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Rock & Roll Rewind: Dance Crazes

c d kaplan is a rock & roll lifer. He’s got stories. Lots of stories. Here’s another.

When it comes to 50s and 60s dance crazes — a cultural phenomenon long ago far away — I have a singular personal if somewhat fuzzy memory.

At an Atherton High School sock hop — that’s what we used to call dance parties, kids— Jenni Lehman and I were doing the Twist.

Russell Garth, an old school principal if ever there was one, came up to us, wagging his finger, ordering us to cease and desist immediately. Actually, given my memory lapses, it might have been his right hand man, Mr. Tague, JMA’s Guidance Counselor, who neither guided nor counseled.

“We don’t dance like that at our school.”

So much for our act of “rebellion.”

What got me thinking about all those different dance trends in the formative years of rock & roll was hearing a couple of songs on the car radio the last week or so.

One, Major Lance’s “The Matador”, which I hadn’t heard in many decades. The Dollyrots’ version of “Turkey Trot.” Mack Rice’s “The Whip,” of which I have no remembrance.

It was an era when we danced. We didn’t sit in our seats. Or move and groove alone or alongside while facing the band.

It seemed like there was a new “craze” every few days, fueled by the latest dance tune, and what the teens were doing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and later in the 70s, Soul Train.

The Frug. Which for some reason I’ve never known was called The Big B in Louisville.

The Madison. Mashed Potato. The Pony. The Locomotion, recorded by Carol King’s and Jerry Goffin’s babysitter, Eva Boyd, Little Eva. The Watusi. The Swim. And oh so very many more.

One of the most memorable was the Alligator, or Gator. Because, well, because it was essentially going face down on the floor, writhing around and humping it. Suffice it to say, I never saw a girl do it. And, despite its notoriety, a guy only once at a dance at the Highland Post.

There was the Dog. Rufus Thomas milked the phenomena by following up the original tune with “Walking the Dog.” It too was a naughty dance. When I saw Thomas do it decades later at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas, it was X-rated. I’ll leave the description at that.

Then there was the tune about the crazes. Cannibal & The Headhunters “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

Oh what a simple fun time it was, he writes wistfully.

Observer of the Passing Scene: Pop Culture and Sports. Writer. Film Critic. Curmudgeon. Rock & Roll and Louisville Cardinal fan.

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