot. A lively Fifties-oriented
example of the genre is All Shook Up, a 2005 Broadway production
based on the songs made famous by Elvis Presley. In order to create
the show’s authentic-feeling, albeit theatricalized, period dance num
bers, its choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, did extensive preparatory
research— studying ’50s photographs, watching Hollywood fi lms of
the era, and examining clips from American Bandstand.
Trujillo continued to draw upon that research for his choreography
of the 2009 Broadway musical Memphis. A celebration of rock ‘n’ roll’s
roots in the “race music ” of 1950s Memphis, the show won the Tony
Award for Best Musical and is the most successful original, book-
musical to revisit the Fifties since Grease. But Trujillo didn’t want to
be “a slave to the dance forms of the period,” he explained. “ I felt it
was important for me to consider a younger audience and to make
the choreography cool and hip and interesting and fresh for them. . . .
What I tried to do was not to replicate what was done back then, but
take all the information and come up with my own formula, my own
vocabulary, which is a take on all the different dance styles of that
time.” Trujillo said that people who were around in the ’50s would
not recognize exact period dance steps in his Memphis choreography,
but would certainly recognize the feel of the dancing.

Fifties Nostalgia 115
Yet while the show’s choreography cannot be relied upon as strict
documentation of Fifties dances, it does, in one number, demonstrate
an elemental concept about the rhythm and blues music at the root of
’50s rock ‘n’ roll: its irresistible power to make people dance. In a scene
in a department store, in which a DJ is trying to convince the store
owner that he can make more money by selling “race records,” the DJ
begins to play rhythm and blues recordings and mayhem ensues, as
all the customers start dancing wildly to the music. In describing the
choreography, Trujillo said, “ Every customer in that department store
had become so excited by the music —it took over their feet, their
body, their legs —that they couldn’t wait to buy the records.”
Right on the heels of the hit musical Memphis came the 2010 Broad-
way show Million Dollar Quartet, a jukebox musical that takes place
on one day, December 4, 1956. On that day, at the Sun Records record-
ing studio in downtown Memphis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl
Perkins, and Elvis Presley gathered for an impromptu jam session. A
re-creation of that historic event, the production contains no full-scale
dance numbers. Yet the body movements of the four star performers,
particularly those of Levi Kreis in his Tony Award-winning portrayal
of Lewis, serve as reminders of the natural kinship that existed be-
tween movement and music in the performances of the pioneering
rock ‘n’ roll artists. After its big successes in the 1970s with Happy Days and Laverne
and Shirley, television also continued to periodically revisit the 1950s.
A 1994 cable-TV, partial re-make of the 1956 movie Shake, Rattle and
Rock was insignifi cant dance-wise and, in all other respects, con-
sidered even worse than the original, sub-par ’50s teen rock movie.
However, in 2002 NBC premiered a nostalgic drama series, American
Dreams, which revolved around the life of a teenage girl from Phila-
delphia, who was a regular dancer on American Bandstand. Though
the series was set in the early 1960s, and its dances refl ected that
period, the importance of the American Bandstand program in the
lives of the teens on the series was no different than it would have
been for teens in the late 1950s. Notwithstanding Dick Clark’s role
as an executive producer of the series, the choice of the famous teen
dance program to both symbolize the times and contextualize the
series’ exploration of the cultural, social, and political issues of th
era is telling. It is yet further indication of how dynamically the rock
‘n’ roll dance fl oor can serve to illuminate many aspects of America’s
larger cultural climate.

116 Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances of the 1950s
By the end of the fi rst decade of the 21st century, more than 50 years
had passed since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, and the youngsters who
had grown up dancing to its earliest tunes were now in their six-
ties or early seventies. As it is that “older adult ” demographic which
is known to make up the bulk of public television viewers, as the
21st century settled in, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll music programs began to
spring up on PBS outlets nationwide. The nostalgic music programs
quickly became a fund-raising staple and are broadcast in heavy
doses whenever a station conducts a pledge drive. Designed to exploit the nostalgic effects of hearing the music of
their youth, which it is assumed will prompt viewers to tune in and
donate money, the programs generally feature video-recordings of
large concert events in which the original musical artists can be seen
performing their greatest hits. While a performer such as Little Richard
may appear from time to time, most of the featured artists are doo-
wop groups, rather than the era’s more raucous solo singers and in-
strumentalists. With the exception of some simplifi ed choreography
that the doo-wop groups sometimes offer, the programs generally in-
clude very little dancing due, one imagines, to the advanced ages of
both the performers and the audience members shown seated at the
concerts, most of whom look to be late middle-agers. Characterized
by an abundance of the harmonious vocal groups, and an absence of
any kind of vigorous dancing, these programs proffer an erroneous
representation of the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll scene. While they do not al-
ways contain perfectly accurate historical recreations of the dancing
of the period, and typically do not include performances by original
Fifties artists, the nostalgic Broadway shows, Hollywood fi lms, and
commercial television programs may actually offer more valid rep-
lications of the rock ‘n’ roll music and dancing of the Fifties than do
these PBS music specials.
Revisiting the Fifties Forever
Nostalgic journeys back to the 1950s via the era’s rock ‘n’ roll music
and dancing are likely to continue and perhaps even proliferate in
years to come. The Fifties has become a fi xture in feel-good nostal-
gia, as it seems to be the perfect decade to revisit in times of national
stress, confusion, or cultural segmentation. It represents perhaps the
last time in American history that a generation was held together by

Fifties Nostalgia 117
a popular music and dance culture that was common to a large per-
centage of its members. As rock ‘n’ roll music continued to evolve, it
splintered into myriad sub-genres. And even though it exerted a per-
vasive infl uence on the pop music world at large, that musical scene
has also become decidedly segmented. A signature feature of music
radio in the early years of the 21st century was the introduction of a
diverse selection of specialty stations. No matter how specifi c their
musical preferences, listeners could likely fi nd a radio station that
would cater solely to their taste, be it country, rap, Broadway show
tunes, Frank Sinatra recordings, or any one of a multitude of rock-
oriented genres. With its unprecedented size, the Baby Boomer generation, which
came of age in the wake of rock ‘n’ roll’s inception, has exerted a sig-
nifi cant infl uence on the continuation of Fifties nostalgia. With their de-
mands to hear the music of their youth and its forerunners, and to
revel in memories associated with the popular culture of the times,
performances of Fifties-style rock ‘n’ roll dancing may continue to
re-surface for quite some time. But even as the Boomers recede into
history, it is certain that future generations will face times of national
discomfort or crises that will prompt yearnings for what is perceived
to have been simpler, happier, or more harmonious eras. It is likely
that Americans will want again and again to remember the Fifties,
and the most visceral, affecting way to do so is through engagement
with its popular music and dance. Yet even though ’50s rock ‘n’ roll can serve to return us to more
comforting times, Sha-Na-Na member Richard Joffee argues that the
impulse to revisit that music need not always be nostalgically in-
spired. Because the music was created out of and refl ects a spirit of
defi ant rebellion, with its wild, movement-inducing rhythms, it will
probably always appeal to generations or populations looking to in-
stigate change or upheaval. “ There is something innately revolution-
ary about energy,” wrote Joffee.
31 Therefore, it is because of its dual
nature —its power to both comfort and agitate —that 1950s rock ‘n’ roll
music and the dancing it stimulates will always be with us.

