- Dances come and go – just ask the Lindy hop or the jitterbug.
- We picked the most popular dances since the 1920s and the Charleston, all the way to 2018 and flossing.
- Many of the 2000s dances, like the “Dougie” or jerking, were based on songs.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
If you ever want to feel like spontaneously busting a move, this is the place for you. From the ’80s era of moonwalking and “Thriller” to hustling at a disco club, every decade brings its dances of choice.
Here’s what dance sensation was sweeping the nation the year you were born, going all the way back to the Roaring ’20s.
1923: the Charleston
The Charleston hit the mainstream in 1923 after it was used in the Broadway show “Runnin’ Wild,” in which there was a song called “The Charleston.” It continued to be a staple of the Roaring ’20s.
1934: the jitterbug
The dance got another shout out from “The Wizard of Oz” in a musical number that was eventually cut but lives on in movie lore.
1941: the Lindy hop
The Lindy hop, named for pilot Charles Lindbergh, was first done in the ’20s. But as swing music became more and more popular throughout the US, it hit its peak during the ’40s.
The 1941 movie “Hellzapoppin” is credited with having one of the best examples of the Lindy hop and group swing choreography.
1942: conga lines
Conga lines are still popular to this day, but they have been around for decades. The conga is a traditional Latin American dance that took the United States by storm when Latin American celebrities like Desi Arnez and Xavier Cugat began starring in Latin American-themed Hollywood musicals in the ’40s.
1953: the hokey pokey
Still a children’s favourite due to its simple moves and instructive lyrics, the hokey pokey has been around for decades. It’s been through multiple iterations, but the first that resembles the one we listen to today was recorded in 1953 by Ray Anthony’s orchestra. It hit No. 13 on the charts.
1958: the hand jive
The hand jive dance had a re-emergence in popularity when the musical “Grease” was released in the ’70s as something of a love letter to the ’50s. There’s an entire sequence dedicated to the hand jive.
1960: the twist
Rock and roll icon Chubby Checker popularised the twist with his No. 1 song of the same name in 1960. The dance had another wave of popularity four years later with the popularity ofthe Beatles‘ hit cover of “Twist and Shout.”
1962: the limbo
The limbo had some dark origins – according to the New York Post, it originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the slave trade. It became a popular dance in America when, in 1962, Chubby Checker recorded his song “Limbo Rock.” His line “How low can you go?” is still associated with the limbo to this day.
1963: the Watusi
1964: the jerk
Not to be confused with the 2000s dance fad called “jerkin’,” the jerk was popular in the ’60s. Two different songs were released in 1964 about the jerk: “The Jerk,” by the Larks, and “Come on Do the Jerk,” by the Miracles.
1965: the loco-motion
The loco-motion comes from the 1962 song of the same name, “The Loco-Motion.” The song has charted three times in three decades. First, in 1962, sung by Little Eva, then again in 1974 sung by the Grand Funk Railroad, and lastly in 1988 sung by Kylie Minogue.
While the song was popular, it took a few years for the dance to catch on.
1966: the Batusi
The Batusi is named after the previously mentioned Watusi. The move first appeared in the series premiere of the ’60s “Batman” show, in January 1966. Much like everything else in the show, the Batusi is a bat-related pun.
1970: the funky chicken
The funky chicken is named after the song it originated from, “Do the Funky Chicken” by Rufus Thomas. The song was released in 1969 but hit its chart peak in early 1970. It spawned the “single goofiest dance craze of the 1970s.“
1975: the time warp
“The Time Warp” is a song and dance from the 1975 musical film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The film has gained a cult following in the years since its release, making the time warp just as relevant as ever.
It also doesn’t hurt that the lyrics explicitly state what to do, like “It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right.”
1977: the hustle
The hustle is a catch-all term for common disco moves, including the point John Travolta is so famous for, and other disco staples. The hustle style of dancing became extremely popular outside of New York City after the 1977 release of “Saturday Night Fever,” a movie all about disco.
