We’ve all seen it, it’s utterly ridiculous and usually performed in a bout of intoxicant-driven lunacy. You tuck your hands into your arm-pits to make ‘wings,’ and then you flap like an idiot in time with some particularly unfortunate music. All that aside, you have complete giggle fits with a bunch of your friends while you behave in a fashion that has the local sanitarium eyeballing you for membership.
What are we talking about? The Chicken Dance of course! National Dance Like a Chicken Day commemorates this dance and its origins and even gives you a chance to learn WHY anyone would do this terrible, terrible thing.
History of National Dance Like a Chicken Day
“Der Ententanz” was the name of the song that inspired all of this, and while the dance has come to be called “The Chicken Dance”, the song itself is called The Duck Dance. At least that was its original name, and now it has spread all over the world, undergoing multiple name changes in the process. It has been known as everything from The Little Bird Dance to De Vogeltjesdans, or “The dance of the little birds.”
That episode occurred in the 1950s, and few people outside of the band or Switzerland had any idea that such a strange song existed. Things came to a head, however, in the 1970s when a Dutch music producer called Louis Julien van Rijmenant overheard the creator of the song, Werner Thomas, performing it at a hotel in the 1970s. It was so unusual, and like nothing that he had ever heard before, he wanted to be a part of its story.
The music producer then went on to help Thomas get some recognition for his work. The Duck Dance rendition was actually the B-Side of a single released by a band called “De Electronica’s”. The A-Side simply wasn’t being well received by the radio station audiences, so they flipped it over. At that moment, history was made and it rocketed to the Dutch charts and stayed there for nearly a year. So much has its popularity exploded that it has been recorded in no less than 140 versions with over 40,000,000 records published over its lifetime.
In 1981 the dance brought to Oktoberfest in the United States, and due to a complete lack of duck costumes anywhere near the event, they had to settle for chicken costumes instead. The result of which is the name by which it is now known. The song responsible gets new covers done almost every year, with new lyrics added all the time. That’s right, there’s lyrics. You’re welcome.
Of course, the charm of the chicken dance didn’t end there. Eventually, it made its way into plenty of pop culture references and then even the school playground, explaining its enduring appeal to this day.
Practically since its conception, people associated the chicken dance with funny music. But in 1982, a band out of Edmonton, Canada, called the Emeralds, created a song that perfectly married the funny dance with polka-style music (the one that goes “oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa”). The rhythm just seemed to fit with the natural movements of the chicken and added a new layer of comedy to an already-hilarious sketch.
The tune was so successful that it eventually helped the Emeralds earn two gold-selling albums in 1983 and 1984. The actual song itself, called Bird Dance, went on to become double-platinum. Even the movie industry wanted to cash in on the tune’s unique vibe, featuring it in both Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and the John Paizs’s cult classic, Crime Wave.
Since these iconic cultural moments, the chicken dance has become something of a cult phenomenon of its own. It’s hilarious and has inspired thousands of people to get in on the action and make it a part of their regular lives. In 1994, for instance, more than 48,000 people gathered together to celebrate the dance – the biggest known collection of people known to perform that dance to date.
After this event, the chicken dance eventually made its way into the popular culture. Major newspapers began making references to it (such as the Wall Street Journal). It wasn’t just an oddity of certain polka-loving communities, but something that everyone wanted to be a part of.
What Inspired The Chicken Dance?
But what made Thomas want to create the tune in the first place? What inspired him to come up with something so whacky?
Thomas lived near several ski resorts during his life growing up. He would frequently watch holidaymakers zipping down the pistes, even as far back as the 1950s. To Thomas, the people coming down the slope always looked like the spitting image of birds. Their arms were out to the side, and their elbows were tucked in, keeping their skis close to their bodies. Their technique was sound, but Thomas couldn’t help notice how hilarious it was to watch. Here were a bunch of otherwise earnest and wealthy people, marauding around on the snow like ducks. It was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss.
The way that Thomas interpreted their movements had a lot to do with his own experiences. He thought that they actually looked more like ducks than chickens – which is probably accurate. Ducks have a particular manner about them that is reminiscent of skiers, especially when they stand up straight and stretch out their wings.
How to celebrate National Dance Like a Chicken Day
Need we say it? The best way to celebrate National Dance Like a Chicken Day is by getting out there and doing the Chicken Dance! It’s quite simple, and it all starts with making a beak with your hands, and ‘squawk’ them four times in beat with the music, then you make wings as described earlier, and flap them four times in time with the music. Then… ya know what? Just watch this: How to Chicken Dance.