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1 . David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Random House, 1993), 244.
2 . Ibid., 473, 474.
3 . Ibid., 473–74.
Chapter 1
1 . Alison Latham, ed., The Oxford Companion to Music (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2002), 1275–76. 2 . Joe Stuessy, Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development (Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 8, 19–20. 3 . Charlie Gillett, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 2nd ed. (New
York: Da Capo Press, 1996), 10. 4 . Glenn C. Altschuler, All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 12. 5 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 21–22.
6 . Stuessy, Rock and Roll, 78.
7 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 5.
8 . Marc Fisher, Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped
a Generation (New York: Random House, 2007), 6. 9 . Altschuler, All Shook Up, 33–34.
10 . John A. Jackson, Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll
(New York: Schirmer Books, MacMillan, 1991), 33. 11 . James Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947–1977
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 35; and Gillett, The Sound of the City, 10.
12 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 42.
13 . Ibid., 62.
14 . Ibid., 73–76.
15 . Ibid., 80–83.
16 . Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, 102.

120 Notes
17 . Peter Ford, “Rock Around the Clock and Me,”
html. 18 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 120–21.
19 . Ibid., 122.
20 . Tami Stevens, email to author, April 1, 2010.
21 . Halberstam, The Fifties, 300.
22 . Ralph G. Giordano, Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference, vol. 2:
Lindy Hop to Hip Hop, 1901–2000 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007), 138. 23 . “100 Greatest Moments of the 20th Century,” George, October 1999.
24 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 142–43.
25 . Mark Steyn, “The Man Who Invented Elvis,” Atlantic Monthly, Octo-
ber 2003, 46. 26 . Joe Levine, “Music Man,” TC Today: The Magazine of Teachers College, Colum-
bia University, Winter 2010, 19. 27 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 140.
28 . Ibid., 141.
29 . John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’
Roll Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 114. 30 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 92.
Chapter 2
1 . Taken from commentary by the fi lm’s assistant director Joel Freeman, Peter
Ford (son of the star Glenn Ford), and actors Jamie Farr and Paul Mazursky in-
cluded on the Warner Home Video 2005 DVD of the 1955 MGM fi lm Blackboard
Jungle. 2 . Twist, prod. and dir. Ron Mann, 78 min., Triton Pictures, 1993, documentary.
3 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 92.
4 . Anthony Macias, “Bringing Music to the People: Race, Urban Culture, and
Municipal Politics in Postwar Los Angeles,” American Quarterly 56, no. 3 (Septem-
ber 2004): 696–709. 5 . Ray Smith, interview by author, tape recording, New York, N.Y., July 15,
2009. 6 . Giordano, Social Dancing in America, 138.
7 . Edith Evans Asbury, “Rock ’n’ Roll Teen-Agers Tie Up the Times Square
Area,” New York Times, February 23, 1957.
8 . Edith Evans Asbury, “Times Square ‘Rocks’ for Second Day,” New York
Times, February 24, 1957. 9 . Giordano, Social Dancing in America, 140.
10 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 98.
11 . Giordano, Social Dancing in America, 140.
12 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 98.
13 . Ibid., 128–29.
14 . Milton Bracker, “Experts Propose Study of ‘Craze’: Liken It to Medieval
Lunacy, ‘Contagious Dance Furies’ and Bite of Tarantula,” New York Times, Febru-
ary 23, 1957. 15 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 86.
16 . Ibid., 130 .

Notes 121
17 . Violet Sagolla, interview by author, Langhorne, Pa., January 19, 2010.
18 . John W. Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop: Social Dance in the African
American Community in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Odunde, 1995), 12–13. 19 . Benita Junette Brown, “Boppin’ at Miss Mattie’s Place: African-American
Grassroots Dance Culture in North Philadelphia from the Speakeasy to the Up-
town Theater During the 1960s” (Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1999), 94, 115–16. 20 . Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop, 35.
21 . Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular
Dance (New York: Schirmer Books, 1968), 12. 22 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 97.
23 . “Dancing: Program 3, Sex and Social Dance,” prod. and dir. Ellen Hovde
and Muffi e Meyer, 58 min., Thirteen/WNET in assoc. with RM Arts and BBC-TV,
1993, documentary. 24 . Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in Afri-
can American Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 79–82. 25 . Dick Clark and Richard Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember (New York: Pop-
ular Library, 1978), 147. 26 . Richard M. Stephenson and Joseph Iaccarino, The Complete Book of Ballroom
Dancing (New York: Doubleday, 1980), 42. 27 . Karen Hubbard and Terry Monaghan, “Negotiating Compromise on a
Burnished Wood Floor: Social Dancing at the Savoy,” in Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy
Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader, ed. Julie Malnig (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2009), 145. 28 . Advertisement for Samsung Jitterbug cell phone, AARP Bulletin 51, no. 3
(April 2010): 25. 29 . Arthur Murray Dance Lessons: Swing, dir. Del Jack, 47 min., Pathe Pictures,
Inc., 1990, instructional videotape. 30 . Stevens, email to author.
31 . Stephenson and Iaccarino, The Complete Book of Ballroom Dancing, 91.
32 . Giordano, Social Dancing in America, 7–8, 151.
33 . Lucius E. Lee, “Madison Dance Started in Columbus,” Ohio Sentinel,
18 June 1960. 34 . Charles Kelley, The American Tap Dance Dictionary, Revised Edition (New
York: Dance Educators of America, 2002), 25, 76. 35 . Albert and Josephine Butler, Encyclopedia of Social Dance (New York: Albert
Butler Ballroom Dance Service, 1975), 242–44; Twist, video-recording; Giordano,
Social Dancing in America, 151. 36 . Tim Wall, “Rocking Around the Clock: Teenage Dance Fads from
1955 to 1965,” in Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance
Reader, ed. Julie Malnig (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 194.
Chapter 3
1 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 54.
2 . “Filmusic Shorts for TV in Golden Sweep: 30G to 100G,” Billboard, July 15,
1950, 7. 3 . Otis L. Graham Jr. and Meghan Robinson Wander, eds., Franklin D.
Roosevelt: His Life and Times, An Encyclopedic View (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985), 370–71.

