The Twist dance fad: Almost everyone was doing it, from Chubby Checker to Ann-Margret – but some wanted it banned

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Chubby Checker does The Twist dance
In the ’60s, it seems like a new dance craze sparked up each week — the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Funky Chicken, and so on. The one that started it all, however, was the Twist.

Originally recorded by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters in 1959, the eponymous song was only a minor hit in 1960 at first, quietly climbing its way up to #28 on the Billboard Hot 100. That all changed when a little-known singer, originally born Ernest Evans, re-recorded it, and released it later that summer.

More popularly known as Chubby Checker, the man’s cover of “The Twist” shot to the top of the charts on September 19, 1960 — then enjoying a second reign on top on January 13, 1962 as the Twist craze belatedly spread to the adults of the country, thanks to celebrity influence.

Below you can see Chubby Checker on American Bandstand, performing the song that shot him to fame, and started a bumper crop of dance crazes across the world. We also found more than a dozen Twist copycat songs recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Alvin & The Chipmunks.

Finally, there was a big question in 1962: Is The Twist immoral? Religious leaders and a psychologist all weighed in on the topic back in 1962 — and the actress Ann-Margret and actor Peter Mann demonstrated the dance.

Chubby Checker does the Twist (1960)


Let’s do The Twist: Chubby Checker (video from American Bandstand)


N.Y. becomes Twistin’ Town U.S.A. as dance fad grows

Billboard, Nov 13, 1961

New York – This city has turned into a twistin’ town. The latest dance fad has become such an excitement factor that clubs, hotels and even dime-a-dance palaces are featuring the twist.

In line with the trend, The Roundtable, swank boite on the town’s East Side, is going twistin’ all the way. After Belle Barth’s engagement ends next week, the club is switching to an all-twist policy… Club has been running Sunday afternoon twist sessions for the past few weeks and claims they have been most successful.

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As an indication of the intensity of the twist publicity in New York, the venerable Honeymoon Lane, one of Broadway’s better-known dime-a-dance halls, now has a sign on the outside of the entrance explaining that you can do the twist there every night. The group that plays the music is called the Twisters.

Revival Time Twist records appear to be doing rather well during the twist revival. Chubby Checker’s release, which was issued last week, jumped way up into the No. 55 slot on BMW’s “Hot 100” chart this week. And records by Joey Dee, the Royal-Tones and Danny Peppermint are getting sales in various parts of the country. There are few companies now who do not have twist albums on the market — many by society bands.

The original Twist dance fad 1961

There are music veterans who think that the twist craze is merely a short-lived fad. Buddy Deane, for one, of station WJZ in Baltimore, claims that “the twist is about as up-to-date as the Charleston.” He claims the dance has all but faded from the Baltimore teen scene.

But last Wednesday in Dempsey’s restaurant in New York, where many music men gather, one lively promotion man was seen demonstrating the twist next to the crowded luncheon tables, and explaining how it was nothing more than the Lindy Hop of years ago.

The twist will also be featured in a movie now going into production called “It’s Trad Dad,” which will feature a flock of traditional jazz musicians and rock and roll acts, including Chubby Checker, U. S. Bonds, Del Shannon and the Dukes of Dixieland, as well as English artists Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Helen Shapiro.

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What celebrities thought about the Twist (1962)

By Lloyd Shearer, Parade – February 18, 1962

WE’VE KNOWN DANCE FADS in this country before. They come along every few years — the Charleston, the Big Apple, the Black Bottom, the Jitterbug, the Conga, the Cha-Cha — but to date, there’s never been one as controversial as the Twist.

Teenagers for whom it was intended two years ago by Ernest Evans, an 18-year-old Negro boy now re-named Chubby Checker, declare the dance “great fun… good exercise… real tough… best way to have a ball.”

Ministers, city councilmen, school teachers denounce it as “too sexy …too abandoned … an uninhibited gyration designed to bring out the worst in people …an improper dance.”

Even the American Medical Association has gotten in on the act with a statement that the dance is bad medicine for anyone over 40. According to the AMA, the Twist “ranks along with the hula hoop as a potential source of dislocated joints, slipped discs, sacroiliac damage or muscle sprains.”

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What do you think of the Twist? Are you for or against it, or couldn’t you care less?

An informal PARADE survey reveals that age and self-interest color most opinions. Teenagers and young adults, who constitute the largest segment of the dancing public, are vehemently in favor of it. Middle-agers can take it or leave it. Oldsters view it objectively as a passing fancy of no importance. Self-appointed guardians of the public morals are the Twist’s most bitter denunciators. Here are some representative opinions:

What celebrities thought about the Twist (1962)

Fabian, 17-year-old screen star and singer who appears on today’s cover, twisting with actress Joan Freeman: “The Twist was real cat until the grownups got hold of it. They’re the ones who loused it up. They should’ve left it alone. When kids twist and turn, people think nothing of it. When grownups shake their hips, the Twist becomes sexy, and the churches ban it, the schools ban it, even whole countries ban it.”

Joan Freeman, star of TV series Bus Stop: “The Twist is good, clean fun, and actually rather old-fashioned. I was doing it two years ago, and so were most of the other kids. It was definitely “passé until it was started up again at the Peppermint Lounge in New York.”

Gene Kelly, screen star: “I think the Twist is fine. It makes those who don’t know how to dance think they do. And for those who know how to dance, it provides an opportunity to show off. For me personally, I prefer to dance with a girl in my arms.”

Dick Powell, actor and TV producer: “Being slightly past 40 I’ve never tried to do the Twist, but I never tried the hula hoop either. I’ll bet this fad doesn’t last any longer than that one did.”

Boris Karloff: “Insofar as the Twist is concerned, my mind is completely virgin. I haven’t seen it and I don’t intend to try it.”

Richard Chamberlain, TV’s Dr. Kildare: “It proves that America is coming alive below the waist.” Jack Benny: “It’s silly enough to appeal to me. In fact, it’s so silly I’m going to dance it on one of my shows.”

Jim Amass: “As the marshal of Dodge City, I wouldn’t allow the Twist inside the town limits. But personally, I think it’s fun to watch other people doing it.”

Colonel Tom Parker, manager of Elvis Presley: “Five years ago when my boy Elvis was wigglin’ his hips, they called him immoral. Plain truth is that Elvis was just ahead of his time.”

Danny Thomas: “Let’s face it; the Twist is as good an exercise as anything I know.”

Conway Twitty - Chubby Checker and Dick Clark doing the Twist dance 1961

Ed Sullivan (who introduced Chubby Checker and the Twist to night-time TV): “Anything that stirs up interest for show business is a wonderful thing. The Twist has added electricity, given show business a shot in the arm. Throughout the country, a lot of nightclubs that were darn near out of business have been revived by the Twist. It’s put a lot of performers and bands and waiters and actors to work and has brought a new clement of excitement into TV. And since a lot of sacroiliacs have been thrown out of place, it’s proved a boon to doctors. Everyone’s gained.”

Jimmy Stewart: “I think it’s fun. If they want to twist — let ’em.”

Maureen O’Hara: “If I dance with a man, I want him to take me in his arms, not stand four feet away and dance by himself. It’s ruining the cheek-to-cheek contact.”

Barry Sullivan: “When Elvis was doing this on TV it was considered a misdemeanor and the censors blocked out the lower half of his anatomy. Now it’s become the rage with kids and socialites from Newport to Nagasaki. Personally I can’t find anything very exciting about a dance in which there’s no bodily contact. Of course, it does have one constructive purpose. It’s a great was to crush out a cigarette.”

Mitch Miller: “The Twist is as important and as lasting as hula hoops without the hoops.”

Ginger Rogers: “It’s an abomination—not a dance. It’s ungraceful, vulgar, and exhibitionism personified. I think it’s terrible.”

How to do The Twist

The major attraction of the Twist is its simplicity. Anyone with working hips can do it. The basic position is a prize-fighter’s stance with one leg placed forward, knees bent, and arms slightly extended in front.

As the music begins, the dancer swivels his hips from side to side, the arms moving in opposite directions. The only thing the feet do is twist from side to side as if they were extinguishing a cigarette. There is no bodily contact between male and female, who stand two to three feet apart from each other.


Look who’s doing The Twist!

Some of the artists on the bandwagon: Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, Duane Eddy, polka star Lil Wally, The McGuire Sisters, Alvin & The Chipmunks, and, of course, Chubby Checker.

