1960s – Twist, Mod, Psychedelic

Significant dances

Chubby Checker first performed the Twist on American Bandstand in 1962 to Hank Ballard’s tune of the same name. Checker told the audience that he invented the dance while drying himself with a towel after taking a shower. The twist was an expression of individualism—there were no distinct roles for men or women, and the dancers danced apart. The Twist arrived at New York’s Peppermint Lounge, solidifying its appeal and spawning a series of overnight fad dances that expressed freedom for the individual. The twist was simple: dancers stood in one place and twisted their hips from side to side, pivoting on their feet. It was both free and provocative.

The Mods were “cool” narcissistic teenagers, initially in London, who rebelled against the emotionalism of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mod dances didn’t require partners and were jerky in character. The mod fads came to the U.S., along with the British invasion of 1963, extending the post-twist fad-dance craze. Examples of some of the Mod dances are: Pony, Crow, the Monkey, the Boomerang, the Saw, the Freddy, Jump-Up, the Slop, Skate, the Ski, the Jerk, the Kick, and Let Kiss.

Psychedelic dances started in San Francisco. As psychedelic drug use spread, dance became even more experimental and freeform, affected by drug-induced exhibitionism. Psychedelic culture and dance aimed at ecstasy and individual self-absorption, representing the lifestyle of those who rejected the rules of established society. In 1967, San Francisco’s Height Ashbury neighborhood was the epicenter of the psychedelic scene, and the Woodstock Festival of 1969 would come to symbolize the music, dance, and youth culture of the era.

Historical context

  • US Presidents are Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
  • U.S. breaks relations with Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • JFK, MLK, and RFK are assassinated.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. wins Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Protest marches against the war in Vietnam, Watts riots, freedom marches, and the Civil Rights act take place.
  • Watts riots, freedom marches, Civil Rights Act
  • The United Nations condemns apartheid.
  • 1967 Arab-Israeli War takes place.
  • Mao Tse-tung is the chairman of the Chinese Communist party..


  • Günther Grass, Durrell, Mailer, Uris, Auden, Hellman, and Fleming.


  • Pop music includes Andre Provost, John Cage, Dello Joio, The Beatles, Little Richard, The Monkees, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez.
  • Musicals are popular, including Hair, Fiddler On the Roof, Oh, and Calcutta.

Visual arts:

  • Warhol, Pop Art, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and Midnight Cowboy.


  • U.S. astronauts land on the moon.
  • First successful human heart transplant takes place.

Daily life:

  • Woodstock (1969)
  • Eastern religions, back-to-nature and hippie movements, recreational drug use accepted among many.
  • Urban unrest, crime, street drugs, and mental illness plague inner cities.
  • Generation Gap: the Love Generation vs. The Over-30 Generation

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II: 20th Century: Twist, Mod, Psychedelic


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

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