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Every Dance Has a Story

It should come as no surprise that every dance has a story. After all, dance is a form of art. And all art grows from a narrative.

What you might be surprised to learn, however, is that there are also some pretty involved stories behind some of the most seemingly simplistic dances. 


Like the United States, Haiti has a checkered past in relation to slavery. In their case, the French enslaved the locals when they colonized the island and made them work on plantations. 

Enslaved Haitians were prohibited from performing European dances. They were, however, permitted to perform dances from their native Africa. This apparently amused the masters of the plantations. 

In 1804, there was a slave uprising which caused social barriers to crumble. White European men began to marry women with African roots. The children of these marriages were known as Affranchi and they created a wholly unique style of dance that joined movements of the enslaved Africans with more reserved rhythmic movements that echoed European dances.

As a nod to the people who created it, this form of Haitian folk dance was referred to as Affranchi. Affranchi would go on to spread beyond Haiti proper. It has evolved to now include more of the original African elements while also incorporating voodoo drumbeats to make it truly Haitian.  

The Chicken Dance

It’s nearly impossible to live in the United States and have avoided exposure to the Chicken Dance. It’s hugely popular at weddings and other large gatherings. Ever wonder how this strange dance came to be?

Strangely enough, the genesis of this song has no association with chickens whatsoever. In fact, the song for the dance was composed by a Swiss accordion player. He called it “The Duck Dance” and played it for patrons at his local restaurant. 

Folks would always get up and spontaneously dance when he played this ditty. So he started adding birdlike movements to give the dance some cohesiveness and proceeded to call it the “Tchirp-Tchirp.” Although the song proved to be a hit in the small Swiss hamlet, there was no reach beyond its borders.

When a Dutch publisher heard it, he knew he had gold. He published the song, added words, and popularized it throughout Europe. He renamed it “Little Bird Dance.” Once it spread to the United States, another publisher acquired the publishing rights there and renamed it… nope, not the Chicken Dance. He went with Dance Little Bird to give it more commercial appeal. He also added lyrics, but they never took. 

It wasn’t until a record label called up the U.S., publisher wanting to record what they were calling the “Chicken Dance” that it received its final moniker. 


Shifting back to a more serious dance, gumbooting came out of South Africa’s apartheid period. During this time of segregation, black workers in the mines were not permitted to speak to one another. They were also given rubber gumboots to protect them from bacteria and viruses in the mine waters. It was not out of charity but rather a concern that if they fell ill, they couldn’t work.  

The mine workers soon found that not being able to speak to one another made the job more difficult. So they developed a Morse-code style of communication by slapping their gumboots. Eventually, the workers took this system they’d created and developed a style of dance from it known as gumbooting.

Since miners came from many parts of Africa to work, gumboot dancing was and continues to be a diverse amalgam of these varied cultures. Eventually, songs were incorporated into the style. 

Today, gumbooting is a whole-body dance. 

The Hokey Pokey

The dance story behind the Hokey Pokey is long, complicated, and even contested. 

One of the earliest known mentions of the song was the 1826 Scottish folk song “Hinkumbooby” which sounds much like the modern version. And though it is a seemingly playful and whimsical tune, there are those who believe that the Hokey Pokey was actually mocking Catholic mass. They believe the name was derived from “hocus pocus.” 

In Canada, they were even calling it the Hokey Cokey for a while, with ‘cokey’ being Canadian slang for ‘crazy.’

These days, wherever on the planet people are putting their right foot in and shaking it all about are doing the Hokey Pokey. And that’s what it’s all about.

Understanding Every Dance Has a Story Is Just the Beginning…

When your child receives an arts integrated education, they not only learn that every dance has a story, but they understand the inherent connection between learning and art. 

For creative-minded children, learning through art opens pathways to the brain that enables them to grasp academic subjects like math, science, history, and literature in a way that makes sense.

So if you’re ready for your child to truly thrive in a creative learning environment, contact us today to schedule a tour of our school. And prepare or possibility. 


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