This classic song and dance is perfect for the whole family!

By Grace Alexander
December 11, 2011

You put your right foot in

You put your right foot out

You put your right foot in

And you shake it all about.

You do the Hokey-Pokey

And you turn yourself around.

That's what it's all about.

You put your left foot in

You put your left foot out

You put your left foot in

And you shake it all about.

You do the Hokey-Pokey

And you turn yourself around.

That's what it's all about.

The children's rhyming song "The Hokey Pokey" dates back to the 1850s as a variation of an old Shaker song with dance moves included, but it was never published in any form until 1960. A British bandleader named Al Tabor is commonly credited with the modern version, and his family insists to this day that he wrote it at the urging of a Canadian officer during the London Blitz in 1940. Al called the sing-along song "The Hokey Pokey" after the ice cream vendors of the day, who were often referred to as hokey pokey men.

The nursery rhyme song itself is innocuous enough; it is simply a series of movements of various parts of the body with lyrics to match. In addition to the main lyrics, a chorus is more popular in the U.K. than the U.S., and it generally goes:

Whoa, the hokey pokey!

Whoa, the hokey pokey!

Whoa, the hokey pokey!

Knees bent, arms stretched, rah! rah! rah!

A rumor was started that "hokey pokey" was a corruption of "hocus pocus," which was a dig at the Catholic Church and the acts of consecration and transubstantiation, at which point the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Non-Catholics scoffed at this belief, calling it "hocus pocus," and somewhere along the way "The Hokey Pokey" began being used to deride priests celebrating Mass.

Al Tabor and later his son vehemently denounced this as being the aim of the sing-along song, saying the lyrics were nonsense designed to bring cheer to soldiers in wartime. Tabor even stated that his Canadian friend wanted him to call the song "The Hokey Cokey," since the word "cokey" meant "crazy" in Canada and he thought it would be more humorous. U.K. versions of the rhyming song still use "cokey" instead of "pokey."

"The Hokey Pokey" became a huge hit in the 1970s in the roller rinks of the day, with the lyrics changing to "Put your left skate in, put your left skate out..." Children everywhere still enjoy singing along and making the movements to the song.

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