Donning poodle skirts with petticoats and saddle shoes, dancers in the 1950s swung out a variety of dances that went way beyond the “acceptable” waltzes and swing dances of the previous decades. Dances from the 1950s are largely immortalized because of the popular television show American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, that aired starting in the early 1950s. Though the program showcased many famous performers, it was just as widely known for creating dance fads.
One of the most popular dances of the 1950s was the Twist. This infamous dance inspired the song — first released by the Hank Ballard and the Midnighters but made famous by Chubby Checker in 1960 — of the same name, and it could regularly be seen on American Bandstand. Many of the most popular dances from the 1950s, such as the Jitterbug, the Cha-cha, and the Lindy Hop, were thought of as group dances rather than single couples’ dances. Perhaps of all the popular dances from this decade, single, couple, or group, the Stroll is the easiest to recognize.
The Stroll is a variation of line dancing. Groups of dancers stood in opposing lines facing one another, with a wide aisle between them. Though they all danced, it was the end dancers from each line who proceeded from the start of the line to the end right down the middle, showcasing any moves they might have. Thus, as the dance's name indicates, dancers would take turns strolling down the center lane. Revisiting the scene from the classic musical Grease, in which Rydell High School was invited to perform on American Bandstand, will reveal just how the Stroll was done.
Musical talents who lent their voice and style to the accompaniment of the popular dances from the 1950s included The Andrews Sisters, Eddie Fisher, and of course Elvis Presley, amongst others. The 1950s was a period of growth and rebellion amongst America’s youth, and many of the popular dances were an expression of that. By the time Elvis appeared on stage regularly swinging his hips, the seed that would grow into “dirty dancing” had been planted. Much to the chagrin of many parents, the music and dances from the 1950s spawned a new style and voice for American youth.