122 Notes
4 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 60.
5 . Ibid., 62.
6 . Pat Shook, interview by author, Penndel, Pa., May 18, 2010.
7 . Smith, interview.
8 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 13, 96.
9 . Shook, interview.
10 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 110; Altschuler, All Shook
Up, 84. 11 . Dick Clark, with Fred Bronson and captions by Ray Smith, Dick Clark’s
American Bandstand (New York: Collins, 1997), 50. 12 . Arlene Sullivan, telephone conversation with author, July 28, 2009.
13 . Smith, interview.
14 . Clark, with Bronson and Smith, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, 49, 84.
15 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 107.
16 . Julie Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop: Community Values in Televised Teen
Dance Programs of the Fifties and Early Sixties,” in Proceedings, Congress on Re-
search in Dance Spring 2005 Conference: Dance and Community (New York: The Print
Center, 2005), 3, 5. 17 . Jack Gunod, telephone conversation with author, August 22, 2009.
18 . Everybody Dance Now, dir. and prod. Margaret Selby, 58 min., Thirteen/
WNET, 1991, documentary on music videos. 19 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 180.
20 . Smith, interview.
21 . Sullivan, telephone conversation.
22 . Clark, with Bronson and Smith, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, 64;
Michael Shore, with Dick Clark, The History of American Bandstand (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1985), 55; Jackson, American Bandstand, 20–21.
23 . Jerry Blavat, telephone conversation with author, January 8, 2010.
24 . Smith, interview.
25 . Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop,” 6–7; Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop,
35; Br own, “Boppin’ at Miss Mattie’s Place,” 51; Smith, interview.
26 . Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop, 35.
27 . Twist, documentary.
28 . Sharon Decker, interview by author, Penndel, Pa, May 18, 2010.
29 . Shore, with Clark, The History of American Bandstand, 74.
30 . Ibid., 91–92.
31 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 132.
32 . Ibid., 227.
33 . Brown, “Boppin’ at Miss Mattie’s Place,” 135–36.
34 . Sharon Decker, interview.
35 . Brown, “Boppin’ at Miss Mattie’s Place,” 134.
36 . Johnny Sands, How to Bop (Santa Monica, CA: DSJ, 1955); Art Silva, How to
Dance the Bop! (Hollywood: Self-published pamphlet, 1956). 37 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 136.
38 . Jackson, American Bandstand, 211.
39 . Blavat, telephone conversation; Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop, 97.
40 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 135.
41 . Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop, 84–85.
42 . Sullivan, telephone conversation.

Notes 123
43 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 224.
44 . Dorothea Duryea Ohl, “Hawaiian Rock ’n’ Roll,” Dance Magazine,
March 1958, 78. 45 . Sullivan, telephone conversation.
46 . Jackson, American Bandstand, 12.
47 . Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop,” 2.
48 . Dan Dillon, So, Where’d You Go to High School: The Baby Boomer Edition
(St. Louis: Virginia Publishing Company, 2005), 226; Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop,”
3–4; Giordano, Social Dancing in America, 149–50.
49 . Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop,” 9.
50 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 168.
Chapter 4
1 . Geoffrey Holder, “Not to Twist,” Ebony, February 1962, 107.
2 . Jim Dawson, The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the
World (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995), 35. 3 . Dawson, The Twist, 131.
4 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 140.
5 . Holder, “Not to Twist,” 107.
6 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 206.
7 . Smith, interview.
8 . Shore, with Clark, The History of American Bandstand, 24.
9 . Clark, with Bronson and Smith, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, 17.
10 . Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, 148 .
11 . Altschuler, All Shook Up, 85 .
12 . Stuessy, Rock and Roll, 85 .
13 . “State Curb Asked on Dance Studios,” New York Times, February 22, 1958, 8.
14 . “Ethics Code Signed by 3 Dance Studios After State Inquiry,” New York
Times, October 15, 1959, 47. 15 . “Dancing Studios Face Coast Study,” New York Times, October 1, 1962, 35.
16 . Halberstam, The Fifties, 664.
17 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 240.
18 . William M. Blair, “Wider TV Inquiry to Study Bribery and Paid ‘Plugs,’ ”
New York Times, November 7, 1959, 13. 19 . Jackson, Big Beat Heat, 294.
20 . Ibid., 245.
21 . Jackson, American Bandstand, 194.
22 . Gillett, The Sound of the City, 206.
23 . Dawson, The Twist, xi–xii.
24 . Jackson, American Bandstand, 212.
25 . Twist, documentary.
26 . Dawson, The Twist, 16.
27 . Twist, documentary.
28 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 138.
29 . Dawson, The Twist, 27.
30 . Clark and Robinson, Rock, Roll and Remember, 138.
31 . Twist, documentary.

124 Notes
32 . Dawson, The Twist, 34.
33 . Best of Bandstand, prod., Paul Brownstein, 47 min., Vestron Music Video,
1986, compilation of kinescopes from the television show American Bandstand
dating from 1957 to 1960. 34 . Smith, interview.
35 . Ibid.
36 . Blavat, telephone conversation.
37 . Twist, documentary.
38 . Ibid.
39 . Stearns and Stearns, Jazz Dance, 4.
40 . Ibid., 1.
41 . Ibid., 122.
42 . Ibid., 107.
43 . Ibid., 98–99.
44 . Dawson, The Twist, 2.
45 . Ibid., 48–51.
46 . The Twist, documentary.
47 . Arthur Gelb, “Habitues of Meyer Davis Land Dance the Twist,” New York
Times, October 19, 1961, 37. 48 . Twist, documentary.
49 . Dawson, The Twist, 55–56.
50 . Ibid., 59.
51 . Ibid., 65.
52 . Ibid., 58.
53 . Ibid., 60.
54 . Carl Belz, The Story of Rock, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1972), 91. 55 . Swing, Bop, and Hand Dance, prod. Beverly Lindsay, dir. Bill Pratt, 45 min.,
WHMM-TV, Howard University, 1997, documentary. 56 . Al Decker, interview by author, Penndel, Pa., May 18, 2010.
57 . Sullivan, phone conversation; Nancy Finnegan, telephone conversation
with author, August 22, 2009. 58 . Gunod, telephone conversation.
59 . Belz, The Story of Rock, 214.
60 . Ibid., 84.
Chapter 5
1 . Halberstam, The Fifties, 514.
2 . Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, 312–13.
3 . Stephen Holden, “Sha Na Na Revisits the 50’s and 60’s,” New York Times,
March 13, 1981, C17. 4 . David P. Szatmary, Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll (Engle-
wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987), 170. 5 . Annie Fisher, “Sha-Na-Yeah!,” Village Voice, July 3, 1969; Sha-Na-Na press
release, in Sha-Na-Na (musical group) clippings fi le, Music Division, New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts. 6 . Don Heckman, “Cheech and Chong Show Comedic Skill on Sha-Na-Na
Bill,” New York Times, December 30, 1971.

