How to dance like elvis presley

The origins of Elvis Presley's signature dance moves

(Credit: Alamy)

While they might seem fairly tame by today’s standards, in the 1950s, Elvis Presley’s dance moves were nothing short of outrageous. All that hip-action smacked a little too strongly of sex for conservative tastes but for a generation of young people finding their own identity in the face of post-war conformity, it was part and parcel of something modern, fresh, and vital – rock ‘n’ roll. But where did those iconic dance moves originate? Well, to answer that question, we need to take a quick step back in time.

Of all the things Elvis is famous for popularising, perhaps the most well-known is his iconic ‘rubber legs’ dance move. You’d expect something so legendary to have been finely honed over decades of gigging, but in actuality, the move was born during Elvis’ first paid concert in 1954. While taking to the stage with Scotty Moore, his guitarist and Bill Black, his bassist, Presley found that he couldn’t stop his legs from shaking – being so nervous about performing in front of a paying audience.

But rather than trying to hide this involuntary reaction, Elvis decided to use it to his advantage – backing away from the mic during the instrumental sections of tracks and emphasising the shaking of his legs to the point that he seemed to be having some music-induced fit, as though the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll had entered his bloodstream like a shot of adrenaline. Presley not only managed to disguise his nerves but also sent the crowd into a frenzy, causing them to scream to such an extent that he nearly left the stage, fearing that he was being booed off.

But the roots of Presley’s dance moves may go back even further than that. In his own lifetime, Presley was accused of appropriating several aspects of his style from Black artists. Defending himself against such comments in an interview in 1957, Presley said: “A lot of people seem to think I started this business, but rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along.”

Adding: “Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music. I used to go to the coloured churches when I was a kid – like Rev. Brewster’s church (Rev. W. Herbert Brewster of East Trigg Ave. Baptist Church in Memphis)”.

Music and dance formed an important part of religious ceremonies in Baptist churches such as the one Elvis attended as a child. While the practice is largely associated with Pentecostal church-goers, some Black-led churches in the US provide forms of worship in which the Holy Ghost is invoked through music and dance, causing members of the congregation to flail limbs uncontrollably and – stereotypically at least – speak in tongues. Is it possible that Elvis’ style was informed by watching the people around him celebrate their religion during those childhood church services? It’s hard to say for sure, but considering everything else that made Elvis famous existed well before he popularised it among white Americans, I wouldn’t be surprised if the origins of those iconic dance moves go back further than 1954.

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Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley

Everyone dances rock and roll - Style - Kommersant

On April 13, the whole world celebrates the birthday of rock and roll - a musical direction associated with the time of rebellion and frenzied dancing. However, the historic event that marked the beginning of both this holiday and rock and roll culture in general occurred the day before. On April 12, 1954, American musician Bill Haley recorded the song "Rock Around The Clock", which became the first rock and roll hit and the anthem of an entire generation. "Kommersant Style" has compiled a selection of films where the most incendiary rock and roll is danced.

Photo: Getty Images

Prison Rock 'n' Roll

The third film by the king of rock and roll Elvis Presley is an absolute classic of both rock and roll culture and cinema. The protagonist of the film - the inveterate bully Vinson, performed by Elvis Presley, discovers his musical talent, perhaps in the most unexpected place for this - prison. It is there that he meets a friend and mentor, country music expert Hank Haughton, who will make the young man believe in his talent. The picture got its name in honor of the main soundtrack performed by Presley himself "Jailhouse Rock". The composition, which later became the hallmark of the singer, sounds especially bright in this film thanks to the incendiary dance. Against the backdrop of the prison scenery, Elvis Presley and other prisoners dance rock and roll so energetically and contagiously that you immediately want to move to the beat with them. By the way, Elvis Presley invented the whole dance himself. The hit "Jailhouse Rock" would later be ranked 67th on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the film's music number would be named one of the best examples of the first music video.