Click on any image in the gallery below to see larger versions of them all!


They’re twistin’ around the world

The Twist craze is taking on global aspect, They’re Twistin’ in Europe, too, these days, and Thom McAn Shoes is currently mapping out a merchandising tie-up with Chubby Checker on a Twister shoe which reportedly will be conducted on a world-wide basis.

At the same time, three motion pictures with Twist themes are going into production shortly. They include Paramount’s “Hey Let’s Twist,” starring Joey Dee and the Starliters, Columbia’s “Twist Around the Clock” with Dion, and “It’s Trad, Dad,” a British-American film which will mark the movie debut of Chubby Checker. Checker, who starts a European tour next month, will film the picture in London. It will also feature Gary (U.S.) Bonds, Del Shannon and the Dukes of Dixieland, along with British wax stars Helen Shapiro, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk.

Meanwhile, Dee and his Starliters have taken a week’s leave of absence from the Peppermint Lounge here to go out on the road and plug their new Roulette “Twist” single and album. They are appearing on Dick Clark’s ABC-TV show, and with Buddy Deane, WJZ-TV, Baltimore, and will also visit Cleveland.

Checker has solved his personal appearance problems, with film segments which are being made available to TV stations across the country. Station WOR-TV here is scheduling a series of nine one-minute Twist lessons by Checker, plus special five-minute “Twist” film programs daily this week. The one-minute instruction spots were specially taped by Checker for WOR.

Clay Cole is also featuring Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” album and his three singles are getting strong action on the charts. So are other Twist disks. Bud Katzel, Roulette’s sales chief, reports that Joey Dee’s album “Doin’ the Twist at the Peppermint Lounge” is shaping as the biggest LP in the label’s history.

Meanwhile, there are 45 different recorded versions of the Twist on the market in France. Two English artists were No. 2 on BMW’s “Hits of the World” chart for France last week with “Let’s Twist Again.” They were Johnny Halliday and Richard Anthony. – Billboard, November 20, 1961


Ann-Margret and Peter Mann doing The Twist dance (1962)

Ann-Margret and Peter Mann doing The Twist dance in 1962


A minister, priest and rabbi discuss: Is The Twist immoral?

By Helen Martin, TV Radio Mirror – June 1962

The Twist: It’s the hottest new dance in years — but it is too hot?

A MINISTER SPEAKS OUT

Rev. John Van Zanten of the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, New York, says: “The Twist is a very athletic dance that provides exercise for energetic young people. A couple of hours of the Twist ought to exhaust them sufficiently so they can go to sleep easily. Therefore, the Twist may well be a factor in the harmless discharge of excessive energy.

“The Twist is certainly not as provocative as the old-time cheek-to-cheek walk-around the-dance-floor that was once called dancing. “We have a Teen Age Canteen in our church, and I’ve seen our teenagers do the Twist. It seems to be a form of Danish gymnastics. They hop around and jump and twist. I see nothing offensive about the way they do it.

“Perhaps a forty-year-old person may do the Twist offensively, but not the teenagers I know. The more athletic the dance, the better for young people and the more dangerous for older people.

“I think that the quality of a dance is in the intention behind it. If the dance is a primitive fertility rite by Indians, then it would probably end up in a brawl. But if the dance is to express exuberant spirits and to enjoy life, then it’s fine. It’s a creative force. It’s a harmless way of letting off steam.

“After all, even eating — if you’re a glutton — can be a mess. It’s a matter of degree, of good taste, of sweet reasonableness. Unwholesome youngsters doing the Twist can make the dance unwholesome. But dancing for the sake of a good time will be wholesome. It’s not the dance, but the people who dance.

“Motivation is important. Why are they dancing? If they are dancing for fun, then they will have fun. If they are dancing for a bacchanal debauch, then they will achieve that. It’s like the theater; it can uplift or downgrade you.

“If the music for the Twist does not burst your eardrums, then it probably will not do any damage. If we adults oppose the Twist, then we make it more attractive to some youngsters. They go for anything that’s banned. So I’d say, leave it alone.”

