6 Dances That Shocked Society Throughout History

La Volta (1550s) (“the turn”) La volta was a 16th-century court dance for couples that called for intimate embraces and high jumps that tested the standards of propriety. It became more respectable after Queen Elizabeth I danced it.

The Waltz (1810s) Though tame by today’s standards, the close embrace and continuous looping feeling from the 3/4 meter were real head-turners back in those days.

The Cancan (1860s) The high kicks exposed petticoats and legs of the dance-hall girls who performed the cancan in 19th-century Paris, outraging the general public, who considered it scandalous.

The Charleston (1920s) Requiring a bouncy carriage, loose limbs and quick footwork, the Charleston captured the fun and fancy-free nature of the Roaring ’20s. It was the first social dance a woman could do unaccompanied by a partner.

The Twist (1960s) This dance—done by rotating the hips, knees and heels side to side—took off after Chubby Checker first performed it on “American Bandstand.” Doctors expressed concern that it could cause knee and back injuries.

Twerking (2010s) Lean forward and shake your hips and glutes really fast and you’re twerking. Though the move originated in West African dance decades ago, it was Miley Cyrus’ 2013 performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that cemented its place in mainstream pop culture.

Photo: Thinkstock

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"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

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