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9 Novelty Dances You Probably Never Heard Of

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were all being educated on The Dougie, and it seemed that as soon as that class ended, we were catching up with all of our pop culture heroes and their versions of the “Harlem Shake.” Even more quickly came the inevitable embarrassment of ever getting caught up in such an obviously ephemeral thing in the first place, multiplied one million times over if a version of yours was plastered on the unforgivingly permanent internet.

Novelty dance crazes have been around for over a century, and while they aren't lighting up music halls anymore, they certainly haven't been completely forgotten.

1. THE GRIZZLY BEAR

Said by some to be introduced in Chicago in 1909 by John Jarrott and Louise Gruenning, "The Grizzly Bear" began a trend of dances named after animals. This trendsetting dance did its best to document an entire grizzly/human encounter. Participants would take a very heavy lateral step while bending the upper part of the body from side-to-side with their hands in front of their chest. They'd then literally yell out, “It’s a Bear!”

Broadway audiences first saw the dance in 1910’s Over the River during the song “Everybody’s Doin’ It Now.” To capitalize on the trend, music publisher Ted Snyder hired his staff lyricist Irving Berlin to write lyrics to George Botsford’s “The Grizzly Bear Rag” piano solo, resulting in “The Dance Of The Grizzly Bear,” which in itself expanded its popularity.

In 1912, newspaper reports claimed that New York put the dance under a “social ban.” Allegedly, one of the reasons why former President Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural ball was cancelled in 1913 was because of his disapproval of The Grizzly Bear, The Turkey Trot, and The Bunny Hug. The official reason given was that Wilson felt the ball was “too expensive and unnecessary for the solemn occasion.”

More recently, Downton Abbey had Thomas and Daisy perform it in its second episode, but there were plenty of dissenters like Mrs. Patmore. 

2. THE TURKEY TROT

Jarrott and Gruenning were also responsible for The Turkey Trot, although references to a Turkey Trot dance go back as far as 1895 in the song "Pas Ma La.” The Trot was essentially a face-to-face dance with some innocent swaying, “pumping or flapping” and, most scandalously, tight holding of the waist, known in the late '00s-early '10s as “hugging.”

It was an excuse for “lingering close contact,” which was credited as a reason for the dance’s popularity. That was also the driving force behind some of the more unbelievable claims of punishment doled out to those who performed it. Fifteen women were fired from an unnamed magazine for performing the dance during their lunch break. A New Jersey court allegedly imposed a 50-day prison sentence on young women for doing the Turkey Trot. Sylvia Dannett and Frank Rachel’s book Down Memory Lane: The Arthur Murray Picture Book of Dancing also claimed that the Vatican issued an “official disapproval.”

3. THE PEABODY

The Peabody, named after William Frank Peabody, was a popular dance in the 1930s and '40s. People cannot seem to agree on William Frank Peabody’s occupation: he was either an early 20th century New York police lieutenant or a New York City fireman. What everybody does agree on is that he was fat.

Peabody’s corpulence is relevant because the foxtrot-type ballroom dance had the woman stand to the right of the man and not directly in front of him so people like Lt. Peabody (or Jackie Gleason) could be free to dance without disturbing his partner’s movements.

4. THE STROLL

After successfully inventing The Bunny Hop, regulars on American Bandstand tried to create dances for every single song, which is how The Stroll came about. The dance is slow, simple, and network television friendly—boys on one side, girls on the other, and one boy and one girl meet in the middle and shuffle.

The Stroll was invented as a dance to Chuck Willis’ song “C.C. Rider,” giving Willis the moniker “King of the Stroll.” In 1957, Dick Clark advised the group The Diamonds to keep the fad going by creating a song about the dance itself, resulting in “The Stroll,” which hit number one on the Cashbox charts.

5. THE FREDDIE

Freddie Garrity and his band The Dreamers were the court jesters of early British pop in the 1960s. They hit the top ten in the United Kingdom in 1963 with “You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” and promoted the single on American television with lead singer Freddie doing his silly dances. Asked by a host what the dance was called, Garrity was supposedly caught off guard before saying it was called “The Freddie.”

Despite Chubby Checker recording his own version of the song “Let’s Do the Freddie,” the dance didn’t catch on, and “Do the Freddie” peaked at #18 in 1965. A different generation may only be familiar with the song and the dance from a scene with Shelley Long in the eighties cult classic Troop Beverly Hills.

6. THE OSTRICH

Tasked with coming up with a new song for the Pickwick music label in 1964, staff songwriter Lou Reed wrote “The Ostrich.” The song was played with Reed-invented “Ostrich Tuning” (where every guitar string was tuned to the same note) and the dance moves sounded difficult (“Hey, put your head, oh, upside your knees/now, do the ostrich, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/Yeah, you take a step forward, you step on your head").

