Dancing in the 1960s
The 1960s was a fun and unique experience filled with exploration. Kennedy was going to send the US into space and on earth - we were exploring, too. It wasn’t my era but I have a deep affection for the dances of that time that are resurrected for every family reunion. My Aunt Susie loved The Madison. When she heard I was dancing swing she pointedly told me that that was the dance to do. Of course my mother had 9 brothers and sisters. My father had 5. They each had their dance. My Aunt Bessie loved The Dog. And although I had seen “Viva Las Vegas” with Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret as a child it wasn’t until I recently saw a clip that I realized they dedicated a whole song to The Dog.
So now I have an armload of 1960s dances that I use to enthuse swing dance numbers, stage choreography and sometimes exhibit just for fun.
But really there are no new dance steps. They keep reinventing themselves every 10 years or so based on the music. The Shimmy became The Shake. And Ann-Margret rocks it with pride in “What’d I Say.” And if you really look at it Ragtime Charleston lives on in more than at Gatsby parties. It’s The Mashed Potatoes. I direct a couple of dance groups, one of which is The Detroit Lindy Workshop. DLW tries to look at different social dances. I try to connect the dots between the eras. Seeing how they struggled with The Mashed Potatoes it may be more fun for me then for them. In the age of the internet and blatant sexuality and living, not for the city, they’ve lost the freedom of the 1960s.
Of course the dance most people associate with the 1960s is the Twist. Chubby Checker made it a hit twice (1960 & 1962) following it with a couple of knockoff songs. But let’s not forget Aunt Susie’s Madison. Overtime you hear a singer refer to the “big, strong line” like in the song “Dancing in the Streets.” They’re singing about The Madison.
The time was free and easy and gay until the devastation of assassination slapped it out of its reverie. It gave use the Bops, Whip, Swingout, Push, Carolina Shag and many other couples’ and solo dances. Can you do The Swim, The Frug, The Dog or other dance built on The Shake? Then there’s The Monkey, The Pony, The Mashed Potatoes, The Monster Mash…. The last time dancers felt they needed to be free was after World War I. They threw off the shackles of constraint declaring a cultural war on Victorian apparel along with social mores. (Accent on the ‘e’. I could say more about that but it’s off topic.) Sounds like the late 1960s.
Since so much came out of the 1960s I made a short documentary with some of the information I discovered. I have many short documentaries that I’ve made in the last few years. As for the 1960s go out and Bugaloo. Do The Jerk. Do the Watusi. (It wasn’t at all what I was expecting.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paulette Brockington is Artistic Director of Detroit’s A Company of Dancers. She is on the faculties of WCCCD and the Worship Arts Conservatory and a Master Teacher at Michigan State University. On the swing dance circuit she is a former World Fast Dance Champion, World Swing Dance Champion and Open Hustle Champion. She directs the American Lindy Hop Championships, coaches & teaches around the world. Visit her website, Artspectrum/A Company of Dancers