Today In Pop Culture: Putting The Screws To The Twist

Published on January 26th, 2016 in: Dancing Ourselves Into The Tomb, Music, Today In Pop Culture |

By Jeffery X Martin


There may not be any expression of emotion purer than the act of dance. Whether it is a formal kind of dance, like ballet, or a child dancing awkwardly in circles for no reason than being alive, the act of dancing wells up from inside and explodes in a flurry of limbs and happiness. Obviously, the best thing to do with something like a dance is ban it, right?

The year was 1962, and the Catholic Diocese in Buffalo, New York, decided to ban the Twist from all Catholic schools in America.

Yeah, the Twist. The most innocuous dance since the Hokey Pokey was labeled lewd and un-Christian by the Bishop Burke, and it was taken away from the plaid-laden hips of Catholic schoolchildren across the country.

It’s important to understand just how popular the Twist was. The song that accompanied it, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, was a ginormous hit. It actually hit the number one spot on the charts twice (once in 1960, and again in 1962). Even President Kennedy was a fan of the dance, and it is reported that he held Twist parties in the Oval Office, dancing until the wee hours of the morning.

It was the Kennedy White House. The President and his brother were running trains on Marilyn Monroe. You think they didn’t do the Twist?

The whole controversy about the Twist was sexual in nature. Adults, freaking out about things as they often do, decried the dance as provocative, overtly raunchy, and certainly not involving movements they cared to see their virgin teenagers performing in public. There’s a point of amusement here. A couple dancing the Twist never touch each other. You don’t swing your partner, do si do.

You stand in front of your dance partner and twist your hips from side to side. You lean in towards your partner, but you keep your arms away from them. Lean in, lean out, crouch down a little, shake your hips. If the Twist is sexual in any way, it is because it brings to mind the mating dance of a honeybee. The Twist is nothing close to human sexuality. If I stuck my face over my wife’s shoulder while putting my arms akimbo and wiggling my butt, she would ask what the hell was wrong with me, and I wouldn’t have an answer.

The Twist isn’t the only dance that has caused a furor. In the 1930s, the Charleston and the Lindy Hop were banned. The Jitterbug was also the target of criticism in the 1940s, with one writer claiming, “Conceived in hell and brought forth by the brothel, the dance has established its moral dominion.” That’s a little strong, methinks, but many shared his opinion. And if you’re thinking of the movie, Footloose, please be aware that movie is based on a true story. Dancing was banned in the town of Elmore City, Oklahoma, from its founding in 1861 until 1980.

The factor that brought the Twist out of the prayer closet and into the living rooms of America was boredom. The teen culture, fast paced and graced with a short attention span, moved on. They found other dances to do. Their parents, however, suddenly found the Twist to be a really fun activity. Sure, it’s fine for the grown-ups, but heaven forbid you should be a kid looking for a good time, trying to express your adolescent feelings through the majesty of dance.

You can still Twist in America, though. You can do the Mashed Potato. Do the Alligator. You can Electric Slide and twerk to your little heart’s desire. Trying to ban dancing is like trying to get rid of blinking or laughter. Las Vegas band, The Killers, once asked, “Are we human or are we dancer?”

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

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