Do The Watusi

The Watusi was a dance craze that became popular in America during the 1960s (it was the second most popular dance in the US after the Twist!).

The dancer stands with knees slightly bent and moves backwards and forwards by one or two small rhythmic steps. The arms are held straight and flail up and down in time with the music, with the head bobbing slightly to accentuate the arm flailing.

Luci Baines Johnson dancing with Steve McQueen, 1964


In the video below, two teachers show how the Watusi is done.

There were several songs that made reference to the Watusi. The Vibrations released "The Watusi" in 1961 and The Orlons had the biggest hit of their career with their recording of "The Wah-Watusi" in 1962. In 1963 Chubby Checker released his version of "The Wah-Watusi" and later that year Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded their own version. The dance is even mentioned in Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances" in 1966.

Puerto Rican jazz musician Ray Barretto is most associated with the dance. He recorded "El Watusi" in 1961 and the success of the song meant that he came to be typecast (something he disliked).

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

So when you're out dancing at the weekend, make like a go-go girl and do the Watusi!


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  1. Hi, Sarah! I LOVED this post! You touched on all the important artists involved with the Watusi and even showed an instructional chart from back in the day, a demo video and that rare pic of Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward which I had never seen before. Way to go!

    I was age 10-15 when dance records were the rage in the U.S. Seemed like a new dance craze erupted every week and a variety of artists including Chubby Checker, the Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp, Little Eva, Bobby Freeman and Len Barry had hit records that celebrated those dances.

    I posted this video on SDM&M a few months ago and I'd like you and your readers to see it. For me it remains one of the most exciting performances I've ever witnessed, rivaling Michael Jackson's epic moonwalk. Why? Because it was presented on the conservative Lawrence Welk Show, a music program aimed mostly at senior citizens. The girl dancing the "Wah Watusi" in this clip is teenage Janet Lennon of the singing Lennon Sisters, an act known primarily for polkas, folk songs, religious songs, etc. This was perhaps the first time Welk ever allowed rock 'n' roll on his show and it opened the floodgates to much more in the years to come as he struggled to adjust to changing tastes in music and gain younger viewers.

    Please watch this video as little Janet Lennon turns cool right before America's eyes:

    Thank you for another delightful and informative post, dear friend Sarah. I have a blog award for you in tomorrow morning's post so stay tuned!

    1. I'm glad you liked the post Shady! I'm at work at the moment so can't watch the video but will make sure I do as soon as I get home. At one of the vintage shops I go to here in London, me and the owner will often muck around and do the Watusi in the shop. I will look out for your post tomorrow!

  2. Great post, Sarah - love this dance. I happened to be listening to 'Land of 1000 Dances' when I came across your pin yesterday - brilliant timing!

  3. Thansk for this post! I was dancing around my lounge room this morning! It looks like there are so many little variations you can do with your arms and legs which makes it all the more fun!
    I love the picture of the girl in the spotty dress on the white background. she looks like shes having a ball! Watusi!

  4. Oh I love the Watusi, very fun to do! Great post! I am not really the best dancer myself and am dreadful when it comes to anything freestyle. But give me steps or certain dances to follow, like this, and I'll dance away gladly and enjoy it much more! I think that is what appeals to me a lot about dance crazes from that era - anyone can do it!

  5. Your blog is adorable! I love the whimsical retro vibe. Following you!


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