Notes 125
7 . Fisher, “Sha-Na-Yeah!”
8 . Belz, The Story of Rock, 212–13.
9 . “Racial Incident Marks Sha Na Na S. Africa Gig,” Billboard, May 28,
1983, 59. 10 . Richard Joffee, “Is Rock ’n’ Roll Really Here to Stay?,” Village Voice, June 14,
1973, 52. 11 . Craig Evans, email to author, September 4, 2010.
12 . Joffee, “Is Rock ’n’ Roll Really Here to Stay?” 52.
13 . Randall Poe, “The ’50s Are No. 1,” Daily News, December 2, 1979, Leisure, 5.
14 . J. Hoberman, “Film: Quintet,” Village Voice, June 29, 1982, 66.
15 . John Lahr, “The Theatre: Can’t Stop the Beat,” New Yorker, October 26,
2009, 96. 16 . Nan Robertson, “Champion’s Challenge,” New York Times, April 10, 1960.
17 . Ibid.
18 . “Production Notes: Let the Good Times Roll, ” News, Columbia Pictures,
May 5, 1973. 19 . Daphne Davis, “Let the Good Times Roll,” Women’s Wear Daily, May 24,
1973. 20 . Loraine Alterman, “Yes, Rock Can Sometimes Save a Bad Movie,” New York
Times, July 8, 1973, 8, 19. 21 . Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, 312.
22 . Ibid., 316–17.
23 . Gary Marshall, “Happy Days,” TV Guide, February 29, 1992.
24 . “Happy Days,”
25 . Marshall, “Happy Days.”
26 . Kevin Grubb, “Broadway and Beyond: Putting the Bounce in Hairspray’s
Dances,” Dance Magazine, June 1988, 62.
27 . Alex Witchel, “On Stage, and Off,” New York Times, November 23, 1990.
28 . Lisa Jo Sagolla, “Capturing the Feel of 1950s Memphis,” Back Stage,
November 19–25, 2009, 12. 29 . Ibid.
30 . Ibid.
31 . Joffee, “Is Rock ’n’ Roll Really Here to Stay?,” 52.

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Books and Articles
Alterman, Loraine. “Yes, Rock Can Sometimes Save a Bad Movie.” New York Times,
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Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America . New York:
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Asbury, Edith Evans. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Teen-Agers Tie Up the Times Square Area.”
New York Times, February 23, 1957, 1, 12.
Asbury, Edith Evans. “Times Square ‘Rocks’ for Second Day.” New York Times, Feb-
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Belz, Carl. The Story of Rock. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Blair, William M. “Wider TV Inquiry to Study Bribery and Paid ‘Plugs,’ ” New York
Times, November 7, 1959, 1, 13.
Bracker, Milton. “Experts Propose Study of ‘Craze’: Liken It to Medieval Lunacy, ‘Contagious Dance Furies’ and Bite of Tarantula.” New York Times, Febru-
ary 23, 1957, 12.
Brown, Benita Junette. “Boppin’ at Miss Mattie’s Place: African-American Grass- roots Dance Culture in North Philadelphia from the Speakeasy to the Uptown
Theater during the 1960s . ” Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1999.
Butler, Albert, and Josephine Butler. Encyclopedia of Social Dance. New York: Albert
Butler Ballroom Dance Service, 1975.
Clark, Dick, with Fred Bronson and captions by Ray Smith. Dick Clark’s American
Bandstand . New York: Collins, 1997.
Clark, Dick, and Richard Robinson. Rock, Roll and Remember . New York: Popular
Library, 1978.
“Dancing Studios Face Coast Study.” New York Times, October 1, 1962, 35.
Davis, Daphne. “Let the Good Times Roll.” Women’s Wear Daily, May 24, 1973.
Dawson, Jim. The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World.
Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995.
Dillon, Dan. So, Where’d You Go to High School: The Baby Boomer Edition. St. Louis:
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Jackson, John A. Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll . New
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Joffee, Richard. “Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Really Here to Stay?” Village Voice , June 14, 1973, 52.
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American Hot Wax. 91 min. Paramount Pictures, 1978.