7. THE FLY

Chubby Checker was a millionaire by the age of 22, thanks to a string of successful singles that bridged the dance music gap between teenagers and adults. Everybody remembers “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again,” but some of Checker’s work during his most popular years isn't remembered now, like “The Fly,” which peaked as high as #7 on the charts in the U.S.

8. THE PONY

“Pony Time” was actually Chubby Checker’s second #1 single, but it never matched the ubiquitous popularity of “The Twist.” Outside of Cindy Wilson of The B-52’s performing The Pony in both the 1980 music video and Saturday Night Live performance of “Give Me Back My Man,” the dance faded away with the '60s.

In a Rolling Stone interview conducted two months ago, Chubby Checker said, “The Robot is just the Pony.” In regards to breakdancing, Checker said, "That's the Pony, too. You can get so much out of [music] once they slowed it down. The Robot came from it, breakdancing came from it, the spinning dancing on the street. All that is part of the Pony."

9. THE HULLY GULLY

A fun conspiracy theory about The Hully Gully claims that it was promoted to slow down the popularity of the uninhibited Twist. The Hully Gully wouldn’t stop The Twist from its destiny, but it did get the thumbs up from the very popular Ed Sullivan.

The dance was started by Frank Rocco in Miami Beach in either 1959 or 1960, and it's believed to be the first line dance to turn one quarter before repeating the steps while facing a different wall. Disco dance The Hot Chocolate was a simplified version of The Hully Gully, and “The Electric Slide” is virtually identical to “The Hot Chocolate,” which means you have been forced to do a version of The Hully Gully by an inebriated relative at a wedding.

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politics
New York City Will Now Allow You to Dance Without a License
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In New York City, there’s a tricky law on the books that requires any business serving food or drinks to acquire what’s known as a Cabaret License in order to allow customers to dance. The mandate stems from a 1926 policy introduced by then-mayor Jimmy Walker to help curb what some residents believed to be “altogether too much running wild” in the Jazz Age clubs of the era. (It's also possible that the law was meant to prevent interracial coupling.) City officials have regularly enforced the law during the proceeding century, with some clubs even cutting off music—or switching to country—when inspectors arrived unannounced.

Now, it appears the outdated restriction has come to an end. According to The New York Times, Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal has introduced a bill expected to pass Tuesday that will forever end any and all comparisons to the 1984 Kevin Bacon film Footloose. The repeal comes on the heels of concerns that the prohibition pushes people into attending "underground" dance clubs that exceed (or ignore) fire department capacity limits.

While Espinal is convinced he has the necessary votes to move forward, several proprietors have attempted to challenge the law over the years. In 2014, bar owner and attorney Andrew Muchmore filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming that the restriction was outdated and obtaining the license was a laborious process. To approve an application, the city’s Department of Consumer affairs has to verify a venue has security cameras and owners have to attend regular board conferences. The cost of the license can range from $300 to $1000, depending on the area’s capacity and, for some unfathomable reason, whether it’s an even or odd year.

Espinal's efforts and anticipated success getting rid of the Cabaret Law will cap 91 years of illicit dancing within the city limits. Just don't get too cozy with your partner: thanks to another antiquated regulation, you can still be fined $25 for flirting.

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Animals
Move Over, Goat Yoga: Alpaca Dance Classes Have Arrived
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A surprising number of people want to exercise alongside farm animals. Multiple farms across the U.S. offer yoga with goats, a livestock twist on the trend of doing yoga with cats. And in Canada, you can now learn to dance with alpacas, according to Travel + Leisure.

Anola, Manitoba's 313 Farms launched its all-ages AlpacaZone Dance and Fitness classes this summer, offering hip-hop, barre, pilates, and cardio classes for six weekends.

Sadly, the alpacas aren’t teaching the dances. But the classes do take place outdoors among the merry camelids, who are free to wander into your choreography at any time. Taking a water break during class is so passé; better to take an alpaca-petting break. After class, you get a meet-and-greet with the animals, giving you even more time to pal around. (Take note: One of the alpacas reportedly loves kisses.)

Two adults and several children dance in the midst of an alpaca pasture.
Courtesy 313 Farms

313 Farms owner Ann Patman told Travel + Leisure that she was inspired to start the alpaca dance program when a nearby farm started offering a popular goat yoga series. Patman, a Detroit native who named her farm after her hometown’s area code, had previously worked at a dance studio.

The registration for classes like the hip-hop focused “Poppin’ Pacas” and “Barn Barre” costs a low $10 pre-sale, or $15 the day of. The AlpacaZone classes end on August 19, but the owners may offer more because of high demand. Sounds like it's time for a little alpaca-exercise-induced road trip to rural Canada.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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