Dance in white Middle America up to the early 1950's was traditional ballroom, where dance moves were standardized. It was more a technical exercise than an emotional one. White youth of the period began to look toward the black community and rhythm and blues music, which gave them the sense of wanting just to move in a whole new way. For white Middle American youth, this music morphed into rock and roll. Despite establishment deeming rock and roll to be Satanic and/or Communist, it took off amongst the younger generation. The combination of rock and roll and dance was presented to American youth through American Bandstand (1952), which told youth what the trends of the day were. However, much of the dance shown on network television was Caucasians trying to dance like black Americans, but with no hip movement. This changed with the dance "The Twist", which also revolutionized the concept of not being reliant on what one's dance partner was doing. Although it had its detractors, The ... Written by
If you ain't moving the hips, then it just ain't happening!
I never get tired of watching this great documentary on "The Twist" dance craze in the early 60's. The film covers the years leading up to it, the height of the craze, and the years afterwards, finishing up with how the twist evolved into go-go "freestyle" dancing.
The movie is broken up into eight different "Lessons", and contains documentary and newsreel footage in between interviews with singers such as (among others) Dee Dee Sharp, Cholly Atkins, Hank Ballard, and of course, Chubby Checker. They also interview some dancers from American Bandstand, and one of the go-go dancing waitresses at the Peppermint Lounge, who says they had the fringe on their skirts "clocked at 130 mph" when someone timed it once (how exactly they measured this, I don't know, but in the footage you see, it doesn't look too far off the mark).
I just can't put into words how much fun this movie is. If you love to dance, you'll understand and maybe get a little emotional like I did in parts. You can hear the passion in most of the dancer's voices when they talk about how dancing made them feel and/or how it changed their lives. Even without the narration, some of the footage speaks for itself- watch the faces of some of the couples doing the jitterbug and swing-dancing early in the film. I don't think I've ever seen bigger smiles on anyone in my life- they look like they're having so much fun they would have to look down to see cloud 9.
This movie is not only a great documentary, but educational. I learned the names of some of my favorite go-go dances (I had the The Frug confused with The Watutsi...well, those are harder ones to figure out than say, The Monkey, so sue me), and the week after I first bought this movie for my home collection and watched it a couple times, I won a dance contest using some of the moves from "Twist!". If you want to learn just a couple of basic dance moves (and don't mind them being what some people might think of as 'dated' ones), this is a great movie to watch. Pretty much anyone can do the Twist, as they show you- if you're really having trouble, just imagine you're smashing out a cigarette stub into the floor with your foot.
Whatever you do, don't turn this movie off after the credits start! When we saw it at a film festival, we left early and missed a group they show during the credits that called themselves "The World's Greatest Twisters", 3 men and 2 women that they interviewed earlier in the film. They named themselves that because they would go to every twist contest they could find and win every time- the women look they could have been Ikettes. When I first saw it, I thought the men were the same, but that they'd replaced the females with younger women from the way they were moving. Then I looked closer and realized that it was the same two women- they were probably at least in their early 50's, but watch them go- they can dance better and move faster than most women in their 20's! (partly because they've had much more time to work on it, I guess). Plus, they look like they can still wear their original dance outfits. Prepare to see them out-dance almost everyone in the movie put together.
If you loved "Hairspray", (and not just because you're a John Waters fan), loved dancing at any point in your life, or the music of the time period (especially if you're a fan of any of the artists interviewed), this movie is worth hunting down and owning. Just warm up first if you attempt to copy any of the dance moves in the last 15 minutes of the movie!
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