Dance Styles of the 60s – Amazing Swinging Sixties

Dance styles of the 60s reflected changes in Western society. As the clock struck 1960, the youth were on the move breaking free from the conservative norms of their parents. The music industry was booming, as new artists with unique sounds and styles appeared in a magical age of artistic creation.

Dance was a way everyone could express themself. We didn’t have to learn any special skills. So, it didn’t take long before the more creative invented new dances everyone copied. And in a flash the new dance crazes swept across America and Europe.

One of the most iconic 1960s dance styles was “The Twist”. The song, which was originally recorded by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters was a big hit by Chubby Checker in 1960. A simple yet infectious dance, everyone soon latched on and were dancing it. The Twist became a symbol of the new youth culture, and it led the way as other dance styles emerged.

As the Sixties got underway, so did the dance shift as new styles emerged, each having unique flair and influence. From the Jerk to the Mashed Potato, new dance crazes reflected the changing times. And dance became more than a form of entertainment.

As the music industry evolved, so did dance styles of the 60s. New dances were a way for youngsters to connect with others and express themselves through movement. The amazing Swinging Sixties roared just as much as the Roaring Twenties did.

artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression
  • Key Takeaways
  • A surge in new dance styles reflected the changing times and youth culture of the Swinging Sixties.
  • The Twist was one of the most popular dances of the 60s and it paved the way for other styles.
  • Dance styles of the 60s became a way of expression through movement.

The 1960s was a decade that produced great music and new dances. The Jive and Twist stand out as the two most popular dance styles of the 60s.

With the explosion of Rock ‘n Roll, it was the Jive that rolled over into the 60s. The dance style originated in the US in the early 1930s, the Jive became increasingly popular in the 1940s and 1950s. And it was perfect for the new era of the Swinging Sixties.

The Twist dance style became universally popular, with people of all ages and backgrounds joining in the fun. The Twist craze had an impact on popular culture. It paved the way for other dance styles that emerged in the 1960s.

The Jive Staple

Evolving from swing dances like the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug, the Jive incorporated elements of African American and European dance traditions. The Jive has lively and energetic movements, performed to upbeat, fast-paced music, typically Rock ‘n Roll.

In the 1960s, the Jive continued to be a universally popular dance style. It was the staple dance in nightclubs and in the context of ballroom dancing and partner dance competitions. The dance was influenced by the emergence of rock and roll and rhythm and blues music, which featured energetic beats and a driving rhythm that complemented the lively nature of the Jive.

The Jive gained prominence in the dance scenes of the 1960s, with dancers showcasing their skills at parties, clubs, and on television programmes. The infectious energy and dynamic footwork of the Jive made it a perfect fit for the vibrant and upbeat atmosphere of the Swinging Sixties.

While the Jive was a go to dance for revellers of 1960s music, it was among several dance styles that gained prominence during the era. The Jive, with its lively and spirited movements, remained a key part of the dance landscape throughout the dynamic amazing Swinging Sixties.

The Twist Phenomenon

The word twist in dancing goes back to the 19th century.

A pelvic dance motion called the twist came to America from the Congo during slavery.

Marshall and Jean Stearns in Jazz Dance,

And banjo player Joel Walker Sweeney‘s hit song of early blackface minstrelsy was called Vine Twist.

The Twist dance style, which involves swiveling the hips in a rhythmic motion, was a 1960s worldwide dance craze. It became extremely popular after Chubby Checker danced while singing the song of the same name on the Dick Clark Show in 1960.

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters wrote the song and recorded it in 1958. Chubby Checker’s version of The Twist reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September of 1960, and stayed there for three weeks. The Twist craze was adopted by the over 30s thanks to celebrity influence.

The phenomenon was popularised by American Bandstand, a music-performance television show that aired in the United States from 1952 to 1989. The show featured teenagers dancing to popular music, and it helped to introduce new dance styles to a national audience. Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand, was instrumental in promoting the Twist dance craze.