130 Bibliography
Blackboard Jungle. 101 min. MGM, 1955. Released on DVD by Warner Home Video in 2005.
The Buddy Holly Story. 113 min. Columbia Pictures, 1978.
Bye Bye Birdie. 112 min. Columbia Pictures, 1963.
Cadillac Records. 108 min. TriStar Pictures, 2008.
Don’t Knock the Rock. 84 min. Columbia Pictures, 1956.
Don’t Knock the Twist. 87 min. Columbia Pictures, 1962.
Flaming Star. 91 min. 20th Century Fox, 1960.
G.I. Blues. 104 min., Paramount Pictures, 1960.
The Girl Can’t Help It. 99 min. 20th Century Fox, 1956.
Go, Johnny, Go! 75 min. Hal Roach Studios, 1959.
Grease. 110 min. Paramount Pictures, 1978.
Great Balls of Fire! 102 min. Orion Pictures, 1989.
Hairspray. 96 min. New Line Cinema. 1988.
Hairspray. 115 min. New Line Cinema, 2007.
Hey, Let’s Twist! 80 min. Paramount Pictures, 1961.
Jailhouse Rock. 96 min. MGM, 1957.
Jamboree! 71 min. Warner Brothers, 1957.
King Creole. 116 min. Paramount Pictures, 1958.
La Bamba. 108 min. Columbia Pictures, 1987.
Let the Good Times Roll . 98 min. Columbia Pictures, 1973.
Love Me Tender . 89 min. 20th Century Fox, 1956.
Loving You. 101 min. Paramount Pictures, 1957.
Mr. Rock and Roll. 86 min. Paramount Pictures, 1957.
Rock, Rock, Rock! 83 min. Vanguard Productions, 1956.
Rock Around the Clock. 77 min. Columbia Pictures, 1956.
Shake, Rattle and Rock. 72 min. Sunset Productions, 1956.
Twist All Night. 78 min. Keelou Corporation, 1961.
Twist Around the Clock. 86 min. Columbia Pictures, 1961.
Documentaries and Archival Video-Recordings
Alan Freed’s Big Beat & Studio Party, ca. 1957, WABD-Dumont, New York City, ap-
prox. 55 min., Video Resources New York, Inc.
Arthur Murray Dance Lessons: Swing, dir. Del Jack, 47 min., Pathe Pictures, Inc., 1990.
Bandstand Days, 59 min., Teleduction, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1997.
Best of Bandstand, prod. Paul Brownstein, 47 min., Vestron Music Video, 1986.
Dancing: Program 3, Sex and Social Dance , prod. and dir. Ellen Hovde and Muffi e
Meyer, 58 min., Thirteen/WNET in association with RM Arts and BBC-TV,
Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Show—The Classic Performances, exec. prod. Andrew Holt,
47 min., Image Entertainment, 2009.
Everybody Dance Now, dir. and prod. Margaret Selby, 58 min., Thirteen/WNET, 1991.
1950s Teen Dance TV Shows, vol. 1, The Video Beat: 1950s & 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll on
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Swing, Bop, and Hand Dance, prod. Beverly Lindsay, dir. Bill Pratt, 45 min., WHMM-TV, Howard University, 1997.
Twist, prod. and dir. Ron Mann, 78 min., Triton Pictures, 1993.
Personal Interviews and Correspondence
Jerry Blavat, telephone conversation with author, January 8, 2010.
Al Decker, interview by author, Penndel, PA, May 18, 2010.
Sharon Decker, interview by author, Penndel, PA, May 18, 2010.
Craig Evans, email to author, September 4, 2010.
Nancy Finnegan, telephone conversation with author, August 22, 2009.
Jack Gunod, telephone conversation with author, August 22, 2009.
Violet Sagolla, interview by author, Langhorne, PA, January 19, 2010.
Pat Shook, interview by author, Penndel, PA, May 18, 2010.
Ray Smith, interview by author, tape recording, New York, NY, July 15, 2009.
Tami Stevens, email to author, April 1, 2010.
Arlene Sullivan, telephone conversation with author, July 28, 2009.
Miscellaneous Materials
Advertisement for Samsung Jitterbug cell phone. AARP Bulletin 51, no. 3
(April 2010): 25.
“Production Notes: Let the Good Times Roll. ” News, Columbia Pictures, May 5, 1973.
In Let the Good Times Roll (cinema, 1973) clippings fi le, Billy Rose Theatre Divi-
sion, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Sha-Na-Na press release, in Sha-Na-Na (Musical group) clippings fi le, Music Divi-
sion, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Internet Sources
Ford, Peter. “Rock Around the Clock and Me.”
“Happy Days.”

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African Americans, 55; and American
Bandstand, 63 – 64, 69; and Ameri-
can vernacular dances, 35 – 37,
65 – 67, 90; jook joints, 38; migra-
tion north, 6; and rhythm and
blues, 2 – 3, 6; rock ‘n’ roll dances,
infl uences on, 35 – 37, 47 – 48, 62 – 64,
67, 69 – 70, 86 – 87, 113; and rock ‘n’
roll music, 78; and television teen
dance shows, 63 – 64, 67, 70, 74
African dance, 36 – 37
“Ain’t That a Shame” (song), 8, 15
Alabama White Citizens Council, 34
Allen, Steve, 21
All Shook Up (Broadway musical), 114
Altman, Robert, 43
American Bandstand (television show), 30, 36, 50, 51, 114, 115; camera
work, 64 – 65; dance contests, 57,
71; dress code, 59; history of,
51 – 57; and music videos, 60; as
reality TV, 60 – 61; Record Review
(Rate-a-Record), 57 – 58; rock ‘n’
roll dances, infl uence on, 57,
62 – 72, 86 – 89; rock ‘n’ roll music,
infl uence on, 57, 61, 65, 71, 78 – 80;
teenage dancers appearing on,
54 – 60, 62 – 65, 72; teenagers, infl u-
ence on, 56 – 57, 58, 59 – 60, 64 – 65;
and teen idols, 78 – 80; See also
Bandstand American Dreams (television show),
American Graffi ti (fi lm), 40, 69, 109 – 10
American Hot Wax (fi lm), 111
“American Pie” (song), 80
American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP),
4, 5, 6, 84
Anka, Paul, 79
Ann-Margret, 107
Anthony, Ray, 62
Appell, Dave, and the Applejacks, 71
Arden, Eve, 106
Arthur Murray Dance Studios, 81, 90
Art Laboe Show, The (television show), 74
ASCAP. See American Society of Composers, Authors, and
Atlanta, 30
Atlantic City, 48
“At the Hop” (song), 65
Avallone, Francis Thomas ( Frankie Avalon), 16, 79
Avalon, Frankie. See Avallone,
Francis Thomas
Baby Boomers, 117
Ballard, Hank, 86 – 90
Ballard, Jovada and Jimmy, 14
“Ballin’ the Jack” (song), 90

