The Twist: A Worldwide Dance Craze in the 1960s

Lobby card for Twist Around the Clock

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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 period of enslavement. 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 Twist" after seeing some people twisting their hips while dancing. "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 risqué band: Many of their songs featured explicit lyrics. It was going to take another singer, therefore, to take "The Twist" to No. 1 on the charts.

Chubby Checker's Twist

It was Dick Clark, famous for his show "American Bandstand," who thought 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 No. 1 on the charts and the dance swept around the world.

In 1962, Chubby Checker's version of "The Twist" again hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, becoming the second song ever to be No. 1 on two separate occasions (Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" was the first). In total, Checker's "The Twist" spent 25 weeks in the top 10.

How to Do the Twist

The Twist dance was easy to do, which helped fuel the craze. It was usually done with a partner, although no touching was involved.

Basically, it's a simple twisting of the hips. The movements are similar to those you would do if you were stamping 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.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Twist: A Worldwide Dance Craze in the 1960s." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2020, August 27). The Twist: A Worldwide Dance Craze in the 1960s. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Twist: A Worldwide Dance Craze in the 1960s." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).