Life in the Box: Pop Dance

Last week I got a Disco Divas CD at a yard sale, and as I played it in my car, I suddenly found myself happy and singing and bouncing around in my seat. It’s been many decades since I drank White Russians and Tequila Sunrises at the Poison Apple disco, and yet this music made my day.

A moment later, I caught myself thinking that “no one dances anymore.” Hold it! That can’t be right. Glee may have ended, but Dancing with the Stars and Broadway musicals are still popular–there must be young people dancing somewhere. It’s time for this almost 60-year-old to update her knowledge of dance moves. And thankfully, YouTube does not disappoint!

Have you heard of the Harlem Shake? It was the online dance craze of 2013. I just found out about it today. There are lots of videos showing really silly arm and hip moves, with a room full of guys and some odd costumes. I think some of the videos should be called “horny men gone wild” even though they don’t strip for the cameras. I wonder if this sort of dance is only done for videos to post on the web, or if there really are dance halls where they have “Harlem Shake Nights.”

But here’s the thing. They are really fun. The montages are hilarious.

Another dance style I missed in 2012 or so was Gangnam Style… I think we used to call it The Pony back-when, although this version has more pelvic thrusts than the 1960s version did. The music and costumes strike me as very similar to the Harlem Shake. The music is electronic, and it beeps like a computer hiccuping. But once again, it’s fun, fun, fun.

There weren’t many more modern styles that struck me as “iconic.” There was some “Industrial” music with moves, but not really whole dances. I think we’ve moved into the realm of “moves” and “styles” instead of dance steps.

There are some really memorable moves, though. One video has such funny names for the moves, I just had to “laugh out loud” as we oldsters used to say, way back in the early 2000s. LOL. I’ve included this as my first link, below. 

Once I caught up on newer body language, I decided to look at lists of the most “iconic” dance moves of the past century. That’s when I became aware of how much dancing we’ve done in our country. Popular dances have woven a crazy quilt through 20th-century American culture. There’s so many of them, I spent several hours just picking through incomplete articles and stories without finding a “big picture” anywhere.


The New York Film Academy’s 2014 “Top 9” iconic American dances list is sadly weak. Here are the ones they chose: the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, Hip Hop, Breaking (Break Dancing), Locking, Popping, Moshing, Country Line Dancing, the Harlem Shake, and Gangnam Style. There’s no explanation why they skipped from the 1920s to the 1940s to the 1990s and later.

Their web site and so many others have such big holes in their timelines that I decided to start my own list. Dances are loosely pasted into decades. Here we go:

Since dances go in and out of popularity, it’s hard to nail down which decades they were most popular, so different researchers list them differently. Some popular dances have long-term pop status and are common at family celebrations, especially weddings. I never got the hang of the Macarena or the Hustle, but I can Chicken Dance with the best of them. And some of the most enthusiastic dancers I’ve seen recently have been the age 10- and-under crowd. They seem to love dancing!  

It’s odd that I thought Americans have given up dancing. What all this research tells me is that moving our bodies to music is an American thing.

I will go out on a limb here, and declare that as long as there is music, there will be dance. And as the beats, the meter, and the meanings of songs change, our young people will find ways of moving right along with them.



Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site. 

Academic article about dance and America  

Fred Astaire Studios “Types of Dance” 

Dance Crazes of the 60s  

Top Dances of the 1990s 

Selected Dance Videos 
Recent Dances 2010 and newer
Dance Moves with funny names.This one just makes me laugh out loud!! LOL. Howl.   

Harlem Shake Collection (One of many)  

Gangnam Style Official (60 million views) 

Dance Moves with Jordyn Jones (6.4 million views)

Older Dance Videos
Nine iconic dances from New York Fine Arts

1930s Dance Mashup

1940s How to Dance the Jitterbug (humorous)

1940s Goofy Jitterbug with Jerry Lewis and Sheree North

1950s Watusi

1958 The Stroll (Teen TV show)

1960s The Swim 

Popular Line Dances instructional site 

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