Chicken Dance

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The "Chicken Dance", also known and recorded as Der Ententanz, Tchip Tchip, Vogerltanz, the Bird Song, the Chicken Song, the Birdie Song, the Bird Dance, Danse des Canards, the Duck Dance, El Baile de los Pajaritos, Il Ballo del Qua Qua, Check Out the Chicken, or Dance Little Bird,is an oom-pah song; its associated fad dance is now a contemporary dance throughout the Western world. The song was composed by accordion player Werner Thomas from Davos, Switzerland, in the 1950s.

The Chicken Dance is a well-known drinking and dancing song at American Oktoberfest events. It is also a popular dance at weddings, particularly in the regions of Texas that were settled by German and Czech immigrants, and who retain a strong love of polka music. Over 140 versions have been recorded worldwide, including some that were released by Walt Disney Records, together making an estimated 40,000,000 records or more pressed.

Composer credits and publishing rights[edit]

The original name of the song was "Der Ententanz" (The Duck Dance), by the Swiss accordionist Werner Thomas. He played it in restaurants and hotels from the 1950s through the 1960s.

During one of Thomas' performances, the Belgian music producer Louis van Rymenant heard the song. Van Rymenant had some lyrics created and in 1970 released it to the public through his publishing company Intervox Music (later co-publishing with his other company Eurovox Music) without much success. It first became a world-wide hit from 1980 through 1982, and was recorded in many countries.

On some recorded releases of the music Werner Thomas is listed as the sole composer, while on others other composers are listed, e.g., as "Thomas/Rendall/Hoes." The name Renell refers to Van Rymenant, who was listed as co-author under the pen name of Terry Rendall. The name Hoes refers to the Dutch singer/producer Johnny Hoes, who re-arranged the song for the Electronicas recording (which was released on Hoes' own record label, Telstar Records).

Eurovox Music now manages the publishing rights worldwide, except for the US (September Music), UK (Valentine Music) and the Netherlands (Benelux Music), sub-publishers.

Description of the dance[edit]

A crowd doing the beak-opening movement of Chicken Dance at the Ballard Seafood Festival in 2007
The wing-flapping movement

The origin of the dance moves set to the music is not known.

The piece is often notated in cut time and the key of C major. It begins with repeated dominant chords before moving into the main theme. The secondary theme features a contrasting rhythm. The two themes alternate. In some versions tempo shifts are introduced to confuse and amuse the dancers, and the final repetition of the main theme is often played as one continuous accelerando.[1]

The dance step has five discrete moves. The first four moves are done in place and are repeated throughout each verse:

  1. The dancer lifts both hands into the air and opens and closes them as if operating a hand puppet (simulating a chicken's vocalizations) four times, twice on each beat;
  2. The dancer pulls their hands into their underarms and flaps them like a chicken four times, twice on each beat;
  3. The dancer wiggles their shoulders and/or hips (tail feathers) while descending downward for two beats;
  4. The dancer claps four times.

The fifth move persists throughout the refrain and involves the dancer and a partner.

  1. The pair may lock arms, facing opposite directions, and spin. They may switch arms and directions (and sometimes partners) halfway through the refrain.
  2. The pair may "swing out," by holding hands, leaning back, and rotating in place, first clockwise and then counterclockwise.
  3. If performed in a circle dance or square dance formation, the entire group of participants may simply rotate the circle in one direction, then shift direction halfway through the refrain, or they may perform an allemande at the command of a caller.

The performance of one or more dancers in bird costumes leading a crowd in the dance is quite common. A 1981 video recording of the Tweets performing the song before a live television audience in the UK shows all of the "musicians" in large, mascot-style bird costumes, miming to the recording, while a group of British teens perform the dance in a line behind them. Since then, many state fairs, Oktoberfests, German culture festivals, and even weddings feature at least one dancer in a bird costume. The live performances by Bob Kames throughout the upper Midwest during the 1980s and 1990s almost always featured bird-costumed dance leaders.

Lyrics[edit]

European versions of the song from the 1980s often have complete sets of lyrics, but British, Canadian, American, and Australian versions are generall instrumentals, although there may be very simple lyrics such as, With a little bit of this, And a little bit of that, You shake your tail, And then you clap. Alternative lyrics are "I don't want to be a chicken, I don't want to be a duck, So I shake my butt, Quack, quack, quack, quack!"

At American Oktoberfests that feature live band performances, the hand and body gestures are usually performed without lyrics, but the four hand-claps may be accompanied by the rowdily shouted words, "We want more beer!"