134 Index
Baltimore, 48, 66, 74, 86, 113
Bandstand (television show), 51 – 57, 62. See also American Bandstand
Bandstand Matinee (television show), 73
Bartholomew, Dave, 8
Barton, Earl, 13, 14
Bauman, Jon “Bower,” 103
Beat culture, 14
Beatles, The, 58, 97 – 98
“Be-Bop-A-Lula” (song), 65
Bell, Freddie, and the Bellboys, 12
Bennett, Tony, 10
Berle, Milton, 20
Berry, Chuck, 15, 16, 22, 23, 80, 101, 109, 111
Big Beat, The (television show), 74
“Big Beat Rock ‘n’ Roll Show” (concert), 32
Billy and Lillie, 70
Birch, Patricia, 108
Birdie, Conrad, 107
Birmingham, Alabama, 33
Blackboard Jungle (fi lm), 9 – 12, 29
Blackboard Jungle, The (novel), 9, 10
Blavat, Jerry, 62, 89
“Blue Monday” (song), 15
BMI. See Broadcast Music Incorporated
Bob Horn’s Bandstand (radio program), 52
Bogart, Neil, 101
Boogie-woogie, 2
Booker, Moe, 63
Boone, Iowa, 72
Boone, Pat, 8
Bop (dance), 65 – 67, 69
Bophuthatswana, South Africa, 102
Boston, 29, 33, 37
Boston Arena, 32
Boswell Sisters, The, 7
Brando, Marlon, 9
Brecker, Lou, 93
Bridgeport, Connecticut, 33
British invasion, 97
Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), 4, 6, 84
Brown, James, 26
Brown v. Board of Education, 11 Bryant, Willie, 12
Buck, Joan, 64
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 45
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story ( Broad-
way musical), 113
Buddy Deane Show, The (television show), 48, 74, 86, 112
Buddy Holly Story, The (fi lm), 111
Bunny Hop (dance), 62, 71
Bye Bye Birdie (Broadway musical), 105 – 7
Bye Bye Birdie (fi lm), 107
Cadillac Records (fi lm), 111
California, 63, 65, 81
Calypso (dance), 70
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 33
Cannon, Freddy. See Picariello, Fred-
erick Anthony
Carter, Asa, 34
Cash, Johnny, 115
Cassotto, Walden Robert (Bobby Darin), 79
Castro, Fidel, 82
“C.C. Rider” (song), 67
Cha-Cha (dance), 70, 92, 107
Cha-lypso (dance), 70 – 71
Chamberlain, Wilt, 49
Champion, Gower, 106 – 7
Charles, Annette, 106
Charleston (dance), 35, 67
Checker, Chubby. See Evans, Ernest
Chicago, 66, 73
Chorus Line, A (Broadway musical), 104
Circle Dance (dance), 70
Clanton, Jimmy, 79, 93
Clark, Dick, 40, 54, 56, 59, 61, 64, 72, 83, 115; and The Bop, 65; and The
Stroll, 67; and the Cha-lypso, 71;
and teen idols, 78 – 80; and the
Twist, 86 – 89
Clear Lake, Iowa, 80
Cleveland, 5, 33, 48
Clipp, Roger, 51
Cole, Jack, 13
Cole, Nat King, 52
Columbia University, 33, 82, 100
Columbus, Ohio, 47

Index 135
Como, Perry, 10, 79
Conga (dance), 70, 71
“Conga-Rock” (recording), 71
Connecticut Bandstand (television show), 73
Country and western music, 1 – 2, 3, 9, 117
Covers, 7 – 8
“Crazy Man, Crazy” (song), 9
Crewe, Bob, 71
Crosby, Bing, 85
Cry-Baby (fi lm), 113
Dae, Sonny, and His Knights, 8
Dale Dance Studios, 81
“Dance to the Bop” (song), 65
Dancing, instructional studios, 81 – 82, 90
Dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music, 33, 61 – 65; in Broadway musicals, 92,
104 – 8, 113 – 15; at concerts, 6; gen-
der issues, 95 – 96; and individual-
ism, 95 – 96; at the Harvest Moon
Ball, 14; in Hollywood fi lms,
13 – 16, 108, 110, 111 – 13; jitter-
bug, changes in, 42; at juke joints,
38 – 39; 1960s, 97 – 98; and racial
integration, 34 – 35, 74, 102 – 3;
record hops (sock hops), 39 – 41;
teenagers and, 29, 38, 44 – 45, 49,
87, 89, 90, 95 – 98, 113. See also
names of specifi c dances
Daniels, Danny, 16
Danny & the Juniors, 65, 109
Darin, Bobby. See Cassotto, Walden
Dean, James, 9
Deane, Buddy, 86
Decker, Al, 96
Decker, Sharon, 64
Dee, Joey and the Starliters, 91, 93, 94
Delinquents, The (fi lm), 43
De Night, Jimmy. See Myers, James E.
Detroit, 47, 73, 109
Detroit Bandstand (television show), 73
Diamonds, The, 67
DiMucci, Dion Francis (Dion), 79, 80
Dion. See DiMucci, Dion Francis Dog (dance), 72
Domino, Antoine “Fats,” 8, 15, 16, 22,
25, 33, 88, 109
Don’t Knock the Rock (fi lm), 14, 15, 16,
23, 31, 93
Don’t Knock the Twist (fi lm), 93
Doo-wop, 2, 15, 26 – 27, 67, 100, 104, 109, 116
Dorsey, Tommy and Jimmy, 19
Ed Sullivan Show, The (television show), 21, 97 – 98
Eisenhower, Dwight David, 77, 78, 83
Elephant Walk (dance), 97
Evans, Craig, 103
Evans, Ernest (Chubby Checker), 85 – 86, 87 – 89, 93, 109
Fabian. See Forte, Fabiano
Facenda, John, 57
Federal Communications Commis- sion, 82, 84
Fish (dance), 44
Flamingos, The, 15
Flaming Star (fi lm), 21
Fly (dance), 97
Fonzie, 110 – 11
Ford, Glenn, 10
Ford, Peter, 10
Forte, Fabiano (Fabian), 79
Fosse, Bob, 16, 107
Foxtrot (dance), 43 – 44, 61
Fred Astaire, Inc., 81
Freed, Alan, 5 – 7, 16, 74, 111; concerts produced by, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34; and
payola, 83
Freedman, Max C., 8
Freeman, Joel, 10
Frees, Dave, 64
Frug (dance), 97
Gallant, Jim, 73
Gautier, Dick, 107
Gennaro, Peter, 92
“Get a Job” (song), 100
G.I. Blues (fi lm), 21
Gillespie, Dizzy, 52
Girl Can ’ t Help It, The (fi lm), 15
Gleason, Jackie, 19, 48

