1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Mambo

Throughout the US and Europe, teenagers took the lead in the development of new dances in the 1950s.

Significant dances

In 1954, Bill Hailey and the Comets unleashed “rock ‘n roll,” derived from rhythm and blues, rockabilly, and gospel, with their song “Rock Around the Clock.” It would ultimately sell 25 million copies. In 1956, Elvis Presley shocked (or delighted) audiences on the Ed Sullivan Show. Dick Clark’s American Bandstand

A hybrid of Rumba and Swing, Mambo was the most esteemed Latin dance of the 1950s. It had the seductive qualities of all the popular Latin dances, and the step began on the second beat of the phrase, which required some dance talent to perform. The mambo’s rhythmic originality reflected the influence of swing and jazz on Afro-Cuban music and dance. The freshness of the mambo rhythm emerged as a platform for artistic creativity in American and Latin music. became a television showcase for rock and its teenage fans. The new LP record format made rock music cheap and plentiful. With TVs in every home, teenage baby boomers had easy access to their own music and dance, and for the first time, youth dictated American taste. The ”rock ‘n’ roll” dance was an updated form of Swing: couples separated and rejoined in such a way that the woman was held at the end of a rubber band-style relationship with her partner. The basic syncopated footwork was a direct evolution from Jitterbug and Swing.

Historical context

  • US Presidents are Truman and Eisenhower; Truman orders construction of the hydrogen bomb.
  • US Supreme Court rule against segregation by color in schools.
  • Martin Luther King leads a black boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy leads a notorious witch hunt for alleged communists.
  • USSR and China sign thirty-year pact; Nikita Krushchev becomes head of Communist Party.
  • Anti-apartheid riots break out in Johannesburg.


  • Salinger, Capote, Miller, Chayevsky, Wright, Williams, Sagan, and Dr. Seuss contribute to popular literature.


  • Menotti, Copland, Boulez, Brittan, and Stravinsky compose.
  • Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn produce hits.

Visual art:

  • Painting: Dali, Picasso, Miro, and Max Ernst.
  • Film: An American in Paris, Gigi, Rebel Without A Cause, On the Waterfront, and Ben-Hur.
  • TV: I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show.


  • B.F. Skinner (psychology) and Heidegger (philosophy) make important contributions.
  • First contraceptive pill is invented.
  • The first hydrogen bomb is exploded.
  • First oral polio vaccine is invented.
  • Lung cancer attributed to cigarette smoke.
  • USSR launches Sputnik I and II.
  • Transatlantic telephone cable is connected.

Daily life:

  • Thirty percent of U.S. work force in industry and commerce
  • TV in nearly every home
  • Domestic appliances make housework easier, expand leisure time.
  • Backyard barbecues, tract housing, PTA, cocktails
  • Black leather motorcycle jackets, blue jeans, Christian Dior

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II: 20th Century: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Mambo


GERMAN LINEAGE IN MODERN DANCE: Solos by Wigman * Hoyer * Holm * Nikolais * Louis

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