Penguin Dance & Bunny Hop – the World’s 70-year-old Dance Craze

Throughout the Balkans, and indeed almost everywhere else, a novelty dance called the Penguin Dance has been all the rage.  Here it is in Albania





Where did it come from?

Both Romanians and Albanians claim to have invented the dance.  It’s not clear where the current melody came from, but the choreography is much older than its current manifestation.

A tune from Finland, called Letkis, turned up on German TV with a dance called the Penguin Dance. Although the YouTube is labeled 1956, the Letkis tune was not recorded until 1963, and the fashions are from that era as well.

Letkis the tune, composed by Rauno Lehtinen, was one of many Letkajenkka, or Finnish folk dance tunes (Jenkka, a fast schottische) given a “modern” sound by using jazz dance band or electric instruments (original Jenkka tunes used fiddle or accordion).  It is not clear how Letkis the song got paired with the Penguin Dance, which is unrelated to any Finnish folk dance.  Wikipedia, in its article on Letkajenkka  says “It has been proposed that exchange students returning from the United States to Finland would have imported the steps of the Bunny Hop to Finland, as they had seen them on the TV show Bandstand.” Presumably, those proposed Finnish exchange students preferred being dancing penguins to dancing bunnies.

The Bunny Hop was a hit record in the United States (composed by Ray Anthony) that spawned a dance craze in 1952.  Here’s a clip from his TV show.

Please note that his professional dance troupe, the Lee Morrison Dancers, inflate the simple dance to make for “better television”. In the above clip, Ray claims to have invented the dance.  However, the Jan. 26, 1953 issue of Time Magazine states that the dance was created by students at Balboa High School, San Francisco, in 1952.  “For Anthony, it all started last spring, when he heard that the Coke set of San Francisco’s Balboa High School had worked up the dance. Anthony contrived a tuneless tune, recorded it (for Capitol), ordered a batch of fuzzy bunny ears to give a touch of costume and started plugging song & dance across the country”.

It’s been taught in schools ever since

For what it’s worth, the original Bunny Hop started by kicking out the right foot, while the original Finnish Penguin Dance started by kicking out the left.  Today’s Penguin Dance, judging by the YouTubes shown above, could start either way.  Follow your leader!

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