The incredible plasticity of John Travolta, who has been dancing since the age of eight, is known to his fans from many films, but the musical film "Grease" brought the first fame and popularity to the actor, where Travolta dances and sings a lot. The premiere of a film about the life of high school students in the 1950s was accompanied by mass hysteria among the female part of the audience. They even began to talk about such a phenomenon as “travoltomania”. And all because of the young and charming John Travolta, who so harmoniously got used to the image of a high school rebel. At the same time, the style of the actors greatly influenced youth fashion 19In the 1970s, the characters' lines entered colloquial English, and the musical numbers from the film became part of the history of musical cinema. One "boyish" dance in a car repair shop to the song "Greased Lightning" is worth something.

Back to the Future

The most famous scene of the cult film is the performance of the protagonist Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) at the school prom. Here he performs the song "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, to which ladies in puffy skirts and young men with high hairstyles famously dance in the school gym. Filming for the guitar solo took two weeks because the director wanted to make the sequence as believable as possible. According to the plot, during the performance of the protagonist, his bandmate Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck Berry and lets him listen to this song through the phone. As planned by the director, Berry allegedly overheard his hit through a telephone. In fact, Chuck Berry never had a cousin named Martin.


According to director John Waters, the film was meant to be a parody of musical youth films of the 1950s. Johnny Depp, who is very young here, plays a rebel and a handsome man who is capable of melting dozens of girlish hearts during his rock and roll performances, shedding only one tear at the end of the song. But at the same time, he himself falls in love with only one - the diligent girl Allison, who belongs to the clan of the rich and conservatives. The story of Romeo and Juliet of the 50s unfolds against the backdrop of dance and rock and roll. One of the highlights was the performance of Crybaby with the song "King Cry-Baby", under which no one in the auditorium can remain calm.


As you know, in the USSR in the 1950s, rock and roll was banned as a Western culture that promoted a way of life unsuitable for a Soviet person. About this difficult confrontation, director Valery Todorovsky shot his film "Stilyagi". And although the true rock and roll culture has passed Russia by, in "Stilyagi" there were a lot of things that the domestic audience liked. Bright outfits, unusual hairstyles, incendiary dances to the cult melodies of the 80s in rock and roll processing. Use American songs 1930-1950s, which the "dudes" themselves listened to in the Russian film, Todorovsky considered ridiculous. Therefore, the authors of the film opted for "Russian rock" in a new arrangement. Almost every song corresponds to a dance - boogie-woogie, blues or rock and roll, such as, for example, "My little Babe" performed by the hero Maxim Matveev.

Julia Akhmedova

Why Elvis Presley was banned in the USA. On the 45th anniversary of the death of the great rock singer

On August 16, 1977, the unsurpassed king of rock and roll passed away. On this day, a new biopic about him will be released, directed by Baz Luhrmann

Sergei Mitrof-Mitroshin

I must tell you that I lived when Elvis Presley was still alive. And he passed away when I graduated from the institute, and "discomania" victoriously captured all layers of our advanced urban youth. We met in certain places and, like crazy, exchanged “vinyl” that belonged to God knows where and appeared in the country, which was copied to reel-to-reel stereo tape recorders, most often of foreign production.

But what's strange is that Presley was practically not present in this exchange.

The fact is that his career began before we learned about the "meaning of rock music", and ended when the whole sea of ​​rock and roll was already raging around. Moreover, the great “Beatles” have already sounded and even faded away, the immortal in the literal sense of the word “Rolling Stones” rose with might and main, the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was driven into the consciousness to the very hat, and losses from Deep purple (Smoke on the Water), and the Animals have already sung the all-time hit "House of the Rising Sun". However, Presley's name was very much legendary.

Progressive Soviet journalists, who for some reason were allowed to seep under the lower edge of the thinning iron curtain, respectfully called him the king of rock and roll banned in the USSR. Moreover, rock and roll itself as a kind of music was considered a vulgar product of the decaying West, and as dances, it was generally something sexual and indecent. Teachers were responsible for ensuring that rock and roll was not at school parties. Over this ideologeme, of course, everyone laughed.

However, Presley was a mystery to me. To be honest, his croaking manner of singing did not excite at all, moreover, any magic of his gestures, if there was any, disappeared in the re-recording. None of his tape recordings have survived at least five years with me. Is this a stage? Carrot love? But the stage was despised by us. If I knew then the name Kirkorov, I would have asked myself: Presley - is it Kirkorov or something more?

The greater arose from the legend. A self-made truck driver (he wasn't a truck driver!), became a terribly rich and powerful embodiment of the American dream and belief in American democracy, where anyone with talent can make it to the top. On the other hand, and the embodiment of its fall, degradation. The Soviet press wrote with pleasure about the last days of Presley, decorated with palaces and golden toilets. The mise-en-scene of moral collapse was supplemented by the pills he was hooked on, obesity, forced weight loss, then obesity again - anyone will die.

Presley already seemed like such an exhausted uncle, although he died when he was only 43 years old, before even wrinkles appeared. Later, in a strange way, exactly the same fate of the great showman Michael Jackson, who, moreover, was not accidentally married to Presley's daughter, rhymed with his life in a strange way. Obviously, he took a lot from Presley, and they all seemed to fly to the same fire.

Baz Luhrmann's new film ("Romeo + Juliet, 1996, "Moulin Rouge!") "Elvis" (in the title role of Austin Butler), released on screens exactly on the forty-fifth anniversary of the death of the "king" (Elvis Presley died on August 16) At least for me, many of those questions closed. Closed, as they say, gestalt. And after half a century of mine, I discovered the real Presley, who, perhaps, one can continue to admire. I won't be surprised if after the film the re-release of his records begins.

Austin Butler (left) and his hero Elvis Presley

But before deciphering this phenomenon, it should be recalled that America and Russia-USSR are two fatal debaters and opponents who themselves are in constant evolution. For some reason, Russia is always trying to oppose the America that bombed Hiroshima and ironed Korea with carpet bombing, while America of the 40s, 50s, and, moreover, modern America are completely different Americas. Just like Stalin's USSR with the Gulag and the Berlin Wall, Khrushchev's USSR with the Cuban Missile Crisis or Gorbachev's with perestroika, Yeltsin's or Putin's Russia are different Russias.

The America that bombed Hiroshima existed opposite the USSR that invaded Eastern Europe. America with the unfolding struggle for civil rights - opposite the dissident movement in the USSR.

It is absurd to argue with the "present" with the "past", it is absurd to argue with your "past", especially since much is repeated or similar. We are very, very similar in every exotic and evil way. Each McCarthy has his own Klishas or Prilepin. For example, the Russian law on foreign agents was based on the American Act 1938 years old

Even funnier... It turned out that when rock and roll was banned in the USSR, in America, but, however, 20 years earlier, they tried to ban Presley himself in the same way because of his liberal influence on young people, dress in a bourgeois suit with a tie or a ridiculous sweater (on a Christmas TV show). We did not understand (and how could we understand if we had never lived in the West?), but the variety show and Presley were also perceived there as a revolution of style insulting the bourgeoisie, which was more than style - a liberal uprising of the individual against a reactionary society.

But it turns out that something else was also important. Presley's musical roots were in the Negro blues of his childhood, overheard and peeped at religious meetings (gospel). We don't care now, but that American society doesn't. Presley was accused of singing like a black man and torpedoing segregation. Nearly went to jail for it. Segregation was considered a social good, because, as it turns out, society can be persuaded of anything. But then progressive counterforces arrived to help Presley - the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King with their sermons. They changed everything. Nevertheless, there is a version that the growing influence of Presley, a man and a locomotive, on which a whole crowd of fans and hangers-on, but also liberals, tried to ride, forced him to put a "dark man" - "Colonel" Thomas Parker, perhaps , from the secret services, who struggled to ground the great singer and influencer. Dress in restraint sweaters and reproduce on stickers.

Of course, pop music is songs. This is carrot love. But society sometimes encodes its emotions in the most unexpected ways. When in 1968 (the year John F. Kennedy was shot dead and the Soviet troops crushed the Prague Spring) Presley sang the generally quite peaceful song If I Can Dream (“If I can dream”), for some reason everyone took it as a declaration .

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