History of the Chicken Dance Song- How did Ducks became Chickens?
You are at a party, and you hear those notes… Duhda Duhda Dadah Da…clap clap clap clap… and suddenly the dance floor is flooded with people flapping their arms and shaking their tail feathers… It’s the Chicken Dance Song! (… or is it a Duck?). Where did the Chicken Dance originate? And how is it that a song labeled “the most annoying song of all time” in 2000 still brings smiles to so many faces? The history of the Chicken Dance dates back to the 1960s… well… actually in the beginning they called it Vogeltanz or Ententanz. This simple little song that got its start in a Swiss Ski Resort, almost topped the charts in England and the Netherlands, before crossing the Atlantic to become an International sensation. We can blame the “Chicken Dance” name on Tulsa Oklahoma’s Oktoberfest (but that comes later).
So let’s start at the beginning…
The Origin of the Chicken Dance Song
It all began in 1955 when Werner Thomas a Swiss accordion player who really enjoyed birdwatching, wrote a little tune based on how ducks moved when they swam around the local pond. But Werner didn’t go public with his creation until 1963, when he started playing the tune he called “the Ententanz” (Duck Dance), at a restaurant in the ski resort town of Davos. People loved the tune! And naturally, they got up to dance.
Slowly, the dance started to pick up specific moves… arms, tail… Did Thomas Werner create the moves? Or did the dancers in Davos? It’s unclear (it seems to be a joint effort). Werner says the moves reminded him of skiers at the resort. The way they flapped their arms and waddled their feet in skis.
This dance and tune might have stayed in Davos… but in 1971, Belgian music publisher Louis Julien van Rigmenant happened to go on a ski trip, and discovered gold instead. After acquiring the “Vogeltanz”, published it under the name “Tschip Tschip” with a band called Bobby Setter’s Cash & Carry … and they upgraded from simple accordion to SYNTHESIZER! Because (as you know) EVERYTHING sounds wilder on a Synthesizer…
The tune sold 1 MILLION copies in the first year!!! Tschip Tschip indeed!
A million sales in one year attracted the attention of American music publisher Stanley Mills. He had just founded his company, September Music Corp., and was working on filling the catalog. The crazy bird song appealed to him, so he brought it to the United States, where he sold it to anyone making a Polka Album. Mills even wrote lyrics for the song!
“Hey you’re in the swing
You’re plucking like a bird
pluck pluck pluck
You’re flapping your wings
Don’t you feel absurd
pluck pluck pluck”
The words didn’t catch on.
Still, by 1980, the song was getting played at Oktoberfests and other German events in the United States. The “Vogel Tanz” or “Enten Tanz” was starting to gain traction, and developed a flock… I mean following… in Milwaukee and Cleveland (I need to check with the Freistadt Alte Kameraden…how long have they been playing this one?).
Meanwhile… back in Europe…. The bird song was about to hit big.
In 1980, a new Dutch group (I swear, it’s always the Dutch) De Electronicas released THEIR version of the song “De Vogeltjesdance” (“Dance Little Bird”) as a “B” side to their single. The “B” side, for those of you born after 1990, is the OTHER side of the single record … usually it’s filler. What was on the “A” side is lost to history… De Vogeltjesdance” shot up to #8! And stayed 29 weeks on the Dutch music charts. And from there… it was the song of summer….
Those Bird Suits…!! (I admit, I do miss variety shows)
(Wondering if they play this at EDM shows…)
Across the Atlantic, things were popping too!
The Emeralds, a Polka band out of Edmonton Alberta Canada, recorded a Polka Version of the “Bird Dance” on their new K-TEL album in 1982, and it went DOUBLE PLATINUM!! This extraordinarily popular version of the song even showed up in a few movie soundtracks, including “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius“.
Where did the Chicken Dance Originate?
All along, people were calling the tune “Bird Dance”, and in Germany, it was always the “Enten Tanz” (Duck Dance)… which makes perfect sense, since ducks shake their tail feathers, and chickens just don’t. HOW did ducks turn into chickens?
This is where Tulsa, Oklahoma comes in. A German Band was scheduled to play “Dance Little Bird” at the 1981 Tulsa Oktoberfest. Someone came up with the amazing idea of having a person in a Duck Suit show off the dance moves to the crowd. Honestly, a fantastic idea. Only problem… at the time, there wasn’t a duck suit to be found in all of Tulsa. Finally, the guy tasked with the search unearthed a chicken suit at the local news station (WHY a news station had a chicken suit was never clearly explained). And since, I guess, one bird is as good as the other (or maybe everyone was just tired of looking), the chicken did the duck dance…
By 1994, the name (in the US) was officially changed to the Chicken Dance song.
In 2004, when Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe led the world’s largest gathering of chicken dancers at the Cincinnati Oktoberfest on VH1 (in an event that’s been called the least Metal thing that ever happened) The Chicken Dance was here to stay.
The Chicken Dance Song is Here to Stay
Love it or hate it, the Chicken Dance isn’t going anywhere. Amazingly, over 140 versions of the song have been recorded worldwide, selling 40 MILLION copies. And then there are all the German Bands who play it at Festivals. It’s played and requested so often, that the New Braunfels Wurstfest has a strict rule that bands may not play the Chicken Dance more than once an hour. (No word on whether they will be limiting “Ein Prosit”)
People who study these things say that the song hits the “sweet spot” that all music aspires to. Mainly, it’s easy to learn, catchy, and there are no words to memorize. Some of it is the social aspect. People generally love to dance, but fear of not knowing the steps keeps them in their seats. Even a small child can learn this one. Who wants to be the bore sitting in their seat when everyone else is having so much fun?
The Chicken Dance even has its own day… May 14th!
So… just in case you haven’t quite heard enough yet… here’s Bobby and the Kids teaching us the dance that’s sweeping the nation…. The Chicken Dance.
Quack Quack Quack Quack!