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.