The 1950s and '60s were an exciting time in music. Styles were growing and changing quickly from the birth of rock 'n roll through the British invasion and into the hippie era. Dance styles had to adapt right along with the changes in music. Television shows like "American Bandstand" taught young people the latest moves and new dance fads spread quickly.
Fast Partner Dances
Swing dancing was still a hot dance trend in the 1950s, based on the jitterbug and swing moves of the '40s big band era. Some swing steps got quite fancy and acrobatic, with guys flipping girls over and sliding them on the ground beneath their legs. The basic swing step was not as intricate, consisting of the couple holding hands and rocking to the side and then stepping out. The Bop was another fast-paced partner dance. It was much like swing dancing, but partners did not touch. Instead, they mirrored each other's movements and tapped their toes or heels with each step.
Slow Partner Dances
The 1950s and '60s had many beautiful ballads and young people capitalized on that fact with romantic slow dances. The basic slow dance consisted of couples holding rather closely to each other and moving in a slow box step that sometimes moved around the dance floor and sometimes stayed in one small spot. Latin dance styles caught on as well and couples with adventurous dance spirits danced the step, touch, step of the Cha-Cha and the dramatic Tango with its spins and dips.
Group dances were fun for a gang to do together, and they also looked good on the TV dance shows of the day, such as "American Bandstand." Perhaps the best known group dance of the day was the Stroll. Partners formed two lines across from each other and did a step-touch move waiting to stroll down the middle, showing off their moves. The Madison was another group line dance that consisted of choreographed steps that were called out. More structured than the Stroll, the Madison was a precursor to later line dances such as the hustle.
Some '50s and '60s solo dances inspired hit songs, others were inspired by songs. One of the best known was the Twist. Chubby Checker sang the hit song "The Twist" and made the song and the dance a national craze. Dances like the Mashed Potato had steps that lived up to their name. The mashed potato had a squash and twist step of the foot and was referenced in songs by James Brown, the Contours and Connie Francis. In the '60s, the Watusi and The Pony had dancers hopping from foot to foot.