136 Index
Go, Johnny, Go! (fi lm), 16
Gospel music, 2, 3
Grady, Joe, 53
“Grape Vine Twist” (song), 90
Gray, George, 70
Grease (Broadway musical), 104 – 5, 108, 114
Grease (fi lm), 47, 101, 104, 106, 108
Greaser, 99, 102, 110
Great Balls of Fire! (fi lm), 111 – 12
“Great Balls of Fire” (song), 24
“Great Pretender, The” (song), 12
Greene, Denny, 102 – 3
Gunod, Jack, 60
Hairspray (Broadway musical), 49 – 50, 113
Hairspray (fi lm), 74, 112 – 13
Haley, Bill, 8 – 9; & His Comets, 7, 10, 12, 93, 109
Hand Jive (dance), 46 – 47, 108
Happy Days (television show), 110 – 11, 115
Harlem Variety Revue (fi lm), 12
Hardin, Louis “Moondog,” 6
Harris, Betty Mae, 72
Hartford, Connecticut, 33
Harvest Moon Ball, 14
Hawaii, 72
Hey, Let’s Twist (fi lm), 93, 94
Hi-Jinx (television show), 73
Hip-hop, 35, 38
Hitch-Hike (dance), 97
Holder, Geoffrey, 77
Holloway, William “Bubbles,” 47
Holly, Buddy, 80, 113 – 14
Hollywood fi lms: portrayals of 1950s
teenagers in, 11, 13 – 14, 108; and
rock ‘n’ roll and juvenile delin-
quency, 9 – 12; rock ‘n’ roll dancing
in, 13 – 16, 108, 110, 111 – 13; rock ‘n’
roll genre, 11 – 16
“Honestly Sincere” (song), 107
Hope, Bob, 77, 92
Horn, Bob, 52 – 54, 62
Howard, Ron, 110
Hula (dance), 72
Hula Hoop, 72
Hula Rock (dance), 72 Hully Gully (dance), 97
Hunter, Evan, 9
Hurst, Ed, 53
Hutchinson Singing Family, 84
Indiana, 47
Italian Americans, 54, 79
Jailhouse Rock (fi
lm), 21
Jamboree (fi lm), 16
Jarvis, Al, 73
Jazz dance, 13, 108
Jazz music, 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 – 17, 37 – 38, 41, 66, 98
Jerk (dance), 97
Jersey City, New Jersey, 33
Jitterbug (cell phone), 41 – 42
Jitterbug (dance), 34 – 35, 61, 66, 67, 96, 98; in Hollywood fi lm choreog-
raphy, 13, 14, 15, 16, 107, 111, 113;
Philadelphia styles, 62; roots and
development of, 36, 40 – 43
Jitterbugs, 41
Jive, 41, 107
Joffee, Richard, 103 – 4, 117
Jook joint, 38, 111
Joplin, Scott, 44
Jukebox, 38 – 39
Jukebox musicals, 114
Juke joint, 38
Jump blues, 2, 8, 25, 69
Kansas City, Missouri, 43
Katzman, Sam, 12, 14, 93
Kennedy, Jackie, 92
Kennedy, John F., 78, 92, 97 – 98
King Creole (fi lm), 21
Kingsmen, The, 100
Kreis, Levi, 115
La Bamba (fi lm), 111
Laboe, Art, 100, 110
“La Dee Dah” (song), 70
Landrum, Bill and Jacqui, 111
Las Vegas, 109
Laverne and Shirley (television show), 110, 115
Lee, Peggy, 52
Lefkowitz, Louis J., 81

Index 137
Let the Good Times Roll (fi lm), 108 – 9
Lewis, Jerry Lee, 16, 22, 24, 25, 61, 80, 102, 111 – 12, 115
Lewiston, Maine, 33
Lindbergh, Charles, 41
Lindy Hop (dance), 13, 14, 35, 41 – 42, 65, 90
Little Richard. See Penniman, Richard
Little Rock Central High School (Arkansas), 35
Loco-Motion (dance), 97
Long Island (New York), 45, 109
“Long Tall Sally” (song), 14, 23
Los Angeles, 74
Los Angeles County Board of Super- visors, 30
“Lotta’ Livin’ to Do” (song), 107
Lounsbury, Jim, 73
Love, American Style (television show), 110
Love, Edward, 112 – 13
Love Me Tender (fi lm), 21
Loving You (fi lm), 21
Lucas, George, 109 – 10
“Lucky Ladybug” (song), 71
Lymon, Frankie, 74; and the Teenag- ers, 15, 16
Madison (dance), 47 – 50, 113
Madison, Wisconsin, 64
Madison Square Garden, 108
Mad Man Muntz, 53
Mambo (dance), 70
Mammarella, Tony, 52
Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, The (novel), 45
Mansfi eld, Jayne, 15
Marshall, Garry, 110
Mashed Potato (dance), 97
McCarthy, Joseph, 45, 82
McCracklin, Jimmy, 69
McLean, Don, 80
Me Generation, 96
Memphis (Broadway musical), 114 – 15
“Messin’ Around” (song), 90
Mexican Hat Dance (dance), 71
“Mexican Hat Rock” (recording), 71 Million Dollar Quartet (Broadway
musical), 115
Milt Grant Show, The (television show), 74
Milt Grant’s Record Hop (television show), 74
Minnesota, 80
Mintz, Leo, 5
Mitch Thomas Show, The (television show), 63, 67, 74
Monkey (dance), 97
Montgomery, Alabama, 35
Moonglows, The, 15
Morrison, Eddie, 48
Mr. President (Broadway musical), 92
Mr. Rock and Roll (fi lm), 16
Mt. Vernon, New York, 61
Murray, Arthur, 61. See also Arthur
Murray Dance Studios
Music Publishers’ Protective Associa- tion, 84
Myers, James E., 8
Nader, Richard, 108
Nassau Coliseum, 109
National Guard Armory, 33
New Haven, Connecticut, 33, 73
New York (city), 34, 47, 73, 74, 91, 114
New York (state), 81
950 Club, The (radio program), 52 – 53
1950s: cultural characteristics, 45 – 46, 97; nostalgia, 99 – 100, 102, 103 – 4,
105, 108 – 12, 115 – 17; political
climate, 81 – 83; television, impact
of, 5
Nixon, Richard M., 78, 83
“Only You” (song), 12
Otis, Johnny, 47
Padula, Edward, 106
Panoram, 51
Paramount Theatre (Brooklyn), 30, 111
Paramount Theater (Manhattan), 31
Parks, Rosa, 35
Payola, 83 – 85
Peatross, Jimmy, 64

