Ernest Evans, known famously as Chubby Checker, was an American singer who signed with Cameo-Parkway Records in 1959. Releasing two singles in the early years of his career, The Class and Dancing Dinosaur, he gained very minor popularity and decided to create a cover of Hank Ballard’s The Twist. The original song was already experiencing success on the charts, but Chubby Checker’s “twist” on the song had incredible success in the early 1960s. The song and dance began its fame in 1960, making it iconic of the start of a new decade. You can read even more fascinating events from 1960 by reading our 1960 timeline.
It wasn’t just the song itself that brought popularity to the song and the infamous “twist” dance. Chubby Checker appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on August 6, 1960 to perform his cover version of The Twist, as well as his “twist” dance movement. The song and his performance began a worldwide dance craze, making the dance movement iconic of the early 1960s.
The twist transformed popular culture as couples were able to move away from each other on the dance floor, rather than dance in close proximity like the popular dances that came before it. For women, the dance meant they were no longer being led by their male partner, making it part of a kind of social revolution. The dance was especially popular due to how simple it was to learn – dancers would swivel their hips from side to side, with their arms moving in opposite directions, while standing with their knees bent and twisting their feet.
Chubby Checker in 1964 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Teenagers immediately performed the lively twist as a refreshing and fun dance, and the dance suddenly made it more common for dancers to use their hips while dancing, giving them more freedom. Even more, it also became popular among First Lady Jackie Kennedy who would sometimes hold “Twist parties” at the White House.
Chubby Checker’s appearance on the show meant The Twist topped the Billboard charts in September 1960, and again in January 1962. The single became the first and only 45 single to reach number 1 in two different years. Checker performed the hit non-stop throughout the early 1960s, and even released follow-up songs like Let’s Twist Again, which was almost as big of a hit as his version of The Twist. You can read about Checker’s infamy in this period with an original 1960 newspaper from our archive.
While gaining immense popularity, the dance was quite controversial at the time. Many adults believed the dance was “too sexy” and not a proper dance, since it was very different to the traditional partner dances that had come before it. It was even warned to be potentially dangerous to adults over the age of 40, since the twisting movements could cause injuries. Even celebrities had contrasting views on the twist, but nevertheless, it found its way into popular culture and remains to be a classic feature of early 1960s entertainment.