Notable recordings and title changes[edit]

  • In 1981, Henry Hadaway produced a version of the song, which was released in the United Kingdom as an instrumental novelty tune "The Birdie Song" by The Tweets. It peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart in October 1981, making it the most popular version.[2][3] A 1981 video shows bird-costumed dancers miming as instrumentalists while the recording plays and young people dance on stage. This may be the earliest recording of the dance and hand-clapping. In 2000, this version was voted "the most annoying song of all time" in a poll commissioned for the website dotmusic.[3]
  • In 1981, the Spanish accordionist Maria Jesus Grados Ventura, better known as María Jesús y su Accordion, released the song as "El Baile de los Pajaritos." This version included Spanish lyrics in both the verses and refrain.[4]
  • In 1981, the song was recorded and released in Finland by Frederik under the name "Tralalala"[4]
  • In 1981 the Italian musicians Al Bano and Romina Power recorded it as "Il ballo del Qua Qua."[4]
  • In 1981 a French recording by René Simard and Nathalie Simard was released under the title "La Danse des Canards."[4]
  • In 1982, the music producer for the Milwaukee-based organist and polka composer Bob Kames first heard "Dance Little Bird" at a German music fair.[5] The producer sent Kames a copy, and Kames recorded his own version on the Hammond organ, as "Dance Little Bird" or "The Chicken Dance" [5] and released it that same year.[6] The Kames recording hit solid gold when it was released in 1983 in Poland, selling 300,000 copies.[5] Kames received 2 of the 35 cents from each sale.[5] Since he could not take the money out of the country, he donated all of it to for a relief fund.[5] The success of the song stunned Kames. He commented in a 1995 interview, "This stupid little thing, it's infectious. It has only two chords, it doesn't even change for the bridge. It implants the melody in people's minds—it just sticks in there. That's gotta be the secret...It just keeps on going. People come up to me at jobs and tell me how happy it makes them. You get a song like this once in a lifetime."[5] Kames became known as "The Chicken Dance King" and performed the song live at hundreds of festivals with fellow musicians like Lawrence Welk and Frank Yankovic, as well as his own children, Bob Jr. and Barbara Kames.[5]
  • In 1982, the polka-themed cover band "The Emeralds", from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, released their version on K-Tel records. The album which included it, "Bird Dance," was advertised heavily on television, and the ad featured a bird-costumed dancer among a group performing the dance. The album went double-platinum in Canada, and gold in Australia.[7][8] The song also contributed to the success of multiple gold albums for the Emeralds in 1983 and 1984.
  • In 1990, the Dutch band Grandmaster Chicken and DJ Duck released the song as "Check Out the Chicken", which peaked at number 16 in Australia.[10]

Notable live performances[edit]

Chicken Dance with costumed performer at an Oktoberfest in 2007
Ozseeker the Clown doing the Chicken Dance at a Municipal Band concert in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 2010
  • In 1981, the song and its dance were performed during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Oktoberfest. A local television station provided a chicken costume for the use of a dancer at the festival, in keeping with the costumed performances by The Tweets in England, and this costume is said to have been what gave the "Chicken Dance" its American name.[11]
  • On 28 August 2007, Burning Man co-founder Scott "The Hammer" Mucci performed the Chicken Dance prior to The Man being set aflame ahead of schedule. The fire was later attributed to serial prankster Paul Addis, who was arrested and charged with arson.[12]
  • On 13 November 2009, CIHT-FM played the Chicken Dance continuously until 389 tickets for the CHEO Dream of a Lifetime were purchased at CA$100 each, to support the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.[13] This played for over 3 hours.
  • During the 2015–16 season, NHL club Philadelphia Flyers had the chicken dance played over the PA system[15] at the Wells Fargo Center every time the Flyers scored four goals in that game. The Flyers had a partnership with Chick-Fil-A where customers could get free breakfast sandwiches from Chick-Fil-A the day after every game where the Flyers scored four goals or more.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, Werner. "The Chicken Dance". Musicnotes. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  2. ^ "1980s music charts: 1981 July-Dec". Pure 80s Pop.
  3. ^ a b "Birdie Song tops hall of shame". BBC news. 24 July 2000.
  4. ^ a b c d "Lo que María Jesús no quiere que sepas: "El baile de los pajaritos" era una franquicia". Archived from the original on 12 February 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Rabideu Silvers, Amy (9 April 2008). "Kames was 'Chicken Dance' king". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 10 April 2008.
  6. ^ "'Chicken Dance' Creator Dead At 82". WISN-TV. 9 April 2008. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  7. ^ "The Emeralds PR Department". Theemeralds.net. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  8. ^ Pruden, Jana G. (14 May 2021). "The Bird Dance, a craze that swept Canada, is 39 years old. Celebrate with these easy-to-learn steps". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  9. ^ "Terry Rendall Discography". Discogs.com. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  10. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (pdf ed.). Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  11. ^ Mills, Russell. "Services schedule for Tulsa's 'Mr. Oktoberfest,' Josef Hardt". KJRH-TV. Archived from the original on 3 February 2010.
  12. ^ Ohtake, Miyoko (30 August 2007). "A Fiery Q&A With the Prankster Accused of Burning the Man". wired.com. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  13. ^ "The New HOT 89.9: We're playing the Chicken". Twitter. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  14. ^ Dawson, Phil; Campbell, Mat (23 April 2010). "Community "Chicken Dance" closes Grand Rapids-area road". WZZM 13 Online. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WZZM 13.
  15. ^ "Philadelphia Flyers 2015-2016 Goal Horn". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)[dead link]