The hokey cokey (United Kingdom), hokey pokey (United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia), hokey tokey (New Zealand), also known as okey cokey, or cokey cokey, is a participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well known in English-speaking countries. It is of unclear origin, with two main traditions having evolved in different parts of the world.
Origins and meaning
According to one account, in 1940, during the Blitz in London, a Canadian officer suggested to Al Tabor, a British bandleader of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, that he write a party song with actions similar to "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree". The inspiration for the song's title that resulted, "The Hokey Pokey", came from an ice cream vendor whom Tabor had heard as a boy, calling out, "Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump". He changed the name to "The Hokey Cokey" at the suggestion of the officer who said that "cokey", in Canada, meant "crazy" and would sound better. A well known lyricist/songwriter/music publisher of the time, Jimmy Kennedy, reneged on a financial agreement to promote and publish it, and finally Tabor settled out of court, giving up all rights to the number. There had been many theories and conjectures about the meaning of the words "hokey pokey", and of their origin. Some scholars[who?] attributed the origin to the Shaker song "Hinkum-Booby" which had similar lyrics and was published in Edward Deming Andrews' A gift to be simple in 1960: (p. 42).
- A song rendered ("with appropriate gestures") by two Canterbury sisters while on a visit to Bridgewater, N.H. in 1857 starts thus:
- I put my right hand in,
- I put my right hand out,
- In out, in out.
- shake it all about.
- As the song continues, the "left hand" is put in, then the "right foot," then the "left foot," then "my whole head."
- ...Newell gave it the title, "Right Elbow In", and said that it was danced " deliberately and decorously...with slow rhythmical motion."
Before the invention of ice cream cones, ice cream was often sold wrapped in waxed paper and known as a hokey-pokey (possibly a corruption of the Italian ecco un poco – "here is a little"). An Italian ice cream street vendor was called a hokey-pokey man.
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the phrase "hokey cokey" comes from "hocus pocus", the traditional magician's incantation, which itself originated to ridicule the priest's conferring of transubstantiation at a Roman Catholic Mass with Jesus's words at the Last Supper: "hoc est enim corpus meum."
In the 1870s Robert M. Wright wrote of the "gang" in Dodge City, Kansas using "hokey-pokey" which was said to be "bisulphite of carbon". It was administered as a bad joke to "any animal with hair, it has a wonderful effect. For the time being, the animal just went crazy...". It was a great source of amusement to administer a drop on a greenhorn's horse and watch him get bucked off. While not the origin of the word, this certainly accounts for perhaps some words to the dance "shake it all about".
The Anglican Canon Matthew Damon, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, has claimed that the dance as well comes from the Catholic Latin mass. The priest would perform his movements with his back to the congregation, who could not hear well the words, nor understand the Latin, nor clearly see his movements. This theory led Scottish politician Michael Matheson in 2008 to urge police action "against individuals who use it to taunt Catholics". This claim by Matheson was deemed ridiculous by fans from both sides of the Old Firm (the Glasgow football teams Celtic and Rangers) and calls were put out on fans' forums for both sides to join together to sing the song on 27 December 2008 at Ibrox Stadium.
Close relatives of the song's original publisher and of the song's author have publicly stated their recollections of its origin and its meaning. These accounts differ.
In January 2009, the son of Jimmy Kennedy stated that the song which his father originally published as "Cokey Cokey" originated in 1942 from an experience his father had with Canadian soldiers stationed at a London nightclub. Jimmy Kennedy Jr. quoted his father's writing:
"They were having a hilarious time, singing and playing games, one of which they said was a Canadian children's game called The Pokey Pokey. I thought to myself, wouldn't that be fun as a dance to cheer people up! So when I got back to my hotel, I wrote a chorus based on the feet and hand movements the Canadians had used, with a few adaptations. A few days later, I wrote additional lyrics to it but kept the title, Cokey Cokey, and, as everybody knows, it became a big hit."
Alternatively, the grandson of the song's author, Alan Balfour, stated in a letter to The Times published 11 January 2009, responding to the then-recent claims that the song was anti-Catholic:
The idea that the Hokey Cokey song was inspired by any hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum), is a lot of bigoted bunkum (News, December 21). The man who wrote the Hokey Cokey was my grandfather – Al Tabor, a well-known bandleader of the 1930s and 1940s, and neither a Latin scholar nor a bigot.
Alan Balfour has written a play about his grandfather's life called The Hokey Cokey Man (scheduled as of January 2009 to start a five-week run at New End Theatre in London, UK, on 20 May 2009) and was interviewed at its announcement by The Times:
"All of a sudden the song has become something to hammer people with when all it was something to create cheer and a better feeling for the population during the time of the war."
"My grandfather would have thought this was totally absurd. It was never meant to be a dig at anybody, it was meant to inspire people to express themselves physically and celebrate living. It was to cheer everybody up not just Protestants or Jews or whoever."
"This whole business with the Catholic church is silly. The song and the music for the song certainly didn't come from hocus-pocus."
Balfour said his grandfather told him he thought of the ice-cream sellers of his youth when he was looking for a cheery title for a throwaway ditty.
