the history of the ‘perreo’ of the sixties

Did you know that the waltz was a scandal when it became popular at the end of the 18th century? White people would not take long to incorporate African rhythm and eroticism into our music and our culture in general, but when it comes to dancing, it can be said that we have never stopped being like those stretched out with wig and makeup to what they seemed that there was too much contact and carnal insinuation in that dance of sweet beat. Before the perreo and twerking, also the lambada, we already put our hands to our heads for the twist. Further back in time, the same with the jjiterburg (or swing, so you understand me) in the thirties

or the Charleston at ten. The twistHowever, it was born with the wind in favor of the imminent youth revolution of the sixties.

The great architect of the twist explosion, Chubby Checker, turns 80 this Sunday. He was the one who turned him into an international, practically global phenomenon, defeating the champions of morality who tried to clip his wings. Or rather the legs. “This raises medical concerns,” warned the very conservative president of the New Jersey Society of Chiropractors in 1960, the year zero of the twist explosion. “An orthopedic surgeon has warned of an increase in knee injuries and says it could cause stress in the lumbar and sacroiliac areas.”

Like almost all, this cultural revolution was lit by young people, in the shadow of the eyes of adults. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters recorded the original ‘Twist’ (published in 1958, curiously as B-side) inspired by what he saw in the nightclubs of Tampa (Florida), where dances were danced with remote connections to the minstrel, a theatrical genre of a racist nature that ridiculed to blacks, but that ended up generating a musical subgenre with songs like the ‘Grape Vine Twist’ in the 19th century, or later the ‘Twist it baby’ by Bo Carter or the ‘Winin’ Boy Blues’ by Jelly Roll Morton, that extolled the psycheptic wiggle with lyrics like ‘Mama, mama, look at sis, she’s out on the levee doing the double twist’. Other authors such as Marshall and Jean Stearns speak of a pelvic dance movement called ‘twist’ imported from the Congo centuries before, during slavery.

As we already know, Ballard didn’t get the glory. Destiny Stuff: The song was made popular on a Baltimore television dance show hosted by local DJ Buddy Deane, who later recommended it to American Bandstand host Dick Clark. He tried to hire Ballard to act on the show, but was unable to attend (another version says Clark found his staging too provocative), and his record label called in a replacement, good old Chubby. And the rest is ‘twistory’.

The version of Checker was number one in the summer of 1960, and in the heat of this caderil fury came the first furious reviews. Journalists, politicians and teachers publicly denounced the fashion for ‘improper’, ‘too sexy’, ‘too uninhibited’, ‘designed to bring out the worst in people’ dance. There was even a sheriff, in Dodge City, who had his minute of glory on TV by swearing that the twist would only enter his jurisdiction over his corpse. The art world also attacked the twist. “It’s rude, vulgar, exhibitionism personified,” said the great Ginger Rogers.. I think it’s terrible. It is a scandal. It’s the most obscene dance I’ve ever seen, worse than ‘shimmy’ (a 1920s ballroom dance) ever was. If people realized how bad he looks while dancing the twist, they wouldn’t do it. “

But nothing could stop the twist. As the New York Times reported in 1961, “New York surrendered to the twist: it already sounds in all clubs, but also in hotels and even in palaces. The mythical Gene Kelly He said that he preferred to “dance close”, but he was in favor giving it his seal of guarantee: “I think the twist is fine. It makes those who can’t dance think they do. And for those who know how to dance, it offers the opportunity to show off. And the actor Richard Chamberlain was the one who described the phenomenon with the greatest wit and lucidity: “The success of the twist shows that America is coming to life below the waist.”

In a matter of weeks dozens of artists began publishing their own ‘twist songs’, including the popularizer of rock’n’roll among whites, Bill Haley, which launched one in tribute to the place where it all began, ‘Florida Twist’, and another titled ‘The Spanish Twist’. Meanwhile, in Spain, some boys called The dynamic duo They began to infect us with that madness recording several songs with a soul and a twist title.

The Dynamic Duo, with the Chubby Checker flirt
The Dynamic Duo, with the Chubby Checker flirt – Personal file of The Dynamic Duo

«We discovered him in a very popular Barcelona nightclub called Bikini, and he won us over from the beginning. Then a friend who was a stewardess brought us the vinyl of the song, “he recalls. Ramón Arcusa, who, eye to the fact, shared the stage with Chubby Checker himself along with his partner Manuel de la Calva. «We opened for him at Luna Park in Buenos Aires, I think in 1961 or 62 at the most. He was introduced to us behind the scenes and he hooked up with the two girls from our company who were with us. He was horny. “Of opening nothing, it was a heads-up, one hour of performance for us and another for him,” Manuel corrects. «We were already doing well there and three thousand girls were waiting for us. Checker, yes, was a whirlwind on stage. He did incredible things, which may seem normal now, but were not seen at that time.

In Spain, the twist was also received with disdain, if not with outright hostility from the regime press. «On the asphalt, on the sidewalk, in the open in the middle of the street, in the rain, these young people dance to the rhythm of our time: the twist; This mass hysteria has not occurred in London or Stockholm. It happens in Madrid and at two in the afternoon last Sunday. It has not been a unique and unusual scene that the photographer has captured. It is repeated every holiday after the sessions of modern rhythms that with great public success are held in our capital. Thousands of young people, after having endured two hours or more of electric guitar, drums and songs in English, begin their return home to the rhythm of the twist. Who are these guys? We do not think they are university students. We do not believe that they are young workers. Where can you locate these guys? Where do they come from? What do you do? Some questions that we ask ourselves with no other effort than to understand this sector of the youth, “said in 1963 a report in the Pueblo newspaper, which published other similar articles with titles such as ‘Electrified by the twist’ or ‘Los incansables del twist’, in those in which the author acknowledged his impotence when it came to understanding what was happening with the young people.

“It was a dance that was not held, but it increased the physical values ​​of the girls,” laughs Ramón Arcusa, who corroborates that there were “attacks against the twist from the censorship” in our country. “Yes,” adds De La Calva, “in Barcelona I remember that there was a disturbance because they organized a twist concert and it was canceled because the police stopped it. There were people who saw it very badly ».

Sixty years later, and in view of the scandal raised by the perreo, little has changed. And it is that to understand the new dances, surely you have to be young. “Reggaeton?” Says Arcusa. “That makes me ashamed of others.”

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