The jitterbug was an American dance craze that became popular in the 1930s and retained that popularity through decades. Already in minor local use, the term was popularized by Cab Calloway with a 1934 song “Call of the Jitterbug” and a subsequent short film from 1935, Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party.
Popular dances have notoriously short lifespans. Should anyone doubt this, one might only ask when the last time someone on a dance floor was given special attention because they were dancing… other than to a particular song that introduced a dance… gangnam style, or the melbourne shuffle, or stanky leg, etc… Dabbing will soon go the way of Hammer dancing, the mashed potato, and the swim, and nobody will be amazed when it happens.
The Jitterbug lingered. When American Bandstand started being transmitted nationally in the late 1950s, it was still the most popular fast dance in the country. It lasted until the early 1960s, giving it more than a quarter decade as one of America’s favorite dances.
What puts the jitterbug into trivia history books isn’t its odd staying power; rather, it’s the song’s association with one of the most famous movies of all time.
In The Wizard of Oz film, the Wicked Witch sends an insect swarm to harass Dorothy and her friends. The insects are jitterbugs, which cause the group to dance and Dorothy to spontaneously break into song.
In the movie’s test runs, audiences felt the movie ran a bit too long. Studio executives decided that the jitterbug scene added nothing as far as plot development and cut it.
The result was a line that no longer makes any sense in the film. The Wicked Witch, sending her flying monkeys to capture the heroes, informs one of her agents: “They’ll give you no trouble; I promise you that. I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them.”
With the final edit, an astute viewer is left to wonder how ineffectual the Wicked Witch’s insect was. It was actually very effective at tiring out the heroes, it merely wasn’t strong enough to overcome studio editors.
Question of the night: What’s a dance you enjoy performing or watching?