In the UK, the BBC’s Top of the Pops, helped to fuel the Swinging Sixties from its inception in 1964.


artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression

The Jive and the Twist were the two stand out iconic dances of the 1960s. Both dance styles came from previous eras and incorporated elements of African American and European dance traditions. They were revitalised and became cultural touchstones that helped to define an era.

Other 1960s popular dance styles were the:

  • Watusi,
  • Mashed Potato,
  • Pony,
  • Swim, and more.

These dances were inspired by hit songs, such as Dee Dee Sharp’s – Mashed Potato Time, and Marvin Gaye’s – Hitch Hike.

The Watusi  

Watusi was a popular dance move that involved moving the hips and arms in a circular motion. It was named after a tribe in Africa and was popularised in the United States by The Orlons’. But I love the Lennon Sisters’ version.

The Mashed Potato  

Mashed Potato was a dance move that involved bending the knees and moving the arms and legs in a twisting motion. It was made popular by Dee Dee Sharp’s hit song “Mashed Potato Time”.

The Pony

The Pony involved a series of quick steps and hops that were performed in a line formation. It was made famous by the song. Pony Time by Chubby Checker

The Swim

The Swim dance style which originated in the 1960s, was inspired by the movements of swimming. It involves moving the arms and legs in a swimming motion. The Swim was popularised by the song The Swim by Bobby Freeman. The dance style can be seen in movies and television shows set in the 1960s.

Skip Jive

Traditional Jazz was very popular in the UK in the early 1960’s, particularly in North London. In Bristol, England it was mainly played in the back room of pubs where they had a small stage. Popular local celebrities, such as Acker Bilk, The Blue Notes, and Adge Cutler and the Wurzels, played for their fans. Acker Bilk later in life was a next-door neighbour and friend to my sister until his death in 2014.

The dance was a descendant of jazz dances from the 1930s and 40s. And we all Skip Jived to trad jazz in the 1960s. It wasn’t one-paced as you might think, and many of us adapted it anywhere between fast and slow numbers. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any footage of Skip Jive dancing and I have no intention of making a Youtube demonstration.

‘Skip-jiving’ … was in fact quite skilled and far from clumsy. At the culmination of the 1961 Aldermaston March for example there was a massive trad band ball at the Lyceum Ballroom which is the first time I saw a dance floor pulse in time with the music. The collective feet all hitting it at the same time, and with the special force of skip jive that consisted of a steady skip step, resulted in the necessary stomp effect.

History is made at Night

The Hand Jive

The Hand Jive is a form of dance that involves intricate hand movements and gestures, often performed in time with music. It originated in the 1950s and associated with rock and roll music it became more popular in the 1960s as room to dance in many clubs was limited. The dance typically involves a series of rhythmic hand and arm movements, claps, slaps, and other gestures, all done in a coordinated and stylised manner.

It gained widespread attention and popularity through its inclusion in musical performances, movies, and television shows. One of the most well-known instances is the hand jive scene in the 1978 musical film “Grease,” where it was featured during the song – Born to Hand Jive.

The Hand Jive has historical roots in African American and African dance traditions. Popular in the 1950s it became a recognisable and enduring dance style of the 60s and beyond in popular culture.

The Locomotion

“The Locomotion” was a dance created by Little Eva in 1962. The dance was inspired by a song of the same name, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin for their maid, Eva. It consists of a series of simple steps performed in a line.

The Locomotion featured on American Bandstand became a hit in the early 1960s and put Little Eva (1943-2003) on the map. But the little maid’s career ended early in 2003. Her version of – Will you love me tomorrow – is my favourite of her songs.

The Hully Gully

The Hully Gully was a line dance originating in the early 1960s. It has a series of simple steps performed in a group. The dance became popular through the song “Hully Gully” by The Olympics, released in 1959. And it became an American sensation in 1961 when it was featured on American Bandstand.

The Jerk

The Jerk was a dance that originated in California in the early 1960s. It involves a series of quick, sharp movements of the arms and legs.

The Jerk by The Larks (1964), featured on American Bandstand and became popular in the mid-1960s.

