Types of Dances Popular in the 1950s

By Nancy Hayden

Music changed in the 1950s with the birth of Rock and Roll. Along with new sounds, new dance crazes quickly swept the nation. On television, "American Bandstand" appeared each afternoon, and teenagers throughout the United States could hear the new sounds and learn dances to go along with them. Dances in the '50s were done individually, as couples, or in groups. Many dances were named for the songs that inspired them.

The Twist

In the case of the Twist, the dance inspired the song, not the other way around. Hank Ballard saw some teens doing the dance and wrote the famous song "The Twist" in 1955, hiring Chubby Checker to sing the track. The dance craze caught on quickly, as it was simple to do. Dancers remained in one spot while twisting their hips back and forth. The song and its dance served as the inspiration for other Twist-related songs, including "Twist and Shout" by the Isley Brothers and Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again."

The Stroll

The Stroll was a group dance that was done in two lines, with boys on one side and girls on the other. There are many versions of the "stroll" style dance. The Stroll of the '50s was danced to a slow groove of rhythm and blues. The Stroll gained national popularity after being regularly included on "American Bandstand," which began airing in 1954. The Stroll was featured on the show because couples would stroll down the aisle between the two lines, and it was a way to show off dance moves. The people in the lines would do a side step back and forth, waiting for their turn at the end of the line to stroll down the aisle.

The Handjive

The Handjive was created by a DJ and record producer named Johnny Otis. His song "Willie and the Handjive," along with the accompanying dance, took the country by storm in 1958. The simple and repetitive song allowed teens to keep the beat while they did the Handjive. It could be done either standing or sitting. Variations of the Handjive existed, but the basic movements consisted of dancers slapping their thighs, crossing their hands over each other back and forth, hitting their fists on top of each other and "hitch-hiking" with their thumb back over their shoulder. Each step was done twice, then the sequence would repeat.

The Jitterbug

The Jitterbug was a couples' dance that had its roots in the swing-dance styles of the 1930s and '40s, such as the Lindy. The Jitterbug steps varied wildly, depending on the ability level of the couple. The basic steps consisted of a quick, two-step, rocking back and forth while holding hands and then a step out to the side and letting go of hands. The steps got more complicated from there. Relatively simple flare steps included going under each other's arms and spins. More complicated Jitterbug steps included lifts, flips and sliding between legs. The Jitterbug was also regularly performed on "American Bandstand," although the flashy, complicated moves were not allowed in order to maintain the show's wholesome image.