History of the Twist Dance

Tamara Warta

The history of the twist dance is short and fun - created during a carefree time in American history when young people revolutionized the dance world and replaced stuffiness with sexy, fun moves.

The History of the Twist Dance

Many from the baby boomer generation will remember the fanaticism of the Twist when it was first created, and younger generations have undoubtedly witnessed its contagious appeal through old movies and TV shows. It's true that the Twist reigned in popularity with dancing teens and 20-somethings - starting out as a song and becoming quite possibly the biggest dance craze of the 1950s and 1960s.

Hank Ballard wrote the Twist's original song in 1955 when he observed teenagers doing the dance that had yet to be officially named. It debuted on airwaves in 1958, and was played on the popular American Bandstand television show, where teens followed obediently along to the song's lyrics and "twisted" their way through each bar of music. The dance was so contagious that it caught the eye of a record producer who went on to hire Chubby Checker to perform it on another TV show in 1959.

The next step for Checker was to introduce the Twist to a huge American audience, and beyond, with a performance on American Bandstand. The result was that the entire world began to twist and shake to the energetic song.

The Twist went on to become the most popular dance in its day, and the choreography was simple - a 2 count twisting motion, "back and forth" using only the hips. Since the Twist was born right around the time of the popular beach movie fad, the dance fit right in on movie sets. Traditional dance styles, especially partner dancing that require glides and turns, were not performable in the sand. However, the Twist fit in perfectly and led the way for many other dance moves of the 1960s including the Monkey and the Swim. The Twist didn't require much use of the feet - just a body wiggle and you were ready to rock.

Today, the Twist is more of a period dance style - not very popular in mainstream performance and social dancing. However, vintage dance nights hosted by clubs and dance halls, as well as stage plays and movies set in the 1960s, often include the Twist in their choreography.

Songs and Records

There were many songs inspired by the Twist dance after the original song created the dance trend. Below is a partial list:

  • Hey Let's Twist
  • Mr. Twister
  • Rubberleg Twist
  • Peppermint Twist
  • Let's Twist Again
  • Twist and Shout
  • Slow Twistin'
  • Texas Twist
  • Twistin' U.S.A.

Many television shows and movies featuring the twist are still known today. These include Hairspray, History of Rock and Roll, and the appropriately named Twist.

How to Dance

If you're wondering how exactly to dance the historical Twist dance, it's very simple. First, place your feet shoulder's width apart. Hold your arms out and bend them at the elbow. Next, rotate your entire lower body from torso to legs from the balls of your feet so you are twisting as one single movement. The arms should stay still except for slight natural movement, much like when you walk. Continue to move your feet back and forth and match your speed and enthusiasm to the music being played.

The "bend" of the body is the most important aspect of pulling off this dance style - if you are too straight up in the air, you'll find you're too stiff to execute the twisting properly. Stay at an angle and relax your upper body half to properly dance.

Further History

Some have noted that the original inspiration of the Twist came from African American slaves, who invented the dance in the 1890s. However, the true origins can actually be traced as far back as the early days of West Africa. Despite these early origins, the concrete history of the Twist dance begins in the 1950s when the original song was written.

History of the Twist Dance