General Dance Discussion > Origins of the boogaloo dance

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by odub, Apr 21, 2008.

  1. odub

    odub New Member

    I've been researching Latin boogaloo/bugalu music for some time now but I haven't spent nearly enough time trying to track down the origins of the dance. I've read through a good deal of what's been theorized out there - including on these forums - and I'm hoping to find more info.

    Here's what is known about boogaloo - as a music style: In 1965, a Black R&B duo known as Tom and Jerrio release "Boo-Ga-Loo" as a 7" single. It becomes a massive success, launching off a boogaloo fad in R&B circles that later shifts into the jazz world (see Lou Donaldson, Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones, and others). In 1966, Ricardo Ray and Joe Cuba are among the first to develop a distinctive Latin boogaloo style which becomes enormously popular for the next three years before dying out around 1968/9 as salsa becomes ascendant.

    What is interesting is that reporting on both Tom and Jerrio's single and Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang" suggests that the boogaloo DANCE was the inspiration behind their songs. In other words, the boogaloo dance came first, then the boogaloo music followed. So this opens up a question:

    Who came up with the boogaloo dance? Was it something out of the Latino American community? African American community? Neither/both?

    I know it's difficult to trace down dance histories. Far as I can tell, even with the Tom and Jerrio story, they claim that the boogaloo originally came from East Harlem but I haven't found much to verify that outside of one single source.

    People also note there's no "set way" to dance the boogaloo but if you look at early boogaloo record covers (Pete Terrace's "King of the Boogaloo" or Hector Rivera's "At the Party" both come to mind), there is a similarity to James Brown's demonstration of the boogaloo:

    Anyways, I very much welcome the forum's insight on this.
  2. odub

    odub New Member

    thought I'd bump this to see if there's any new thoughts on the question as to where the boogaloo first emerges?
  3. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    It is closely aligned with the latin genre, and has a distinctive syncop. in the music, which may have " borrowed " the phrasing from the old triple Mambo/ Gaujira, by which they pre date by many yrs .

    Bang Bang is a classic e.g. of the rhythm being used in Cha cha demos etc. , and i think was responsible for its re emergence ( B/Loo ) into the dance scene .

    The term B/loo, is now frequently applied to many latino songs .
  4. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    From "Jazz Dance" by Mashall and Jean Stearns...

    "A second wave of dances crashed over American dance floors during and after the Twist: .... Boogaloo, and so on. Several of them showed traces of ancient lineage...

    But something was missing: As the dances multiplied, the quality deteriorated. Many such new "dances" were simply charades, pantomines with hand-and-arm gestures and little body or footwork. "

    Not a whole lot to go on.
    It began as a dance but with no set steps or patterns. Dancing the boogaloo was about letting loose in whatever way possible--tossed heads, flailing limbs, kicking feet and all. Little wonder that musicians would find ways of translating that kinetic energy into rhythm. According to lore, in 1965 the Detroit R&B duo of Robert "Tom" Tharpe and Jerry "Jerrio" Murray attended a hop sponsored by Herb "Kool Gent" Kent, a DJ from Chicago's WVON. There, they saw black teenagers performing a frenzied, energetic dance. When they asked its name, the teens replied it was from Spanish Harlem and called the boogaloo.

    Like the dance that inspired it, boogaloo in the R&B and jazz worlds were freestyles, with no set formula. Notably though, for a music fad inspired by a dance purportedly from Spanish Harlem, these boogaloos bore no discernible Latin influences. It wasn't until the boogaloo returned home to New York in 1966 that it acquired a Latin sabor, one intermeshed in both African-American and Latin-American rhythmic traditions.

    Is this your one source?

    Dancing apart, and for the most part just jumping around,is seen in lots of 1950s (~ 58 ) rock n roll movies along with "jitterbug" partner dancing. By the mid 60s fewer and fewer people were doing "partner dances".

    Did the boogaloo acquire a fixed formula?
  5. odub

    odub New Member


    Ha - I wrote that article for The Nation. My source comes from both Robert Pruter's book "Chicago Soul" (and I also spoke with Pruter himself) as well as several online sources that also repeat, more or less, the same "origin story" but I suspect they are also following on Pruter's research.

    I don't doubt that Tom and Jerrio created their "Boo-Ga-Loo" single after seeing teenagers perform the boogaloo dance at a Chicago record hop.

    What's unclear is whether the boogaloo was a dance that originated in the Midwest or New York. My guess is that it was a Chicago dance and THEN migrated out East where it then influenced/evolved into the Latin boogaloo. Other histories suggest it was a New York dance that migrated to the Midwest but that seems unlikely given that boogaloo MUSIC clearly went Midwest --> East rather than the other way around.

    As for how to dance the boogaloo, I agree with the idea there's no set style, at least not one that's maintained any consistency. My feeling though is that the Chicago boogaloo style is probably pretty similar to the boogaloo that James Brown used to perform - a head-jerking, arm-pumping style mostly confined to the upper body. However, Latin dance instructors I've spoken to have described their take on the boogaloo as more of a "funky cha cha cha."

    Hope that helps!
  6. dcrb64

    dcrb64 New Member


    I dont have much to add on but reminisce . I grew up in NE DC and the boogaloo was big. You didnt dance with a partner. You held your hands up
    like fighting stance , it had a real African feel to it it was wild..the boogaloo instrumental was itself was get down . I dont remember anyone talking about it came from Spanish harlem or any such. All we knew was the instrumental was bad and the dance was frenetic . come to think of it
    James Brown did it and well. I remember Bang Bang....ending with the Latin guy saying "Yanky Panky with Joe" that was a hit too. No one mentioned this is Latin. DC did not have the big Latin influence New York had .

  7. chris stroffolino

    chris stroffolino New Member

    Hi. I just joined because this is the best discussion I've found on this I've seen on the web. The dance comes first; the wikipedia page on "boogaloo" mostly ignores its R&B (soul) manifestations. Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones) argues that the term actually comes from the Civil Rights Struggle. The Deacons of Self Defense in Bogalusa, Louisiana, routed the KKK in 1964 (Baraka, 524). Hence, the word BOOGALOO. While Baraka claims this inspired James Brown to come up with the dance, Brown could've gotten it from Tom & Jerrio--but it does seem the NAME cames from BOGALUSA, which was a very popular word in the African American communities in the north as well as the south at the time. Anyway, this history makes more sense to me than the one Wikipedia says.

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