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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Chicken Dance

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BACKGROUND

Information: A dance and songs.

The tune was composed for accordion in the 1950s in Davos, Switzerland, by Swiss accordion player Werner Thomas when he was in his 20s. Thomas tended a flock of ducks and geese, so the tune was first named "Der Ententanz" (The Duck Dance). Several renditions of the song became hits. In 1963, at age 71, Thomas played the tune in a restaurant and people started to dance to it. Sometime in the late 1970s, the song acquired the name "Vogeltanz" (bird dance) or "Vogerltanz" (Little Bird Dance or Birdie Dance), although these names never caught on seriously in Germany. On some sheet music and recordings it is called "Dance Little Bird." It appears that no one in Germany uses the term "Kükentanz" (küken means chicken).

The tune and it's accompanying dance became so popular in German clubs and restaurants that it has been played by virtually every "oompah" band in the world. It is known in Australia as "The Birdie Dance," in St. Louis, Missouri, as "The Ducky Dance," and around the United States as "The Bird Dance" or "The Chicken Dance." People can be found doing the dance on every continent at polka dances, swing dances, folk dances, parties, grade schools, and sports stadiums (played by marching bands). It is very popular at weddings, including in the German area of San Antonio, Texas; in the Croatian-American community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; in communities of recent Romanian immigrants of Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois; and in non-ethnic weddings in Milwaukee and Rochester, New York. The dance can be found in just about every setting where people get together and listen to music and to dance.

The dance was introduced in the United States in 1981 during the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oktoberfest by the Heilbronn Band from Germany. They wanted to demonstrate the dance in costume but there were no duck costumes available anywhere near Tulsa. At a local television station, however, a chicken costume was available which was donated for use at the festival. And that is how the "Chicken Dance" got its name.

According to Wermer Thomas' son, "My father Werner Thomas is the composer of "The Duck's Dance" . . . Worldwide there exist approximately 140 versions recorded on approximately 40 millon records."

Apparently, in Europe it is danced as far west as Spain and France, and eastward at least to Croatia and Romania. The dance is included in a number of parties during northern Germany's Karnival, during the Bavarian Fasching, and during Oktoberfest.

At the New Braunfels, Texas, Wurstfest held annually on the first ten days of November, the dance song has become so popular that the Fest management has imposed a rule on all bands: "Don't play the Chicken Dance more than once an hour!"

There are probably dozens of Ententanz (Chicken Dance) audio CD recordings available at your favorite local or online music stores. Their proliferation is a testament to how popular and widespread the music is.

Other names: The actual name of this dance is Ententanz (EHN-ten-tahnz), which means "Duck Dance." (Ducks characteristically display after preening. They flap their wings and wiggle their tails. Chickens do not.) This dance is also known as the Bird Dance, the Little Bird Dance, the Birdie Dance, Dance Little Bird, Tchip-Tchip, the Bird's Dance, Dance de Canards, Song of the Chicken, etc.


ORIGIN THEORIES


GERMAN LYRICS

Gestern Abend in Verein,
trank ich zuviel roten Wein.
      Yesterday evening in the club,
drank I too much red wine.

CASTILIAN LYRICS

Pajaritos por aqui,
pajaritos por alla,
y el mundo a bailar.
      Little birds here,
little birds there,
and everyone dance.

MEXICAN LYRICS

Pajaritos, a bailar.
Cuando caban de nacer,
Sus colitas a mover.
¡Pío, pío, pío, pío!
      Dance, little birdies.
When you finish being born,
Move your little tails.
Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep!

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