Harlem’s Earl ‘Snakehips’ Tucker (video)

Earl “Snakehips” Tucker (1905 – 1937) became known as the “Human Boa Constrictor” after the dance he popularized in Harlem in the 1920s called the “snakehips (Dance)“.

Tucker frequented Harlem music clubs and was a regular at the Savoy Ballroom. He built his reputation by exhibiting his odd style of dance, which involved a great deal of hip motion. The snakehips dates back to southern plantations before emancipation.

Tucker would make it appear that he was as flexible as a snake, and eventually the dance became his calling card. He became popular enough to eventually perform at Connie’s Inn and the Cotton Club.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U4ww-MmAY4]

Riding this wave of popularity, in 1930 he appeared in Benny Rubin‘s 16 minute short film “Crazy House“, a comedic introduction to residents at the fictitious “Lame Brain Sanitarium”. Tucker’s 2 minute dance number, performed in a shiny white shirt and shiny, baggy gold pants, displays his amazing dance innovations, his style a precursor to modern street and stage dance. Interestingly, his name appears in the opening credits only as “Snake Hips”. Similar moves would later inspire an element of hip-hop culture known as breakdancing.

In 1935, Tucker appeared in a short film called Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. The film was based around a Duke Ellington composition, and included clips of Ellington composing, as well as Billie Holiday singing and Tucker doing the snakehips.

 

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