jump to navigation

The Madison and the Twist [Conclusions and Notes] October 9, 2007

Posted by wallofsound in Popular Dance, Rock 'n' Roll.

The decade from 1955 to 1965 saw some significant changes in social dance. Over the twentieth century the relationships between individual social dancers, the couple, and the community of the dance floor shifted a number of times. The dance fads of the 1950s and 1960s did herald a greater emphasis on the individual that was to come to fruition later in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Perhaps more significantly, they shifted emphasis back to an earlier sense of communal dance, and away from the couple-orientations of most of twentieth century dance up to that point. The meanings of the dance articulated in a significant, but sadly not a profound, way a sense of optimism, both for a culture of youth and for the meanings of ethnic identity. In Europe, black music and black forms were to take on significance for working-class youth, and the British Mod subculture, with its adoration of American jazz and soul, reinterpreted modernism for another society. This passion for black dance music of the 1960s survives to this day in Northern Soul. Record collectors in this peculiarly British scene have a particular veneration for the dance records of Cameo-Parkway. However, you will not hear “The Twist,” or even the “Mashed Potato,” on these dance floors, but instead all those records that fell into obscurity or did not sell first time around.

In these lost records, as in the chart hits, are the dreams of a modern America. Built on ideas of youth and excitement, for a generation of African Americans they were also expressive of the possibility of an integrated society. However, that moment did not last, and the growth of rock music in the mid-1960s with its free form individualistic dance styles and shift to non-dance forms of practice were to take white American music away from African American texts. Black Americans, frustrated with the failure of the civil rights movement to live up to their dreams, shifted their tastes to soul and funk with their articulations of an Afro-centric identity, and a whole new set of dance floor, community-bound dances.

Music, dance, and the media remain central to issues of the politics of identity. We just need to keep making the connections as we move.

I’ve written a short piece on the relationship of the music and dancing on the Northern Soul scene in the UK and African American culture.


1. While some web sites marked the record’s April 12, 1954 New York recording anniversary in 2004, most used 1955 reflecting the March 1955 release of the MGM-produced film, the track’s release as an A-side single, and the single’s number one spot on the Billboard chart in July 5, 1955. See detail at Rockabilly Hall of Fame, “Rock Around the Clock Tribute,” http://www.rockabillyhall.com/RockClockTribute.html (accessed January 2006).

2. Extract from New Musical Express quoted at 100 Rock Moments, “Riots at ‘Blackboard Jungle’ Movie,” http://microsites.nme.com/rock100/site/63.html (accessed January 2006).

3. Mark Abrams, The Teenage Consumer (London: London Press Exchange [for] Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising, 1959).

4. It was ranked at number one or two on the Billboard pop and R&B charts, and on the New Musical Express chart in 1955.

5. Tim Wall, Studying Popular Music Culture (London: Arnold, 2003), 61.

6. Brian Ward, Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations (London: University College London Press, 1998), 123-159.

7. Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London, New York: Routledge, 1991), 51.

8. Katherine Hazzard-Gordon, Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), x.

9. Such as Atlantic, Chess, Duke/Peacock, Imperial, King, Savoy, Modern, and Speciality.

10. Louis Cantor, Wheelin’ on Beale: How WDIA Memphis Became the Nation’s First All-Black Radio Station and Created the Sound That Changed America (New York: Pharos Books, 1992).

11. See “Negotiating Compromise on a Burnished Wood Floor: Social Dancing at the Savoy,” by Karen Hubbard and Terry Monaghan for a full discussion of the derivation of the name Lindy and Lindy Hop.

12. Christian Batchelor, This Thing Called Swing: A Study of Swing Music and the Lindy Hop, the Original Swing Dance (London: Original Lindy Hop Collection, 1997), 86-87; 189-91.

13. These dances are widely referenced in books and web sites dedicated to 1960s dance and received coverage in contemporary national U.S. news magazines.

14. Charlie Gillett, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll (London: Souvenir Press, 1988), 208.
Marshall Stearns and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance (New York: Schirmer Books, 1968), 5.

15. Ben Malbon, Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality (London: Routledge, 1999), 86.

16. Robert Pruter, Chicago Soul (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 191.

17. Julie Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop: Community Values in Televised Teen Dance Programs of the 1950s and Early 1960s” (paper presented at the annual Conference on Research in Dance (CORD), Tallahassee, FL, November 2005), 6.

18. John W. Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip Hop: Social dance in the African American community in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Odunde, Inc., 1995), 35-7.

19. Pruter, Chicago Soul, 192.

20. Malnig, “Let’s Go to the Hop.”

21. Ibid., 2.

22. Steve Perry, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: The Politics of Crossover,” in Facing The Music: A Pantheon Guide to Popular Culture, ed. Simon Frith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), 51; 87.

23. Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography (London: Secker & Warburg, 2001), 194.
Jazz Discography Project, “Ray Bryant Discography,” http://www.jazzdisco.org/bryant/dis/c/ (accessed January 2006).

24. Cited in DCRTV Mailbag, January 11-20, 2001, http://dcrtv.org/mail/mb0101b.html (accessed January 2006).

25. Al Brown’s Tunetoppers’ “The Madison” (probably recorded in 1960).

26. Savoy Central, “Class Overview,” http://www.savoycentral.org/classoverview.html (accessed January 2006). Jitterbuzz.com: Lindy Week Review, “Group Dances of the 1950s,” http://www.jitterbuzz.com/dance50.html (accessed January 2006).

27. William Barlow, Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 134-153.

28. Tony Cummings, The Sound of Philadelphia (London: Methuen, 1975), 55-60. John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

29. The analysis is based on the Edward Love-choreographed version featured in John Waters’s film Hairspray (1988); on Bob Barrett’s analysis at Friday Folk, St. Albans, “Madison—The Figures,” http://www.fridayfolk.org.uk/madi40.htm (accessed January 2006); and on some personal experimentation.

30. Pruter, Chicago Soul, 191. He makes special note that, “of all the dance records of the 1960s the lyrics of the Madison records were the most specific as to how to do the dance.”

31. Theodor W. Adorno, “On Popular Music,” in On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge, 1990), 312.

32. The analysis is based on the Edward Love-choreographed version featured in John Waters’s film Hairspray (1988); contemporary footage compiled in Ron Mann’s 1992 documentary Twist (DVD, Home Vision Entertainment 2005); interviews with respondents who danced in the 1960s, and some personal experimentation.

33. Gerald Jonas, Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with Thirteen/WNET, 1998), 181-2. Cynthia Novack, Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 35-37.

34. Hebdige, Subculture, 52.

35. Tim Wall, “Out on the Floor: The Politics of Dancing on the Northern Soul Scene,” Popular Music 25, no. 3 (2007).



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: