Twisting the Night Away

Beginning in the summer of 2019, Special Collections worked with the Department of Theatre and Dance to plan an outreach program for this semester that included an exhibit, a lecture, a panel discussion, and a student performance. This is the blog post we planned in conjunction with the April events, now canceled.

In 1962, the dance craze the twist was sweeping the nation. Chubby Checker’s song “The Twist” is credited with starting the trend. It enjoyed two waves of popularity, reaching number one on the Billboard weekly chart in September 1960 and January 1962, when it was re-released. On the annual chart, it peaked at number nine. Other twist classics that enjoyed popular and commercial success that year included Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away” at number 23, “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starlighters at number 25, and The Isley Brothers classic “Twist and Shout” at number 38.

At UVM, students were twisting at the height of the craze. The Student Association’s Pep Committee sponsored a dance on Saturday, February 17, 1962. Scheduled for 9:30 to midnight, after a men’s basketball game against the University of Massachusetts, it’s not surprising that a handful of star athletes attended. With live music provided by the Craters, a twist-a-thon took place, documented in a set of photographs taken by Andrew Bush. The dance was one of the last events held in the gymnasium (now Royall Tyler Theatre) before Patrick Gym opened in 1963. It must have taken a lot of quick work to transform the gym after the game with crepe paper streamers and dance wax on the floor.

Photograph of a male and female student dancing a crowd of other students.

Benny Becton ’63 (center), star basketball player and future UVM Athletic Hall of Fame member, and his dance partner twist in the men’s gym.

Photograph of a male and female student walking in the gym while smiling and snapping their fingers. Other students dance in the background.

Football star Frank Bolden ‘63 (left) at the 1962 dance. Bolden was inducted into the UVM Athletic Hall of Fame, chaired UVM’s Board of Trustees and received an honorary degree from the university in 2018.

In some ways, the loosened up movements and close contact that characterize the twist mirrored changes in society. Not everyone was a fan.

Famed dancer Ginger Rogers objected to the twist, calling it “ungraceful,” “vulgar,” and “obscene” in this AP story printed in the Burlington Free Press on January 3, 1962.

Newspaper article detailing Rogers's objections to the twist. There was a clear generational divide, with youngsters in favor of this newest fad and their parents full of concern (Rutland Daily Herald, January 25, 1962).

A letter to the editor by "High School Student" that concludes "I will stand my ground in regard to this question that all parents ask today [should the twist be censored?]. 'The Twist' is 'OUR DANCE'. We want it, and we don't want everyone condemning it! Let us enjoy 'The Twist' as our parents enjoyed the Charleston."Still, a few schools in Vermont banned the dance for moral or religious reasons and in quite strong terms. The first was imposed by Marian High School (Brattleboro Reformer, January 23, 1962). St. Anne’s Academy of Swanton took action soon after (Brattleboro Reformer, January 30, 1962).

Newspaper article titled "Barre School Bars Twist" explains that St. Monica's Church "said in its weekly bulletin that the Twist will not be tolerated because it is 'synthetic sex' turned into a sick spectator sport."

Newspaper article announcing that St. Anne's Academy banned the dance, describing it as "a most repulsive and horrible sight to behold" and "very improper for any Christian."

 

 

Twisting brought out warnings for potential back and foot injuries among adults (Brattleboro Reformer, January 24, 1962). But other sources promoted twisting for exercise (Bennington Banner, January 13, 1962).

Newspaper article that contains advice from the Massachusetts Podiatry Society warning that the Twist can "result in bursitis problems and heel inflammations."

Newspaper article that details a meeting of a women's club in Stowe in which a ski instructor demonstrated and recommended twisting for agility training. Attendees were over age 40, including one octogenarian.

 

 

With these widely varying viewpoints, it’s no wonder the subject of twisting popped up in advice columns (Burlington Free Press, May 19, 1962).

Newspaper column in which 15-year-old Patty asks for advice about holding a twist party for her friends while her mother thinks it a "vulgar dance" and "doesn't want to have people believe that she approves of it." The reply lists other past dance fads that were more suggestive including dancing cheek-to-cheek, The Charleston, jitterbug, and Big Apple, which the author describes as "fun."The twist was such a cultural phenomenon that it didn’t take long for twisting to be referenced in the funny papers, like this “Archie” comic that also seems to predict iPods (Burlington Free Press, August 27, 1962).

Comic strip in which a mother and father discuss a group of teenagers having a twist party in their driveway. The father says they look like they are killing ants. The mother replies that he said he didn't want the rugs worn out. The father then says that he doesn't want the neighbors to complain and the mother replies that the neighbors can't hear anything because the kids all have transistors and are listening with earphones.

Contributed by Erin Doyle, Manuscripts and University Archives Assistant

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