"When he was a boy they used to come up and down the street shouting 'hokey pokey, penny a lump' to sell ice cream. The Canadian officer said to him why don't you change it to 'hokey cokey' because in Canada 'cokey' means 'crazy'."
Dance across the world
United Kingdom and Ireland
Known as the "hokey cokey" or "okey cokey" ("hokey pokey" in Ireland), the song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in Britain and Ireland.
There is a claim of authorship by the British/Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, responsible for the lyrics to popular songs such as the wartime "We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line" and the children's song "Teddy Bears' Picnic". Sheet music copyrighted in 1942 and published by Campbell Connelly & Co Ltd, agents for Kennedy Music Co Ltd, styles the song as "the Cokey Cokey".
EMI Gold released a Monsta Mash CD featuring the "Monsta Hokey Cokey" written and produced by Steve Deakin-Davies of "The Ambition Company".
The song was used by comedian Bill Bailey during his "Part Troll" tour, however it was reworked by Bailey into a style of the German electronic group Kraftwerk, including quasi-German lyrics and Kraftwerk's signature robotic dance moves.
The comedy act Ida Barr, a fictional East End pensioner who mashes up music hall songs with rap numbers, almost always finishes her shows with the hokey cokey, performed over a thumping RnB backing. Ida Barr is performed by a British comedian called Christopher Green.
In Australia the dance is commonly known as the "hokey pokey".
In Philippines the dance is commonly known as the "Boogie Boogie".
Known as the "hokey pokey", it became popular in the US in the 1950s. Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak and Tafit Baker of the musical group the Ram Trio, recorded the song in the late 1940s. They have generally been credited with creating this novelty dance as entertainment for the ski crowd at Idaho's Sun Valley resort. However, two club musicians from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Robert Degen and Joseph P. Brier, had previously copyrighted a very similar song, "The Hokey Pokey Dance", in 1944. (One account says that copyright was granted in 1946.) According to Degan's son in The New York Times, Degan and Brier wrote the song while playing for the summer at a resort near the Delaware Water Gap. Degan resided at Richmond Place Rehabilitation and Health Center in Lexington, Kentucky, until he died on November 23, 2009, at the age of 104. In 1953, Ray Anthony's big band recording of the song turned it into a nationwide sensation. The distinctive vocal was by singer Jo Ann Greer, who simultaneously sang with the Les Brown band and dubbed the singing voices for such film stars as Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak, June Allyson and Esther Williams. (She also charted with Anthony later the same year with the song "Wild Horses".) Degen and Brier, who died in 1991, sued the members of the Ram Trio and several record companies and music publishers for copyright infringement, asking for $200,000 in damages and $1 for each record of the LaPrise "Hokey Pokey". The suit was settled out of court. LaPrise later sold the rights to his version to country-western music star Roy Acuff's Nashville publishing company, Acuff-Rose Music; that company was sold to Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2002.
United States style of dance
The dance follows the instructions given in the lyrics of the song, which may be prompted by a bandleader, a participant, or a recording. A sample instruction set would be:
You put your [right leg] in,
You put your [right leg] out;
You put your [right leg] in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey,
And you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about!
Participants stand in a circle. On "in" they put the appropriate body part in the circle, and on "out" they put it out of the circle. On "And you shake it all about", the body part is shaken three times (on "shake", "all", and "-bout", respectively). Throughout "You do the hokey pokey, / And you turn yourself around", the participants spin in a complete circle with the arms raised at 90° angles and the index fingers pointed up, shaking their arms up and down and their hips side to side seven times (on "do", "hoke-", "poke-", "and", "turn", "-self", and "-round" respectively). For the final "That's what it's all about", the participants clap with their hands out once on "that's" and "what" each, clap under the knee with the leg lifted up on "all", clap behind the back on "a-", and finally one more clap with the arms out on "-bout".
The body parts usually included are, in order, "right leg", "left leg", "right arm", "left arm", "head", "backside", and "whole self"; the body parts "right elbow", "left elbow", "right hip", and "left hip" are often included as well.
The final verse goes:
You do the hokey pokey,
The hokey pokey,
The hokey pokey.
That's what it's all about!
On each "pokey", the participants again raise the arms at 90° angles with the index fingers pointed up, shaking their arms up and down and their hips side to side five times.
United Kingdom and Ireland style of dance
The instruction set goes as follows:
You put your [right leg] in,
Your [right leg] out:
In, out, in, out.
You shake it all about.
You do the hokey cokey,
And you turn around.
That's what it's all about!
On "You do the hokey cokey", each participant joins their right and left hands at the fingertips to make a chevron and rocks the chevron from side to side. After that the participants separately, but in time with the others, turn around (usually clockwise when viewed from above – novices may go in the opposite direction to the main group, but this adds more hilarity to this joyous, novelty dance). The hands are either still joined together, or moved as in a jogging motion – dependent on local tradition or individual choice.
Each instruction set is followed by a chorus, entirely different from other parts of the world. There is either a caller, within or outside the group, or the instructions are called by the whole group – which can add to confusion and is laughed off as part of the dance's charm and amusement.
