What are the Common Dances from the 1950s?

J. Beam

Donning poodle skirts with petticoats and saddle shoes, dancers in the 1950s swung out a variety of dances that went way beyond the “acceptable” waltzes and swing dances of the previous decades. Dances from the 1950s are largely immortalized because of the popular television show American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, that aired starting in the early 1950s. Though the program showcased many famous performers, it was just as widely known for creating dance fads.

The Twist is a popular 1950s dance.
The Twist is a popular 1950s dance.

One of the most popular dances of the 1950s was the Twist. This infamous dance inspired the song — first released by the Hank Ballard and the Midnighters but made famous by Chubby Checker in 1960 — of the same name, and it could regularly be seen on American Bandstand. Many of the most popular dances from the 1950s, such as the Jitterbug, the Cha-cha, and the Lindy Hop, were thought of as group dances rather than single couples’ dances. Perhaps of all the popular dances from this decade, single, couple, or group, the Stroll is the easiest to recognize.

Swing dancers today often wear period-inspired clothing, and incorporate flips, dips and tosses into their dances.
Swing dancers today often wear period-inspired clothing, and incorporate flips, dips and tosses into their dances.

The Stroll is a variation of line dancing. Groups of dancers stood in opposing lines facing one another, with a wide aisle between them. Though they all danced, it was the end dancers from each line who proceeded from the start of the line to the end right down the middle, showcasing any moves they might have. Thus, as the dance's name indicates, dancers would take turns strolling down the center lane. Revisiting the scene from the classic musical Grease, in which Rydell High School was invited to perform on American Bandstand, will reveal just how the Stroll was done.

The TV show "American Bandstand" created many different dance crazes.
The TV show "American Bandstand" created many different dance crazes.

Musical talents who lent their voice and style to the accompaniment of the popular dances from the 1950s included The Andrews Sisters, Eddie Fisher, and of course Elvis Presley, amongst others. The 1950s was a period of growth and rebellion amongst America’s youth, and many of the popular dances were an expression of that. By the time Elvis appeared on stage regularly swinging his hips, the seed that would grow into “dirty dancing” had been planted. Much to the chagrin of many parents, the music and dances from the 1950s spawned a new style and voice for American youth.

Some dances from the 1950s are still popular today.
Some dances from the 1950s are still popular today.

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Discussion Comments


Twist: 1959.


How about what my brother called "the Bop"?


@pleonasm - You could argue that there aren't any real original dances. I mean, a lot of the group dances of the 50's have their origins in the group dances of a hundred years ago or more. They used to dance like that in Jane Austen's time.

Even the more provocative dances are similar to what people would do in poor communities back in the day, or in other countries, or even in the wealthier western countries during some eras.

There's nothing new under the sun, it's all just recombinations and renaming the same old moves.

After all, there are only so many ways a human can move their body. There's nothing wrong with that.

But, if there is a documented time when someone said "this is The Twist" then we have to take that time as the origin of that dance, otherwise we'd be looking back forever, trying to find the original.


@anon106573 - Even though it was popular in the early 60's it originated before then.

I don't think it was an official dance with the name "The Twist" until the Chubby Checker song came out though.

But plenty of 1950s songs reference movements that are just like the Twist and according to some of the stuff I've read online you can trace it right back to the 1800's, although obviously it wasn't quite so provocative back then.


The twist was popular in the early 60s.


We used to do the lamba nu in college 1950, can't find it.


How about the Madison which was a group dance that became popular in the 50s and the hand jive which I guess is arguably not so much a "dance" but still, I think it is considered a dance....

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