Only one of the dances associated with 1950s rock’n’roll has the distinction of being British, the ‘hand jive’.
In 1957 when filmmaker Ken Russell was a freelance photographer, he recorded the teenagers of Soho, London hand-jiving in the basement of The Cat’s Whisker coffee bar, where the hand-jive was invented by Leon Bell of Leon Bell and the Bell Cats. According to an article in the Daily Mirror, “it’s so crowded the girls hand-jive to the band as there’s no room for dancing.” Russell told interviewer Leo Benedictus of The Guardian that “the place was crowded with young kids… the atmosphere was very jolly. Wholesome… everyone jiving with their hands because there was precious little room to do it with their feet… a bizarre sight. The craze fascinated me. It seemed like a strange novelty; I used to join in.”
The song ‘hand jive 6-5’ / ‘ramshackle daddy’ Don Lang and his Frantic Five in March 1958.
Swedish cover by Towa Carson (1958)
This recording does not feature the Bo Diddley rhythm.
In April 1958, the UK record label Decca Records, released a song called “Hand Jive” by Bud Allen, performed by the Betty Smith Group. The song lyrics describe the hand dance the title refers to. Hand Jive by Betty Smith released April 1958
The hand jive was popularized in the States by Johnny Otis‘s “Willie and the Hand Jive“, described as a “funky blues rendition in a Bo Diddley styling” and “another approach to the growing Stateside interest in the British originated hand dance.”
This song exhibited the Bo Diddley beat, a rhythm that originated in Afro-Latin music and was brought into mainstream American music by Bo Diddley. It has since influenced generations of musicians.
The Johnny Otis and his band perform ‘the hand jive’ aided by the Three Tons of Joy (as they called themselves!).
‘Line dance’ described as a hand jive from an episode of ‘Studio Party’, a New York City series from circa 1958 aimed at teenagers, hosted by Herb Sheldon. Broadcast on WABD.