The greatest pop music dance crazes – ranked!

It’s 40 years since we first spelled out YMCA to the Village People’s disco hit – here are 15 of the best finger-pointing, hip-wiggling hits

15. Limp Bizkit

Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle) (2000)

Despite his disdain for early 2000s choreography queens Britney and Christina, Fred Durst wasn’t immune to a dance craze. In this typically understated nu-metal video, he distinguishes his manly moves by throwing down on a helipad (very dangerous!) and inviting viewers to celebrate the size of his ... steering wheel.

14. Black Lace

Agadoo (1984)

The classic novelty single was inspired by distant climes whose locals, one imagines, wouldn’t be seen dead dancing to it. Sure, it ruined your school disco, but consider the plight of singer Dene Michael Betteridge, who was forced to perform the song’s lumpen moves when in jail for benefit fraud. “These terrifying criminals tell you to do something, you do it,” he said.

Agadoo

13. Billy Ray Cyrus

Achy Breaky Heart (1992)

The only way to get smooth, mullet-sporting Cyrus on traditional country radio was to play up his horndog status. A choreographer taught the distinctive line dance to the female fans who turned up for the video shoot, the label organised a dance contest and the 90s line-dancing fad was born (before dying with Steps’ monstrous 5, 6, 7, 8).

12. Steps

Tragedy (1998)

If my bandmates ruined my wedding, I wouldn’t be inclined to accompany them to a disco and knock out a rinky-dink dance routine, but such is life in the video for Tragedy. The hands-by-the-ears dance moves could be likened to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, if you had lost your mind and critical faculties.

11. REM

Stand (1988)

REM challenged themselves to write this dumb bubblegum song, which swiftly became their second US Top 10 hit. Needing a video to match, the director, Katherine Dieckmann, determined to break down Michael Stipe’s “staid” public image with this mildly aerobic, entirely charming routine that provoked much playground copycatting. A lark, but a self-aware and not-unkind one.

Russ does the Gun Lean
Russ does the Gun Lean Photograph: Grab

10. Russ

Gun Lean (2018)

US rap spurs global viral dances, but the UK scene isn’t too shabby at it. Following Skepta’s Rolex Sweep and KIG’s Head, Shoulders, Kneez & Toez, Gun Lean finds Russ performing his glitchy, lean-back bob in Sainsbury’s cereal aisle and moving embattled drill closer to the (snap, crackle and) pop mainstream.

Gun Lean
Whigfield
Saturday Night Photograph: DPA picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

9. Whigfield

Saturday Night (1994)

The Saturday Night dance didn’t originate with Whigfield, but by the time she performed the No 1 hit on Top of the Pops, the kinetic, bunny-hopping bop had become such a phenomenon that the Dane had no choice but to scowl as some talentless buffoons performed it around her. Its legacy endures in regional aqua aerobics classes.

The Bangles
Walk Like an Egyptian Photograph: Eugene Adebari/Rex Features

8. The Bangles

Walk Like an Egyptian (1986)

Perhaps the only video to feature Princess Diana, Gaddafi and the Statue of Liberty, whose limbs were computer-manipulated into mimicking the ancient Egyptian reliefs that inspired the song. On one hand, this two-arm movement couldn’t be easier; on the other, the video reveals dozens of uncoordinated New Yorkers making an enjoyable hash of it.

Psy
Gangnam Style Photograph: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

7. Psy

Gangnam Style (2012)

Who knew that Psy’s pony-spanking dance could do so much harm? It has led to deaths, rival gang shootouts, near-fatal LSD trips, conspiracy theories, fraudster arrests, Ed Balls’ spirited jockeying and illegal firecracker production. Not to mention all the slipped discs.

6. Soulja Boy

Crank That (2007)

Most of the moves detailed in Crank That are easily replicable – punching, starting a motorbike, the robot – hence its breakout success. But one element of the song mercifully didn’t go mainstream: namely the “Superman”, which Urban Dictionary details as the emission of a certain fluid that then dries into a cape-like layer. Grisly.

Soulja Boy
Crank That Photograph: Ben Rose/WireImage
Chubby Checker doing The Twist
The Twist Photograph: Redferns/Getty Images

5. Chubby Checker

The Twist (1960)

The first global dance craze is a softer, desexualised version of a dance that stems back to 19th-century slaves and looks incredibly gentle today. Still, it provoked endearing bafflement among commentators at the time, who likened its “piston-like motions” to “baffled bird keepers fighting off a flock of attacking blue jays”.

Dancer performing the Macarena
The Macarena Photograph: Evan Agostini/Getty Images

4. Los Del Río

Macarena (1995)

The Macarena has fallen on hard times: macarena.com is canvassing for donations to stay up and running. But the methodical dance to one of the biggest one-hit wonders will live on, at least until the last 90s kid who can do it in their sleep passes away. Hey!

John Travolta
Night Fever Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features

3. Bee Gees

Night Fever (1978)

The “faces” of the New York disco scene that inspired Saturday Night Fever were uniquely stylish men (at least, in Nik Cohn’s fabricated Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night feature). But the beauty of the diagonal point-and-bob, so immaculately done by John Travolta, is that any drunk slob can pull it off with aplomb.

2. Beyoncé

Single Ladies (2008)

Single Ladies

Of all the moves in Single Ladies – the Bob Fosse-inspired routine that spawned a thousand high-end exercise classes, the finger-waggy “huh oh oh”s aimed at giving nans an easy bit to follow – none is as arresting as Beyoncé’s final pose as she audibly gasps for breath after nailing it.

1. Village People

YMCA (1978)

Some of pop history’s finest moments turn on a flash of recontextualisation that sticks for ever: the interview that recast the Spice Girls as Scary, Ginger and co; an outraged Mike Read pulling Relax off air, stoking its notoriety. You can watch one happen when the Village People performed YMCA on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in January 1979. The group hadn’t choreographed a dance, but the audience, mistaking the band’s raised arms in the chorus for a Y formation, invented one on the spot. Clark, agog, made everyone do it again immediately. Forty years on, we’ve never stopped.

Village People
The ‘YMCA’ dance. Photograph: Amanda Edwards/Redferns

Contributor

Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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