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Fad dances are dances which are characterized by a short burst of popularity, while novelty dances typically have a longer-lasting popularity based on their being characteristically humorous or humor-invoking, as well as the sense of uniqueness which they have.
These are also called "dance crazes". Dancing style fads have for some centuries been a part of social dancing, sometimes gliding smoothly into tradition after their "newness" has faded, and sometimes simply fading away into oblivion.
Since the Renaissance, the courts of European monarchs and nobles played host to a long succession of dance fads, many of which became social 'crazes' that spread into general society. They include the minuet, the allemande, the schottische, the mazurka and the waltz. Many of these European Renaissance dance crazes—such as the allemande—have long since faded into obscurity, but their rhythms were preserved in European classical music. By the time of Bach, the tempi of these dances had evolved into standardized rhythmical frameworks that formed the basis for the various movements of Baroque and early Classical instrumental works.
In modern times new dances ("fads") arise and disappear much more frequently. This is certainly spurred by modern communication improvements (printed media, radio, movies, television, internet).
In the early 1920s a string of dance crazes swept the world, including jitterbug and the Charleston. Perhaps the most significant of all these early 20th century crazes originated in Argentina in the early 1900s. The tango swept the world in the late 1910s and early 1920s, sparking a worldwide craze that was fanned by its use in Hollywood movies, and the style was soon appropriated to become part of the standard dance repertoire.
The tango was the first in a series of 20th century Latin music dance crazes that included the merengue, the samba, the mambo, the rumba, the cha-cha-cha and, in the early 1960s, the bossa nova. Each new Latin style enjoyed massive popularity, and many transcended their fad status to become standardized styles in the repertoire of western popular dance tradition.
Latin dance styles also exerted a huge influence on the direction of western popular music; this was especially true of jazz, which was profoundly altered by the advent of the first wave of Latin music in the 1940s and then by the bossa nova craze of the 1960s, which also had a massive influence on American pop music.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, new dance fads appeared almost every week. Many were popularized (or commercialized) versions of new styles or steps created by African-American dancers who frequented the clubs and discothèques in major U.S. cities like New York, Philadelphia and Detroit. Among the dozens of crazes that swept the world during this fertile period were the Madison, "The Swim", the "Mashed Potato", "The Twist", "The Frug" (pronounced 'froog') and "The Watusi", "The Shake" and "The Hitchhike"; several '60s dance crazes had animal names, including "The Pony", "The Dog" and "The Chicken" (not to be confused with the later Chicken Dance).
In 1965, the Mexican-American group Cannibal and the Headhunters had a hit with the 1962 Chris Kenner song Land of a Thousand Dances which included the names of sixteen of these dances. One list of Fad Dances compiled in 1971 named over ninety dances.
As the pop music market exploded in the late 1950s, successive dance fads were commercialized and exploited. Standardized versions were printed in dance and teen magazines, often choreographed to popular songs. Many pop hits of the Sixties were purpose-written to exploit emerging new dance crazes—notable examples include "Mashed Potato Time" by Dee Dee Sharp and this appropriation continued into the 1990s. Other songs such as "The Loco-Motion"—composed by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and first recorded by Little Eva—were specifically written with the intention of creating a new dance style.
In the early 1970s new dance styles fueled the emergence of the disco phenomenon, which spawned a succession of dance fads including the Bump, The Hustle, and the YMCA. This continued in the 1980s with the popular song "Walk like an Egyptian", in the 1990s with the "Macarena", in the 2000s with "The Ketchup Song" and in the 2010s with the "Gangnam Style" dance. Contemporary sources for dance crazes include music videos and movies.
There are fad dances which are meant to be danced individually as solo, others are partner dances, and yet others are danced in groups. Some of them were of freestyle type, i.e., there were no particular step patterns and they were distinguished by the style of the dance movement (Twist, Shake, Swim, Pony, Hitchhike). Only some of them survived until now, sometimes only as the name of a step (Suzie Q, Shimmy) or of a style (Mashed Potato) in a recognized dance. Fad dances are in fashion at the time of their popularity. They are associated with a specific time period, and evoke a nostalgia when danced nowadays.
Novelty dances might include quirky and unusual steps, or have an unusual name. Novelty dances may also have been fad dances which have remained popular over a longer period. It is not necessary that they ever were fashionably popular. These are also referred to as "party" or "dance party" dances. Novelty dances that have remained popular are no longer associated with a specific time period—they are timeless. Novelty dances are meant to be funny, and to evoke general mirth verging on silliness in participants.