50s Dance Moves

1950's dancing

Feel like reliving some of the "golden oldies" from the 1950s on the dance floor? This era in dancing is all about having fun. The steps of these dances are not all that difficult, which means you can learn them quickly and start enjoying them on the dance floor in no time. Here are some moves straight from the era of American Bandstand to add to your repertoire.

Dances of the Fifties

The fifties were a watershed moment in American dance history. While other dance fads had spread throughout the world relatively slowly as travelers visited new cities, television suddenly allowed millions of viewers the chance to see exactly how to do the dance moves that went with their favorite songs. This led to unprecedented popularity for dances like the Madison, the Stroll, and the most iconic 50s dance, the Hand Jive. Latin influences like the Cha-Cha became overnight sensations, and dances from the 40s, such as swing and the Jitterbug, evolved into even more complex choreography.

Moving with the Group

One of the common trends for several 50s dances were for the dancers to stand in two lines and do the dance moves mirroring each other. Here are the steps for some common dances:

How to Stroll

The basic move for the Stroll gradually moves the dancer, foot by foot, up the line until he gets to the very front, at which point the two partners abandon the basic and do their own "shine" dance down the center aisle with everyone clapping and appreciating them.

Until they get there, though, the basic step is as follows:

  1. Step to the right across your left, touching the floor lightly with your toe
  2. Bring the right back "home," and then repeat the move
  3. Bring the right across the left, transferring weight to it, and step the left foot a short distance to the left
  4. Bring the right behind the left, and again shift weight so that you can step to the left and support your weight

Now do all the same steps, but reversing left for right, and make the steps to the right bigger than your steps to the left. This is how the line eventually moved people up.

You can see an example of the original dance on this 1958 video, and see the steps broken down on sites such as Michael Elvin Hunt's Mixer Dances.

The Hand Jive

This dance was made most famous by the movie Grease. The original song was created by Johnny Otis, and you can see him singing it on YouTube along with his dancers. While they do more complex moves, the basic hand jive can be done using a simple jazz square foot movement accompanied by the following hand motions:

  1. Crouch down and slap your palms against your thighs twice
  2. Cross your palms over and under each other, like a referee announcing "safe!"
  3. Make your hands into fists and pound them on top of each other, twice each
  4. Use your fingers to touch elbows, one at a time
  5. "Hitch-hike" by making fists with your thumbs sticking out and pointing them over your shoulder, again twice on each side

There is a lot of room for improvisation and ornamentation in this dance, and there's no need to follow the steps exactly. However, since they're so simple and get repeated so many times during the song, it is an easy way to recreate the fifties on the dance floor.

The Cha-Cha

Originally hailing from Cuba, the Cha-Cha is danced to many more songs than just Latin music. The basic step is easy enough; the follower simply mirrors the steps of the lead.

  1. Standing in a closed dance frame, the lead steps forward with the left foot, shifting weight onto it
  2. Immediately shift the weight back onto the right foot, doing what's known as the "rock step"
  3. Bring the weight back up to the left, quickly bringing the right foot up next to the left
  4. Do another quick weight shift to the right foot, then back to the left (this is the "cha-cha-cha")
  5. At the original tempo, shift your weight onto the right as it steps forward
  6. Rock back onto the left, and bring the right foot back for another fast "cha-cha-cha" step

Dancers repeat this basic step in between several more complex moves that can be executed by the dancers. Like the other 50s dance moves here, the Cha-Cha can be a dance unto itself or just a quick move to put into any choreography where the music fits.

Keeping the 1950s Alive

Thanks to TV shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing With the Stars" the dance moves of the fifties are as popular as ever. While you can learn a lot from videos online, the best way to learn to dance is with an instructor and then practicing on the dance floor. However you choose to learn, keep these dances fun in order to reflect their original character.

50s Dance Moves