The Monster Mash

The Monster Mash was a song by Bobby “Boris” Pickett that was released in 1962. The song was a tribute to classic horror movies and featured a dance of the same name. The Monster Mash was a simple dance that involved moving the arms and legs in a monster-like fashion. The dance became a popular Halloween dance in the early 1960s.

The Hitchhiker

“The Hitchhiker” was a dance that was made popular in the early 60s by the song Hitch Hike by Marvin Gaye in 1962. The dance was a series of movements that mimicked the act of hitchhiking.

The Monkey

“The Monkey” was a dance popularised by the song Mickey’s Monkey by The Miracles (featuring Smokey Robinson) in 1963. The dance was a series of movements that mimicked the movements of a monkey. The Monkey became a popular dance in the mid-1960s.

Cool Jerk

The Cool Jerk – a dance craze in the mid-1960s was a song by The Capitols released in 1966. The song featured a dance of the same name, which was a series of simple steps performed in a line.


artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression

The 1960s was a time of great creativity and innovation in art, music and particularly dance. Dance brought people together and provided a fun and exciting means of expression. Each dance had a style and personality of its own. Some continue to be danced today as a testament to the enduring power of music and dance.

Influence of Music on Dance

The music of the 60s played a significant role in shaping the dance styles of the era. The upbeat and energetic rhythms of rock and roll, soul, and Motown, among others, inspired new and exciting dance moves characterised by fast footwork, hip shaking, and acrobatic twists and turns.

Music in the 60s was heavily influenced by the social and political climate of the time. Many songs performed by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Neil Young for example, addressed critical issues. Civil rights, war, and social inequality were at the forefront of life in a time of massive change to the world order.

  • The music had an impact on dance, with the emergence of dances, such as the Twist, which became a symbol of rebellion and freedom.
  • Another dance that emerged from 60s music was the Jerk, which was influenced by the fast-paced rhythms of soul and Motown.

The popularity of the Twist and the Jerk paved the way for other dances such as the Frug, the Pony, and the Mashed Potato, and many others. These dances were often performed in groups and were popularised through television shows such as American Bandstand, Top of the Pops, and Soul Train.


artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression

The music of the 60s had a profound influence on the dance styles of the era. The upbeat and energetic rhythms of rock and roll, soul, and Motown, among others, inspired the re-emergence of old and new and exciting dance moves. Many dances became symbols of rebellion and freedom.

Television and Dance Popularity

In the 1960s, television and rock and roll became increasingly popular. As a result, many TV stations began to air dance shows aimed directly at teenagers. Two of the most popular shows were American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, and Top of the Pops presented by DJ Jimmy Saville.

TV Shows Impact

The popularity of the television shows helped to bring dance, as well as pop music, to the fore. Teenagers all over America and the UK were quick to adopt the dance moves seen on the shows. The popularity of the dances helped to create a sense of community among young people and became an important part of the culture of the 1960s.

TV and Rock ‘n Roll Combos

The combination of television and rock and roll helped to make dance a central part of American and European culture in the 1960s. The popularity of television shows helped to spread dance styles of the era. It also impacted the careers of many backup dancers, some of whom who became stars.

Performing Artist’s Impact on Dance Styles

The 1960s was a decade of cultural transformation, with music and dance being at the forefront of this change. Musicians and dancers impacted dance styles, inspiring new ways of dancing and creating dance crazes that swept across the Western world.

James Brown

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, was one such artist. He was not only a talented musician but also an incredible dancer, known for his signature moves such as the Camel Walk and the Mashed Potato. Brown’s electrifying performances inspired many to try and imitate his moves, leading to the creation of the James Brown Dance.

Bobby Freeman

Another influential artist of the time was Bobby Freeman, who created the hit song Do You Want to Dance in 1958. This song became a popular dance track, and its success impacted the dance styles of the Twist and the Mashed Potato. Freeman’s music was influential in the development of Surf music which had its own style of dance.

The Midnighters

The Midnighters, a group known for Doo-Wop and Rhythm & Blues music, had an impact on dance styles of the 1960s. Their hit song Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go became a popular dance track, inspiring dance styles the Shimmy and the Boogaloo. The Midnighters’ music and dance style were so influential that they were invited to perform on American Bandstand.

