The Twist

A Worldwide Dance Craze in the 1960s

Chubby Checker and a friend doing the Twist dance.
Popular American singer Chubby Checker, who had an enormous hit with "The Twist" in 1960, which spawned the dance craze of the same name, tries twisting with a friend. (circa 1961). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Twist, a dance done by swiveling the hips, became a worldwide dance craze in the early 1960s. The Twist became extremely popular after Chubby Checker danced the Twist while singing the song of the same name on the Dick Clark Show on August 6, 1960.

Who Invented the Twist?

No one is quite sure who actually started swiveling their hips in this manner; some say it might have been part of an African dance brought to the United States during the slavery era.

No matter where it started, it was musician Hank Ballard who first made the dance popular.

Hank Ballard (1927-2003) was an R&B singer who was part of the group called the Midnighters. Ballard wrote and recorded the song, "The Twist," after seeing some people twisting their hips while dancing. The song, "The Twist," was first released on the B-side of Ballard's single "Teardrops on Your Letter" album in 1958.

However, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters had a reputation for being a risque band (many of their songs featured explicit lyrics), so it was going to take another singer to take "The Twist" to number one on the charts.

Chubby Checker's Twist

It was Dick Clark, famous for his show American Bandstand, who thought that a new singer could make the song and the dance even more popular. Thus, Clark contacted local Philadelphia recording label Cameo/Parkway in the hopes that they would record a new version of the song.

Cameo/Parkway found Chubby Checker. The youthful Chubby Checker created his own version of "The Twist," which was released in the summer of 1960.

On August 6, 1960, Chubby Checker sang and danced his version of "The Twist" on Dick Clark's Saturday night program, The Dick Clark Show. The song quickly hit number one on the charts and the dance swept around the world.

In 1962, Chubby Checker's version of "The Twist" again hit number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, becoming the second song to ever be number one on two separate occasions (Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" was the first). In total, Checker's "The Twist" spent 25 weeks in the top ten.

How to Do the Twist

The Twist dance was easy to do, which helped make it so popular. It was usually done with a partner, although no touching was involved.

Basically it's a simple twisting of the hips. Some describe it as if you are pretending to stamp out a fallen cigarette or drying your back with a towel.

The dance was so popular that it inspired additional new dances such as the Mashed Potato, the Swim, and the Funky Chicken.