Whoa, the hokey cokey
Whoa, the hokey cokey
Whoa, the hokey cokey,
Knees bent arms stretch,
Rah rah rah!
The first three lines of this chorus are sometimes rendered 'Whoa, hokey cokey-cokey', with the 'whoa' lasting only two beats instead of three.
For this chorus all participants stand in a circle and hold hands: on each "Whoa" they raise their joined hands in the air and run in toward the centre of the circle, and on "…the hokey cokey" they run backwards out again. This instruction and chorus are repeated for the other limb, then for the upper right, then upper left arm. Either the upper or lower limbs may start first, and either left or right, depending on local tradition, or by random choice on the night. On the penultimate line they bend knees then stretch arms, as indicated, and on "Rah! rah! rah!" they either clap in time or raise arms above their heads and push upwards in time. Sometimes each subsequent verse and chorus is a little faster and louder, with the ultimate aim of making people chaotically run into each other in gleeful abandon. There is a final instruction set with "you put your whole self in, etc", cramming the centre of the dance floor.
In the United Kingdom the hokey cokey is regarded as a traditional song and is therefore free of copyright restrictions. In the United States, Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls 100% of the publishing rights to the "hokey pokey."
In popular culture
The BBC TV comedy series 'Allo 'Allo! showed one of its characters (Herr Otto Flick) demonstrating a variation of the hokey cokey in an episode from season 3. Being a Gestapo officer the lyrics are changed to reflect his sinister nature as follows:
- You put your left boot in
- You take your left boot out
- You do a lot of shouting
- And you shake your fist about
- You light a little smokey
- And you burn down the town
- That's what it's all about
- Aah, Himmler Himmler Himmler—
In 1981 A band of uncredited musicians known as The Snowmen, had a #18 UK hit with the song, there have been persistent unsubstantiated rumours, that the vocalist was Ian Dury.
The University of Iowa Hawkeye football team, under coach Hayden Fry, used to perform the hokey pokey after particularly impressive victories, such as over Michigan and Ohio State. On September 3, 2010, a crowd of 7,384 – with Fry present – performed the hokey pokey in Coralville, Iowa, establishing a new world record.
The Marching Virginians of Virginia Tech play this song (known as the "Hokie Pokie" at Virginia Tech because of their mascot) between the third and fourth quarters at all Virginia Tech football games. Much of the crowd participates in the dance, as do the tubas during much of the song and the rest of the band during the tuba feature. The song is also generally used as the Marching Virginians' dance number in the first half-time field show of the year, and an abbreviated version is played as a "Spirit Spot" (short song used between plays during the football game) after a big play.
Alternative band The Three O'Clock used the roller skating version of the hokey cokey in the video for their song "Her Head's Revolving." The video opens and ends with them doing the hokey cokey. It is available at YouTube.
The Centauri Ambassador to Babylon 5, Londo Mollari, refers to the song in perplexity (during part one of the episode "A Voice in the Wilderness") as further evidence of the incomprehensible nature of human culture.
The Washington Post has a weekly contest called the Style Invitational. One contest asked readers to submit "instructions" for something (anything), but written in the style of a famous person. The popular winning entry was "The Hokey Pokey (as written by William Shakespeare)" by Jeff Brechlin, Potomac Falls, and submitted by Katherine St. John.
Comedian Jim Breuer performs the hokey pokey as he imagines it would be interpreted by AC/DC, commenting on the band's ability to turn any song, no matter how mundane, into a rock anthem.
- MacDonald, Stuart (2009-01-11). "Hokey Cokey no Catholic dig". The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- Edmund Forte. "Hokey Pokey and All That: The history of ice cream". – Forte presents this and several alternative hypotheses.
- Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, or 1 Corinthians 11:24
- Daily Telegraph: Doing hokey cokey 'mimics Latin Mass', David Bamber, Sunday 14 March 1999.
- "Hokey Cokey will land you in pokey", The Scottish Sun
- "Canada's Hokey Pokey cause of England dust up", canada.com[dead link]
- Letter to the editor, "Hokey Cokey: no Catholic dig – Grandson of the writer defends song against claims that it is anti-Catholic, saying it is based on a phrase about ice cream", The Times (London, UK)
- Lloyd, John; John Mitchinson (2007-08-07). The Book of General Ignorance. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-307-39491-0.
- "Bill Bailey – Kraftwerk – Part Troll". YouTube. 2004. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Weber, Bruce. ""Robert Degen, Who Had a Hand in the Hokey Pokey, Dies at 104", The New York Times, December 3, 2009
- DuPuis II, Roger. "Scranton native credited with writing famed 'Hokey Pokey' dies at 104", The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), November 27, 2009
- "Robert Degen's New York Times obituary".
- KCRG-TV. "FryFest Breaks Hokey Pokey World Record". Retrieved 2010-09-05.
- Hokey Pokey – U.S. NIEHS website – Printed lyrics with synthesized music (no sung lyrics), with U.S. copyright information (audio plays automatically).