Popular Rock 'N' Roll Dance Styles of the 50s

Updated April 17, 2017

The 1950s was a time of transition in American culture, and this was especially true when it came to teenagers. By the beginning of the decade, big band jazz music and bland pop were the predominant forms of music. By the decade's end, rock 'n' roll was in full swing, which greatly influenced the dance styles of the era.

Teen Dance Fads

Rock 'n' roll was a very different style of music than the big band music that dominated the previous decade, and demanded a different style of dancing. Initially, white teenagers adapted the dances that were popular with swing music, adding variations and changing the names, with variations differing according to region. American culture during the 1950s was highly segregated by race; just as rock 'n' roll evolved from the African-American rhythm and blues music, white teenagers would attempt to imitate the dances being developed by African-American teens.

Swing and Mambo

One of the most prevalent form of rock 'n' roll dances was an updated form of Swing. The basic footwork was similar, in which couples separated and rejoined in a manner akin to a rubber band that was stretched and snapped back. Another common rock 'n' roll dance was the Mambo, a hybrid of Swing and the Rumba. Unlike swing, which typically followed a straight 4/4 beat, the Mambo began on the second beat. Although it was derived from Latin music, teenagers adapted the Mambo for rock 'n' roll music.

American Bandstand

Philadelphia TV host Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" became a key way for new dance moves to gain instant exposure and popularity. The show featured teens dancing to new records, and teenage viewers would copy the dances they saw on the show. When the show went national in 1957, regional dances gained exposure throughout the U.S. Among the dances popularised by "American Bandstand" were the Stroll, the Chalypso -- a rock 'n' roll version of the cha-cha -- the Madison line dance and the Hully-Gully.

The Twist

Although the Twist didn't become a national phenomenon until the early 1960s, it was first introduced in the late 1950s. Teenagers were already doing the dance as early as 1957, which can be seen in the 1957 film "Rock Baby --- Rock It." Dick Clark came across a 1958 B-side by Hank Ballard called "The Twist," an uptempo 12-bar blues number. Clark came up with the idea of combining the dance he'd seen teens do on his show with a new version of the song, recorded by a singer named Ernest Evans, who went by the stage name Chubby Checker. The Chubby Checker version, released in 1960, became a huge international hit, and the Twist became one of the biggest dance crazes of all time.

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