A sock hop is a dance, often held for teens, that first became popular in the 1950s, when the term was coined. Since dances were often held in school gymnasiums, dancers would often kick of their shoes and dance in their socks or stockings to avoid marking up gym floors and to get better slide in dances like the Twist, the Mashed Potato, and others. Dances held might simply be referred to as sock hops, since the practice was so common.
Several 1950s songs mention this type of dance. Little Richard’s tune Ready Teddy talks about the “sock hop ball,” for example. The most specific reference is the very popular 1958 Danny and the Juniors song At the Hop, describing the regular sock hop scene. Many movies depict these dances as well, most particularly the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti.
What differentiates a sock hop from other dances for teens is that they are informal. They are different from homecoming dances or proms because they’re less dressy and more common events. Dancers didn’t necessarily attend with a partner, unless they were dating someone, and instead they showed up to dance to either live or recorded music. The dance didn’t even have to be held in evening hours, but could instead be held as an afternoon, early evening, or after school event.
American Graffiti depicts such a dance in 1962, but as the '60s closed, the practice became much less common. By the 1970s, they were replaced by “dances,” still relatively informal events, but ones where dancers kept their shoes on. Dance styles changed to reflect much different music. First in the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of the psychedelic rock or standard rock of the time were popular choices, and then later the disco music of the mid 1970s to early 1980s reintroduced the partner dance for many tunes, and often required women to dance in heels.
The sock hop didn’t completely die, however, and the tradition of having informal dances especially for younger kids in grade school or middle school was once again embraced in the 1990s. Many school administrators and parents hoped to discourage kids from viewing dances as “romantic” events, but they still wanted to let kids enjoy dancing to music.
Music played at a modern sock hop can range from anything modern to anything dating well back to the 1950s, and kids are encouraged not to bring dates, but to come alone. Some elementary schools even hold family-oriented dances. This strips them of any romantic or sexual elements because kids attend with their families and there are chaperones in every direction. While some kids might complain about excessive adult supervision, it does give children an opportunity to giggle at their parents, who frequently love to participate in these dances just as much as their kids do.