Ann-Margret and Peter Mann dancing The Twist in 1962

A RABBI SPEAKS OUT

Rabbi David Wolf Silverman of the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale (New York), says: “There are more important things to worry about than the Twist. But I am told that this new dance has been banned by clergy in other cities; so now the Twist has become a religious issue.

“I’d rather ban the H bomb than the Twist. I don’t think of the Twist as anything more than the current dance fad. Each generation has its dance fads, and if we ban the Twist then we should have banned the jitterbug and rock ‘n roll, and all the other dances-of-the-moment. These dances are merely ephemera that are cast upon the social scene through the years.

“We lower ourselves when we preoccupy ourselves with evaluating and banning the Twist. The best energies of religion should be devoted to considerations of national morality, of how our children will carry over attitudes of rectitude into their adult lives, and how we can work for a peaceful world.

“Now I don’t think the Twist is particularly graceful. It is at best awkward, and at its worst repulsive. If I thought dancing the Twist was stimulating immorality, then I might have second thoughts on the subject. The relationship between dancing and sexual immorality is quite ambiguous. But I haven’t seen any evidence that dancers of the Twist were working up their passions. The dance seems to leave its practitioners physically exhausted.

“Certainly the Twist offends me; but it offends my esthetic sense rather than outrages my moral concern.

“I think we will survive the Twist. In time, it will pass on to the limbo of forgotten dances like the Black Bottom and the Shimmy and the Conga. While the Twist is with us, I don’t think it will corrupt those who dance it. It may sprain a few backs and make most people look ridiculous; but that’s all.”

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THE CATHOLIC VIEW

Although the Catholic Church has not taken a position on the Twist nationally, some bishops and priests have come out in opposition.

In Buffalo, New York, an aide of the Most Rev. Joseph A. Burke, bishop of the diocese, issued a memorandum to the eight counties covered by the diocese — banning the Twist — on January 27th. The dance was banned in Catholic schools, parishes and Catholic organizations “for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the development in pupils of a proper sense of decorum and good taste.”

In Boston, Auxiliary Bishop T. J. Riley declared, in January, that some modern dances “seem to have been invented entirely for the purpose of arousing sexual excitement, and to have little or no value as media for helpful physical exercise or legitimate artistic expression.”

Writing in The Pilot, official newsweekly of the Boston Archdiocese, Bishop Riley made no direct reference to the Twist but, according to a report in The Tablet Catholic newspaper in Brooklyn, “his commentary could be interpreted as a condemnation of the bizarre form involving gyrations of the body.”

The bishop stressed that dancing “in itself” is not morally wrong, but that it might involve “moral dangers.”

He noted that dancing as a form of physical exercise or artistic expression “must respect the limitations of moral law, particularly those imposed by the virtues of temperance and chastity.” For young people especially, the bishop indicated, the serious problems relating to dancing arise from the occasion it affords for exciting sexual interests. This general principle, he observed, is applicable to “certain forms of dancing, especially those of recent origin.”

In Barre, Vermont, the director of Marion High School (Catholic) banned the Twist as “dishonest and dirty.”

In New York, a spokesman for the archdiocese said the church prefers not to take a position on the Twist. “There are times when the best public relations is to say nothing,” he commented. “Anyway, in six months, the Twist will be gone.”

Officials of the Catholic Youth Organization, which sponsors many teen church dances, refused to be quoted. One official pointed out, however, that “they dance the Twist at church dances, and some have Twist contests.”

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A PSYCHIATRIST SPEAKS OUT

A New York leader in this field says, “There’s nothing sick or immoral about the Twist. In fact, to do the Twist, you’ve got to be quite healthy; it requires considerable physical stamina.

“It is danced by people who are exuberant, physically and emotionally. It suggests a certain joy of life — yes, even a lust for life. Since the bodies do not touch during the dance, it’s less sexually exciting than those slow cheek-to-cheek, body-to-body ‘foxtrots’ popular years ago.

“Those denouncing it are usually older people, and they are continuing the tradition of age suspecting all manifestations of animal spirits in the Young. Those who are ashamed of their own physical desires are usually quick to attack those who enjoy sensuality.

“These are uncertain times when young people wonder when and if the H-bomb will drop on them, and when they hate to face the future. The only thing they are sure of is the present, and they ought to have a right to have as much innocent fun as they can.”

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