The Olympics   

The Olympics were a group known for their soul and R&B music, and they had a significant impact on dance styles of the 1960s. Their hit song Western Movies became a popular dance track, inspiring new dance styles such as the Pony and the Mashed Potato. The Olympics’ music and dance style were so influential that they were invited to perform on American Bandstand multiple times.

Broadening Dance Genres in the 1960s

As the civil rights and feminist movements gained momentum in the 1960s, dance became a way for people to express themselves and break down barriers. The music of the era also played a significant role in the evolution of dance styles. Many new genres shaped popular culture for decades to come.


One of the most significant developments in dance was the rise of disco in the late 1960s. Disco was a genre of music with upbeat tempo and danceable rhythm. It was influenced by funk and soul music and became popular in nightclubs and dance halls. Disco dancing had fluid movement and flashy costumes, and it became a symbol of the hedonistic lifestyle of the era.

Jazz and Swing  

Jazz and swing continued to be popular dance genres in the 1960s.

  • Jazz is characterised by its improvisational style and complex rhythms. Jazz dance has syncopated movements and intricate footwork, and it was often performed in nightclubs and jazz bars in the 60s.
  • Swing, on the other hand, is a more social form of dance characterised by energetic movements and playful style. It was often performed to big band music and became a popular pastime for young people in the 1960s.

Ballroom and Latin Dancing

Ballroom and Latin dancing was popular in the 1960s. The dancing has elegant movements and formal style. Latin dancing, on the other hand, has sensual movements and fiery style. It is performed to Latin music and was popular among young people in the 1960s.


artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression

The 1960s was a decade of significant change and innovation in dance. New genres emerged, dance crazes captured the public’s imagination, and traditional dance styles continued to evolve.

Impact of Dance Songs in the 1960s

A dance song is a song or music written with the sole intention that people should dance to it. Dance songs of the 1960s had a significant impact on the mainstream audience. The best songs were not only popular on the radio but also in dance clubs and at parties. And many of them made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts and became household favourites.

The popularity of dance songs can be attributed to their catchy tunes and lyrics, which made them perfect for social gatherings. They bring people together on the dance floor because they are easy to dance to. And they create a sense of community and belonging. This was especially important in the 1960s during a time of social and political upheaval.

Some of the most popular dance songs of the 1960s included Twist and Shout by The Beatles, The Loco-Motion by Little Eva, and Do You Love Me by The Contours. These songs not only topped the charts but also became cultural touchstones, representing the era’s spirit of rebellion and freedom.


artist impression of 60s dance style of freedom and expression

Dance songs of the 1960s had a significant impact on the mainstream audience. They provided a sense of community and belonging. Many of the 60s dance songs continue to be played and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which music genres influenced the dance styles of the 1960s?

The dance styles of the 1960s were influenced by the music of the era, particularly Rock ‘n Roll, Motown, Soul, and Rhythm and Blues. These genres played a significant role in shaping the way people danced.

Were there regional variations in dance styles during the 1960s?

Yes, regional variations were evident in dance styles during the 1960s. Different regions had their own interpretations and variations of popular dances, contributing to the diversity of the dance scene.

Did partner dances gain popularity in the 1960s?

While solo dances were prevalent, partner dances also gained popularity in the 1960s. The popularity of Motown music, for example, led to the rise of partner dances like the Shag and the Boogaloo.

Dance styles often influenced fashion trends in the 1960s. The energetic and dynamic nature of dances like the Twist influenced clothing styles, with an emphasis on comfort and freedom of movement.

Did dance play a role in the political and social activism of the 1960s?

Yes, dance played a role in political and social activism of the 1960s. Dances became a form of expression for various social and political movements, embodying the desire for change and challenging traditional norms.

Why not Join Us

If you enjoyed this article, we would like to offer you two gifts – our Starter Pack of 4 James King’s books and our Weekly Digest, which you can receive by email.