138 Index
Penniman, Richard Wayne (Little Richard), 14, 15, 16, 22, 23 – 24, 80,
109, 116
Pennsylvania, 34
Peppermint Lounge, 91 – 92
Perkins, Carl, 115
Pesci, Joe, 93, 94
Peter, Paul, and Mary, 98
Philadelphia, 36, 55, 63, 65, 73, 86, 89; dance styles, 62, 66; and teen
idols, 79
Philadelphia collar, 59 – 60
Philadelphia phenomenon, 79
Phillips, Sam, 18
Picariello, Frederick Anthony (Freddy Cannon), 79
Platters, The, 12, 15, 26
Pop music, 1, 3, 79
Presley, Elvis, 17 – 21, 37, 57, 80, 105, 107, 114
Quaid, Dennis, 112
Race music, 2, 6, 115
Racial integration, 34 – 35, 102 – 3; rock ‘n’ roll music and, 4 – 7; in schools,
11; on television teen dance
shows, 74
Radio: payola scandals, 83 – 85; and rock ‘n’ roll music, 4 – 7; 83 – 85; and
teenagers dancing, 52 – 53
Radios, transistor, 95
Rebel Without a Cause (fi lm), 9
Record hop, 33, 63, 65, 89
Rhythm and blues, 2 – 3, 5 – 7, 8, 9, 12, 16, 30, 67, 79, 86, 115
Richardson, J. P. “The Big Bopper,” 80
Ridarelli, Robert (Bobby Rydell), 79, 93
Rivera, Chita, 106
“Rock, Rock, Rock” (fi lm), 15, 16
Rockabilly, 17, 102, 113
“Rock and Roll” (song), 7
Rock and Roll Revue (fi lm), 12
Rock Around the Clock (fi lm), 12 – 14,
15, 16, 93
“Rock Around the Clock” (song), 7 – 11, 12, 13, 29
Rock hybrid dances, 71 – 72 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Easter Jubilee” (con-
cert), 30
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Jubilee Ball, The” (con- cert), 34
Rock ‘n’ roll music: and Broadway musicals, 104 – 7, 114 – 15; compo-
nents of, 1 – 3; concerts, 6, 30 – 34;
covers, 7 – 8; history of, 1 – 17,
78 – 80, 97 – 98, 100 – 104, 116 – 17;
and Hollywood fi lms, 104, 105,
107 – 10, 111 – 13; juvenile delin-
quency and, 5, 9 – 10, 11, 102; objec-
tions to, 4, 5, 6, 11, 37, 60, 84, 106;
origins of term, 5, 6 – 7; and pay-
ola, 83 – 85; pioneering performers,
17 – 25; popularization of, 4 – 7;
racial integration and, 6, 17 – 18;
and radio, 4 – 7, 83 – 85; teenagers
and, 3 – 4, 6, 9, 954, 102, 103; teen
idols, 78 – 80; and television, 57, 61,
78, 116; violence and riots associ-
ated with, 9, 12, 30 – 33
Rock ‘n’ Roll Party, The (radio pro- gram), 6
Rock ‘n’ roll revival, 100 – 101, 102 – 4, 108 – 9
Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue (fi lm), 12
Romantini, Betty, 30
Roosevelt, Jimmy, 51
Roseland, 93
Rydell, Bobby. See Ridarelli, Robert
Savoy Ballroom, 41
Shake, Rattle and Rock (fi lm), 15, 115
Sha-Na-Na, 100 – 103, 117
Sheldon, Herb, 73
“She Loves You” (song), 58
Shook, Pat, 56
Shouters, 2
Shuffl e Off to Buffalo (dance step), 48
Silhouettes, The, 100
Sinatra, Frank, 79, 117
Singer, Artie, 65
$64,000 Question, The (television show), 82
Slay, Frank, 71
Slop (dance), 69
Slow dancing, 41, 43 – 44, 111
Slow Drag (dance), 44, 113

Index 139
Smith, Ray, 62, 63, 78, 89
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 111
Snader, Louis D., 51
Snader Telescriptions (Snaders), 51 – 52, 53
Sock hop, 39 – 41, 49, 69, 110
Soundies, 51 – 52
Sputnik, 82
Square Dance, 48, 70
Stage Show (television show), 19 – 20
Steele, Ted, 74
Stempel, Herb, 82
Stewart, Lee, 53
St. Louis, Missouri, 73
St. Louis Hop (television show), 73
Strand (dance), 64
Stroll (dance), 67 – 69, 110
“Stroll, The” (song), 67
Studio Party (television show), 73
Sullivan, Arlene, 57, 62, 68, 70, 72
Sullivan, Ed, 21
Swim (dance), 97
Swing dancing, 7, 13, 14, 41 – 42, 67, 107, 108
Swing music, 41
Tap dance, 35
Teenagers, American Bandstand ’s infl uence on, 56 – 57, 58, 59 – 60
Teen Bandstand (television show), 73
Teen idols, 16, 78 – 80
Teenybopper, 66
Television, 4 – 5, 12, 98; music videos, 60; and 1950s nostalgia, 99, 101,
110 – 13, 115 – 16; PBS music spe-
cials, 116; and politics, 78; quiz
show scandals, 82 – 83; and racial
integration, 74; reality TV, 60 – 61;
and rock ‘n’ roll music, 57, 61, 78;
teen dance shows, 52 – 74, 112 – 13
“Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground” (song), 84
Texas, 67
Tin Pan Alley, 1, 84
Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (fi lm), 7 Travolta, John, 104, 106, 113
“Treemonisha” (song), 44
Troy, New York, 33
Trujillo, Sergio, 114 – 15
“Tutti Frutti” (song), 14
TV Teen Club (television show), 73
Twenty-One (television show), 82
Twist (dance), 75, 77, 85 – 95, 96, 97,
98, 109
“Twist, The” (song), 85 – 89
Twist All Night (fi lm), 93
Twist Around the Clock (fi lm), 93
Unitas, Johnny, 49
Valens, Ritchie, 80, 111
Van Doren, Charles, 82
Van Dyke, Dick, 92, 106
Vincent, Gene, and the Bluecaps, 65
Virginia Reel (dance), 67
Walk (dance), 69 – 70
Waller, Fats, 52
Washington, D.C., 33, 66, 74
Waters, John, 112 – 13
Watusi (dance), 97
West Catholic High School, 54, 60
West Philadelphia High School, 54
WFIL, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55
White, Onna, 107
“White Christmas” (song), 86
Whiteman, Paul, 73
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (song), 24
Wild One, The (fi lm), 9, 11, 102
Williams, Bert, 90
“Willie and the Hand Jive” (song), 47
Willis, Chuck, 67
Wilmington, Delaware, 63
Wilson, Malcolm, 81
Wilson, Sloan, 45
Woodstock, 100
WPEN, 53
Young, Dale, 73

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About the Author
Lisa Jo Sagolla is the author of
The Girl Who Fell Down: A Biography of Joan
McCracken. She is a columnist and critic for Back Stage and the Kansas City
Star and has written extensively on dance, theater, and fi lm for scholarly
journals and encyclopedias. Sagolla teaches at Columbia University and
works as an educational consultant for K–12 arts programs. She has also
choreographed more than 75 Off-Broadway, regional, summer stock, and
university productions. Sagolla holds an Ed.D. from Columbia Univer-
sity’s Teachers College.

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