Elvis Presley: How the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Developed His Signature Dance Moves

by Madison Miller
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Back in the 1950s, Elvis Presley and his dance moves were straight-up scandalous. However, fans couldn’t get enough of his hip-swiveling and leg-shaking.

He shocked audiences, which were used to more conservative dance moves at the time, with his revolutionary take on how to get down, dance, and have fun on the stage.

How did Elvis Presley come up with the kind of dance moves he’s known for today?

Elvis Presley Dance Moves

Presley helped pioneer famous dance moves like the Pole Dance, The Pelvis, and The Slide. He is perhaps most known for his “Rubber Legs” move he often resorted to on stage.

According to Woman’s World, Elvis performed his first paid concert in 1954. He performed at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, Tennessee. He was performing alongside Scotty Moore on the guitar and Bill Black on bass.

Apparently, he was so nervous playing in front of the crowd that his legs started shaking. He would back away from the mic during the instrumental parts and his legs would shake as the song played.

Interestingly enough, his shaky legs would go on to become one of his most infamous moves. While his dance moves were called “scandalous” and “vulgar” at times, Elvis Presley never meant to be perceived in that way while he was performing.

In a TV Guide interview from 1956, Elvis talks about his dance moves in addition to his hatred for being called Elvis the Pelvis.

“And another thing. I don’t roll my — what they call ‘pelvic gyrations’ — my pelvis has nothing to do with what I do. I just — I get rhythm with the music … jump around to it because I enjoy what I’m doing.”

He continued by adding: “I’m not trying to be vulgar, not trying to stimulate [sic] sex. I just do a lot of wigglin’ and quiverin’, but I never do a bump or grind. I can’t sit still when I sing, so the kids can’t sit still.”

Controversial Dance Moves

Elvis Presley’s fans loved his dance moves. This was clear from his very first paid concert.

However, he had to deal with some backlash from his choice in rhythmically-sexual dance moves.

According to the Graceland website, his performance of “Hound Dog” in 1956 on “The Milton Berle Show” stirred up some trouble. It is considered one of the most controversial performances in television history.

He was particularly criticized by the religious community, some adult viewers, as well as certain press publications. People said it showcased “vulgarity” and “animalism.” People were concerned fans would take a liking to juvenile delinquency. The Catholic Church released its weekly organ with a headline that read, “Beware Elvis Presley.”

PBS reports that Ed Sullivan had said he would never hire Presley for his show. Elvis Presley was booked for “The Tonight Show” with Steve Allen. NBC pushed for cancellation, but Allen strongly opposed it. Sullivan soon also changed his mind and hired The King for a three-show contract worth $50,000.

The first two shows do little to prevent or diminish his moves. During the last show, however, Presley was only filmed from the waist up by CBS.

Despite any kind of publicity, Presley would grow to become one of the artists that helped create the rock ‘n’ roll sound. Meanwhile, he was a huge cultural icon for countless young people in particular.

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