1950s-style dances are a true reflection of the evolution, innovation, and fun that characterized the era. With steps that evolved from swing, like the jitterbug and the bop, and moves that anyone could do, like the bunny hop and the stroll, the '50s dancing style is here to stay. Whether you are ready to rock to some oldies but goodies or are heading out to the nearest rockabilly joint, here are some styles you might want to try.
The Boogie Woogie
As a dance style, Boogie Woogie encompassed any kind of swing dancing done fast and was also called "Jump Swing." The Boogie Woogie was usually danced to blues and Boogie Woogie music with fast tempos. This type of fast dancing included jumps, hops, stomping, and even flying feet, all done at considerable speed.
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and other popular singers of the time developed their version of Rockabilly by combining Blues and Boogie Woogie. In Europe, people still dance the Boogie Woogie, although it has become close to Jive and includes elements of both East Coast and West Coast Swing.
The Bop dance style derivates from the Jitterbug and East Coast Swing in the 1950s. The 'Bop' term actually comes from Be-Bop, those fabulous jazzy tunes from the '40s; however, it was not danced to Be-bop but to much faster swing, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll songs of the era like those of Bud Powell, Fats Waller, and Gene Vincent.
The Bop used many of the same moves as swing, including partners moving around each other, but was usually done with almost no touching and much, much faster. The Bop's more carefree, Charleston jumpy-like moves and independent dance style also encouraged dancers to go solo. English dance clubs were, and still are, filled with people doing the "Bop."
The Bunny Hop
The Bunny Hop became a classic party dance in the early 1950s. Originally, it was danced to the Bunny Hop by Ray Anthony, which came out in 1952 and include all the instructions for what to do. To do the Bunny Hop, all you need is energy to hop away and preferably some people to form a conga line with.
Near the end of the '50s, American Bandstand came up with a name for the simplified Cha-Cha steps the teens were dancing to swing rhythms: the Chalypso. However, this dance style actually got its name from the string of Caribbean-inspired hits that took over the US by end of the decade. In 1956, Harry Belafonte released his Grammy-award-winning album, Calypso, and with the album's success came many more Calypso releases.
While Calypso songs were generally danced to with a mix of Rumba and Samba steps. Somewhere down the line, it got watered down and reinterpreted as simplified cha-cha by the youth. This fun and easy dance style was ideal for dancing to mid-tempo swing songs - not too fast, not too slow.
The term "jitterbug" was originated in the early '30s, and eventually, it came to be use as an umbrella term to refer to swing in general. Movies like "Rock Around The Clock," "Rock, Rock, Rock," and the "Girl Can't Help It" include Jitterbug dancing in them. By the late 1950s, youth began calling fast dancing by the name. It's easy to learn to do the Jitterbug.
The Jive, like the Jitterbug, is a variation of swing dancing. Its origin is American, it has strong Latin and African American influences, and it is known for being fast and fun. The Jive is now one of the official Latin American dance forms in the competition arena, and it is danced the world over in rockabilly joints. More on the history of Jive dancing and detailed instructions here.
The Madison Line Dance
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Madison line dance gained great popularity. A simple-to-follow dance line and steps that were called for the dancers made it a huge success. The Madison craze spawned several recordings of songs specifically made for the dance with Al Brown's "The Madison" and Ray Bryant's "Madison Time" competing neck in neck on Billboard's Top 40. It was so popular that in 1988 the movie Hairspray featured the dance, and it has become one of those recurring features in movies and series depicting 1950s popular dances.
To do the Madison, the dancers stand in a dance line and follow the moves called by the song. It's easy and fun!
The Rock 'n' Roll
Rock'n'Roll dancing is actually swing dancing. East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Jive and Jitterbug, all came to be known as some type of Rock'n'Roll dancing, mostly thanks to the movie industry and the general media. So in reality, the music was Rock'n'Roll, and various forms of swing were used to dance to it.
Some famous Rock'n'Roll songs include "Be Bob a Lula" by Gene Vincent, "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley, "Johnny Be Goode" by Chuck Berry, and "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. Some of the movies that helped cement swing as Rock'n'Roll include "Rockin' the Blues," "Don't Knock the Rock," "Rock, Rock, Rock!," "Jailhouse Rock," "The Girl Can't Help It," "Untamed Youth," and "Carnival Rock." Here's a taste of swing passing off as Rock'n'Roll:
The Stroll was a staple at most dance halls in the 1950s. This stress-free line dance was fun and easy back then, and dancing the Stroll is just as easy today. It's a great way to show off your best dance moves.