While there are a number of surprising holidays out there, some might be surprised to know that May 14th is National Dance Like a Chicken Day. Celebrated annually this is both a movement in the physical sense as well as a cultural one!
It first began with a polka style song written by Swiss accordionist Werner Thomas in the 1950’s. At the time, Thomas tended a flock of geese and ducks, so the song was initially named “Der Ententanz”, or in English, the Duck Dance. In the early 1960’s Thomas began playing his duck song at a local restaurant where crowds instantly took to it. The dance evolved from spontaneous movements to brief choreographed sequences mimicking different birds. Thomas later re-named the song “Tchirp-Tchirp,” in reference to (the) bird sounds the song conjured up. It wasn’t long before the song and evolving dance found their way outside of the (small) Swiss resort town and spreading throughout Europe with the addition of Dutch words added by a Belgian music producer who was fond of the early version.
By the late 1970’s the songs name changed again, this time to “Vogerltanz” meaning little bird dance. This song title stuck when American publisher Stanley Mills acquired the U.S. publishing rights and changed the name to its English meaning “Dance Little Bird”, in hopes of making it more commercial. Mills even/then commissioned the English lyrics : “Hey, you’re in the swing/You’re cluckin’ like a bird (pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck)/You’re flappin’ your wings/Don’t you feel absurd.” In 1982 the song was featured on an album titled “Hooked on Polkas!”
In the late 1980’s the song and dance began spreading like wild fire across the Oktoberfest, wedding and Bar mitzvah circuit, gaining ground and tremendous popularity along the way. The song really took flight when a record company executive asked about using the “Chicken Dance.” It subsequently became a staple of the dance-party circuit and was being licensed out by Mills for use on compilation CD’s, karaoke collections and TV commercials for big money. Since it was known/was referred to by band leaders, DJ’s and others as the “Chicken Dance”, the ever evolving name finally stuck. The silly song with the even wackier dance soon then made its way onto a kids’ collection for Walt Disney Records.
The song consists of just a few notes that are repeated at an ever-increasing speed. The accompanying dances just a few birdlike movements mimicking a bird’s beak chomping up and down, its feathers flapping and its tail wagging. The simplicity and utter fun, silliness of the whole thing adds to its appeal. If you have yet to try it, here’s your chance. Just follow along with the enclosed video and feel as free as a bird!