No one particularly likes to be brusquely told what to do, but for some reason, all anti-authority sentiment goes right out the window when you’re being ordered what to do with your body over a beat. Let’s hope the alt-right never get wise, and decide to reinvent themselves as a pop stars with their hot new single “Do The Pepe,” or whatever.
Anyway, since time immemorial (or, like, 1962) musicians have been commanding us, and, in the process, periodically unleashing new dance crazes on an unsuspecting world. Here are 11 of the most notable. Everybody do the list, now.
Kylie Minogue – “The Loco-motion” (1988)
Dance orders: “So come on, come on, do the Loco-motion with me / You gotta swing your hips, now”
“There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do / It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue.”
Well, don’t undersell it. Kylie Minogue wasn’t the first to extoll the virtues of this pretty straightforward chugga-chugga dance when she recorded her synthed-up version of “The Loco-motion”: the pop song was originally written in 1962 for R&B singer Dee Dee Sharp, who turned it down, paving the way for Little Eva to lay down the “sixth most-successful single of 1962,” according to Billboard.
Chubby Checker – “The Twist” (1960)
Dance orders: “Let’s do the twist / Take me by my little hand / And go like this”
One of the original dance commanders, Chubby Checker’s 1960 re-recording of a 1959 b-side from Hank Ballard and the Midnighters launched one of the very first fad dance crazes. Two years after its original release, Checker’s version had a second life as the Twist craze truly took hold in popular culture, becoming the first-ever track to reach #1 twice, on two separate chart runs. Keep in mind, this was before the era of nostalgia cash grabs. Checker would instigate another dance craze with his 1961 Twist followup, “Pony Time”, during which you’re supposed to act like you’re trying to control an epileptic horse. Possible PSY inspiration? You be the judge.
Madonna – “Vogue” (1990)
Dance orders: “Hey, hey, hey / Come on, vogue (vogue) / Let your body go with the flow (go with the flow)”
Madonna didn’t invent the idea of striking model-worthy poses on the dance floor—that honour goes to the1980s Harlem LGBTQ ballroom community—but she certainly popularized it to the mainstream with 1990’s “Vogue.” How’s that for a concise microcosm of how the mainstream at large relates to anything to do with gay culture: totally oblivious until it gets integrated into a song from the Dick Tracy soundtrack.
DJ Casper – “Cha Cha Slide” (2004)
Dance orders: “Take it back now y’all / One hop this time / Right foot lets stomp /Left foot lets stomp”
The apex of being told what to do in a dance track is “Cha Cha Slide.” Good news for the chronically rhythm-impaired: there isn’t a single moment in “Cha Cha Slide” that DJ Casper isn’t guiding your body into doing what he will with it, making the whole thing akin to an analog edition of Dance Dance Revolution. “Cha Cha Slide” reached #1 in the US in 2004, and was heavily informed by the Bop-derived dance form known as Chicago Steppin’. Take it back now, ya’ll.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – “The Time Warp” (1975)
Dance orders: “Let’s do the Time Warp again / Let’s do the Time Warp again.”
As far as ultra-successful, iconic dance songs go, “The Time Warp” is probably the only one that’s an express parody of fad dance songs, from a film adaptation of a stage musical about a haunted castle lorded over by a “Transylvanian transsexual.” Well, that, and “Achy Breaky Heart.” I’m pretty sure, anyway.
Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony – “The Hustle” (1975)
Dance orders: “DO THE HUSTLE!”
One of the most famous example of a dance predating the song it’s associated with, Van McCoy composed the flute-tastic “The Hustle” after his songwriting partner Charles Kipps watched patrons of a New York nightclub do a variation of the titular dance (Pre-McCoy, “The Hustle” referred to several different disco dances). The song became a number-one hit, which consolidated the myriad disco dances into the bumpin’ Saturday Night Fever archetype we know and despise love today.
GS Boyz – “Stanky Legg” (2009)
Dance orders: “Do the Stanky Legg! Do the Stanky Legg!”
Arlington, TX snap music practitioners (and dedicated cherlampeter haters) the GS Boyz (aka the G-Spot Boyz) had a string of regional hits before breaking with this ode to dislocated, smelly femurs. Though not from Dallas proper, The Boyz and the Stanky Legg were stylistically indebted to the regional Dallas dance & snap music movement called D-Town Boogie, just like:
Cali Swag District – “Teach Me How To Dougie” (2010)
Dance orders: “Put your arms out front, lean side to side /They gon’ be on you when they see you hit dat dougie right?”
Though most of the world were taught how to Dougie through Inglewood’s Cali Swag District’s 2010 one-off hit, the dance itself was first popularized by Dallas rapper Lil’ Will, with his 2007 regional hit “My Dougie.” It was the District, though, who are generally credited with introducing us all… which is strange, when you consider the flailing dance is named after Doug E. Fresh. Sadly, Swag District members M-Bone (Montae Talbert) and JayAre (Cahron Childs) are now deceased, with Childs succumbing to sickle cell anemia in 2014 and Talbert being shot by an unknown assailant in 2011. “He was the best at doing the dance, and on tour he was always the one in the forefront … He helped bring it to the masses,” said Cali Swag District spokesman Gregg Miller, of Talbert.
Baauer – “Harlem Shake” (2012)
Dance orders: “Do the Harlem Shake”
Lesson to all dance commanders: no matter how perfect that sample is, just record your own dance orders. Don’t end up with a smash viral hit but lose out on all those sweet royalties due to copyright infringement, like NYC DJ and producer Baauer did when he sampled both Philadelphia rap duo Plastic Little and Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Hector Delgado without their permission.
Silentó – “Whip/Nae Nae” (2015)
Dance orders: “Do the Stanky Legg, do the Stanky Legg”
Atlanta pop-rapper Silentó doesnt actually command the listener to either whip OR nae nae during the course of his hyper-successful 2015 breakout single, but he does order up the favoured dance move of both the GS Boyz and Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore.
Digital Underground – “The Humpty Dance”(1990)
Dance orders: “Do the Humpty Hump, come on and do the Humpty Hump”
Who knows what today’s hip-hop landscape would look like if Tupac had never gotten tired of backup dancing with a sick 90’s fade in Digital Underground and decided to go his own way? Anyway, along with featuring a young Shakur in the background of the music video,“The Humpty Dance” is also notable for being one of the most-sampled songs in hip-hop, making appearances in more than 50 other tracks.
Tony Matterhorn – “Dutty Wine” (2006)
Dance orders: “Bend your back and lift your head up / Turn side way, lift your leg up / Bend your face and twist it up / And turn true side like you know you fed up (Whoa)”
Over the years, many dancers have claimed to have invented the dutty wine (including Mad Michelle, but most dancehall historians point to Tony Matterhorn’s 2006 trip over the “Smash” riddem to illustrate the song that launched the Jamaican dance craze. Keep the doctor’s advice in mind the next time you hit the dancehall though: some MDs have claimed excessive wining might result in “serious muscle trauma, and ligament damage”.