1978: the YMCA
Has a dance ever been so simple? The YMCA is self-explanatory – the moves are right there in the name. The Village People’s song “Y.M.C.A.” was released in 1978 and ended up becoming their biggest hit.
1980: the worm
The worm is just one of a few popular breakdancing moves, but it’s definitely the most recognisable – and most attempted. Breakdancing had been popular in certain communities throughout the ’60s and ’70s but began rising in popularity once Michael Jackson adopted the style.
1981: the chicken dance
“I don’t wanna be a chicken, I don’t wanna be a duck” probably brings back memories of playing around with your friends at school or listening to it incessantly at children’s birthday parties. Though the song, or a version of the song, was written in the 1950s, the version we’ve come to know and love wasn’t solidified until 1981.
The song was played at a German-themed Oktoberfest celebration in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when it was still about ducks. However, the only costume lying around was a chicken suit, so the crowd learned the chicken dance, and the rest is history.
1983: the moonwalk
Michael Jackson, for most of the ’80s, originated a few dance crazes. The first was the moonwalk, which he did for the first time while performing his song “Billie Jean” in 1983.
Often imitated, never duplicated, the moonwalk gives the illusion that the dancer is somehow gliding backwards.
1984: the “Thriller” dance
And just one year later, Jackson was at it again with the choreography used in “Thriller.” Thankfully, these dance moves were a bit easier to perform than the moonwalk, and the dance lives on in pop culture today, from the dance scene in “13 Going On 30” to the re-creation of the song in an episode of “Glee.”
1986: “Walk Like an Egyptian” dance
This Egyptian dance comes from the music video for the Bangles’ 1986 song “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Reportedly, the songwriter was inspired when he watched people try to keep their balance on a particularly turbulent ferry ride. They splayed out their arms much like the Egyptians are depicted to be doing in ancient paintings.
1987: the cabbage patch
1988: the running man
The running man is self explanatory: it’s meant to look like the dancer is running in place. The running man was popular throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and while it didn’t reach its peak until Janet Jackson performed it in the music video for “Rhythm Nation” in 1989, clearly it had to be famous enough for it to be on her radar.
1989: the electric slide
The electric slide is performed to the song “The Electric Boogie,” which was first released in 1976. However, the 1989 cover by Marcia Griffiths is what propelled it back into the nation’s consciousness. Now, it’s a favourite at weddings and school dances for its simplicity.
1990: the Humpty dance
“The Humpty Dance” is a song by rap group Digital Underground. It was released in 1990, and introduced the world to Humpty Hump, a court jester-esque figure who only wanted to dance to his heart’s content.
The Humpty dance itself is performed by both Humpty and his back-up dancers during the music video, and is essentially just criss-crossing your feet then throwing your arm up in the air.
1991: the Hammer dance
MC Hammer, an iconic ’90s rapper, created the Hammer dance in the music video for his song “U Can’t Touch This” in 1991. All it takes to perform the Hammer dance is a pair of enormously baggy pants and the ability to move from side to side on your tiptoes.
1992: the Carlton dance
“The Carlton” refers to Alfonso Ribeiro ‘s character on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Carlton Banks. His trademark happy dance, usually set to Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” was first seen in a season two episode of the show in 1992.
1995: the Cotton Eye Joe
“Cotton Eyed Joe” was just an old folk song until 1994, when the band Rednex re-recorded it as a techno dance song and re-named it “Cotton Eye Joe.” It peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1995.
The dance has remained a school dance staple ever since.
The song “Macarena” is one of the best one-hit-wonders of all time, sung by the Spanish duo Los Del Rio. The song first came out in 1993, but an English remix of the song featuring the Bayside Boys boosted its popularity. It peaked at No. 1 in August 1996. The simple dance, only involving hands and arms, is featured in the music video.
The song and accompanying dance remain popular at weddings, sporting events, and any other giant event.
2000: the “Cha-Cha Slide”
“The Cha-Cha Slide” is another song that teaches dancers exactly how to do the accompanying dance. The lyrics are “Slide to the left, slide to the right, one hop this time,” and so on. And who among us doesn’t immediately say “everybody clap your hands” after someone else says “freeze?” The song was released in 2000 by Mr. C The Slide Man.
2001: the choreography from “Bye Bye Bye”
The iconic dance moves of NSYNC from their 2001 song “Bye Bye Bye” have lived on years after the band broke up. It’s no coincidence they performed the song and dance at their 2013 semi-reunion at the VMAs. The jumps and hand waves have come to be a shorthand for all boyband choreography.
2002: the “Ketchup” dance
Spanish girl group Las Ketchup had one big song, “The Ketchup Song,” which was released in 2002. The dance that went along with the nonsensical song immediately swept the nation, and Las Ketchup still performs the song with the same choreography to this day.
2004: the “Lean Back”
It’s all in the name. The “Lean Back” comes from the 2004 song of the same name by Terror Squad, Fat Joe, and Remy Ma. All you need to do is lean back when the chorus comes around.
2006: the “Chicken Noodle Soup” dance
“Chicken Noodle Soup” might have been one of the more random hits of 2006, but the dance was everywhere. During the chorus, dancers mimed rain falling down and then cleared it away, just like the lyrics said – “Let it rain, and clear it out” over and over again.
2007: the “Cupid Shuffle”
The “Cupid Shuffle” is the dance that goes along with the song of the same name by Cupid, released in 2007. The song helpfully tells dancers exactly what to do with lyrics like “To the right, to the right, to the right …”
It’s turned into a popular line dance at dances, parties, and sporting events.
2008: the “Single Ladies” dance
As Kanye West once famously (or infamously …) said, “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” The “Single Ladies” choreography was inescapable in 2008, with many people creating their own versions (like Joe Jonas). It was even spoofed on “SNL.”
Both the song and the dance will be a wedding staple for years to come.
Not to be confused with the ’60s-era dance move the jerk, jerking hit the mainstream with 2009 song “You’re a Jerk” by the New Boyz. Jerking looks particularly difficult – it involves spreading out your legs, bouncing back on your heels, and then popping back up again.
2010: the dougie
The dougie is an arms-based dance that became popular after the hit 2010 song “Teach Me How to Dougie” by the Cali Swag District.
2011: the Bernie
The Bernie is named for the movie “A Weekend at Bernie’s,” in which two characters dress up a dead guy and pretend he’s alive. The dance, essentially, looks like the dancer has suddenly dropped dead. The dance, also called “Movin’ Like Bernie,” became a meme in 2011.
2012: The “Gangnam Style” dance
At one point the most viewed video on YouTube, “Gangnam Style” is a song by Korean rapper Psy. Throughout the video, which has been viewed over three billion times, Psy does a variation on what looks like riding a pony. It spawned many parody videos and was one of the biggest songs and dances of 2012.
To be clear, twerking has been around much longer than 2013. It has its roots in the ’90s bounce music scene. But 2013 is when the dance move, for better or worse, hit the cultural zeitgeist. People around the country couldn’t stop talking about Miley Cyrus’s penchant for twerking, whether it was in the music video for “We Can’t Stop” or up against Robin Thicke at the VMAs.
2015: whip/nae nae
Dabbing can best be described as looking like you’re sneezing into your elbow – the correct way to sneeze – and then sticking your arms out. It’s more of a meme than a dance, but it was inescapable in 2016. Everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Ellen DeGeneres was part of the dabbing craze.
2017: the shoot
The shoot is hopping up and down on one foot while moving your arms back and forth at the same time. It went viral in 2017, when many professional athletes were celebrating by “hitting the shoot.”
Flossing is, once you get it, relatively easy. But finding the groove can be tough. Flossing went viral because of an internet meme in which Russell Horning, called the Backpack Kid, was flossing.
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