Hokey cokey

The hokey cokey (United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Israel) or hokey pokey (United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand)[1] is a participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well known in English-speaking countries. It originates in a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in the British Isles. The song became a chart hit twice in the 1980s. The first hit was by The Snowmen, which peaked at UK No. 18 in 1981.

Origins and meaning[]

Despite several claims of a recent invention, numerous variants of the song exist with similar dances and lyrics dating back to the 17th century. One of the earlier variants, with a very similar dance to the modern one, is found in Robert Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland from 1826; the words there are given as:

Fal de ral la, fal de ral la:
Hinkumbooby, round about;
Right hands in, and left hands out,
Hinkumbooby, round about;
Fal de ral la, fal de ral la.[2]

A later variant of this song is the Shaker song "Hinkum-Booby", which had more similar lyrics to the modern song and was published in Edward Deming Andrews' A gift to be simple in 1940: (p. 42).[3]

A song rendered ("with appropriate gestures") by two sisters from Canterbury, England while on a visit to Bridgewater, N.H. in 1857 start an "English/Scottish ditty" thus:
I put my right hand in,
I put my right hand out,
In out, in out.
shake it all about.
As the song continues, the "left hand" is put in, then the "right foot," then the "left foot," then "my whole head."
...Newell gave it the title, "Right Elbow In", and said that it was danced " deliberately and decorously...with slow rhythmical motion."

A version known as "Ugly Mug" is described in 1872:[4]

I put my right hand in
I put my right hand out
I give my right hand, shake, shake, shake, and turn myself about

A version from c. 1891 from the town of Golspie in Scotland was published by Edward W. B. Nicholson:

Hilli ballu ballai!
Hilli ballu ballight!
Hilli ballu ballai!
Upon a Saturday night.
Put all your right feet out,
Put all your left feet in,
Turn them a little, a little,
And turn yourselves about.[5]

In the book English Folk-Rhymes, published 1892, a version of the song originating from Sheffield is given:

Can you dance looby, looby,
Can you dance looby, looby,
Can you dance looby, looby,
All on a Friday night?
You put your right foot in;
And then you take it out,
And wag it, and wag it, and wag it,
Then turn and turn about.[6]

In the book Charming Talks about People and Places, published circa 1900,[7] there is a song with music on page 163 entitled "Turn The Right Hand In". It has 9 verses, which run thus: "Turn the right hand in, turn the right hand out, give your hands a very good shake, and turn your body around." Additional verses include v2. left hand...; v3. both hands...; v4. right foot...; v5. left foot...; v6. both feet...; v7. right cheek...; v8. left cheek...; and, v9. both cheeks... The tune is not the same as the later popular version of the Hokey cokey but the verse is more similar as it states to "turn your body around." No author or composer was cred.

In recent times various other claims about the origins of the song have arisen, though they are all contradicted by the publication history. According to one such account,[8] in 1940, during the Blitz in London, a Canadian officer suggested to Al Tabor, a British bandleader of the 1920s-1940s, that he write a party song with actions similar to "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree". The inspiration for the song's title that resulted, "The Hokey Pokey", supposedly came from an ice cream vendor whom Tabor had heard as a boy, calling out, "Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump". A well known lyricist/songwriter/music publisher of the time, Jimmy Kennedy, reneged on a financial agreement to promote and publish it, and finally Tabor settled out of court, giving up all rights to the number.


An Anglican cleric, Canon Matthew Damon, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, has claimed that the dance as well comes from the traditional Catholic Latin Mass.[9] Up until the reforms of Vatican II, the priest would perform his movements with his back to the congregation, who could not hear well the words, nor understand the Latin, nor clearly see his movements. At some point the priest would say " Hoc est corpus meum" meaning "This is My body". This theory led Scottish politician Michael Matheson in 2008 to urge police action "against individuals who use it to taunt Catholics". This claim by Matheson was deemed ridiculous by fans from both sides of the Old Firm (the Glasgow football teams Celtic and Rangers) and calls were put out on fans' forums for both sides to join together to sing the song on 27 December 2008 at Ibrox Stadium.[10][11]

Close relatives of Jimmy Kennedy and Al Tabor have publicly stated their recollections of its origin and its meaning and denied its connection to the Mass.[12][13] These accounts differ, and they are all contradicted by the fact that the song existed and was published decades before the supposed originators.

Dance across the world[]


In Australia the dance is commonly known as the "hokey pokey".[14]


Mostly performed in the British style of the dance, it is known as the "boogie woogie" (pronounced /ˌbʊɡ ˈwʊɡ/).[15]

New Zealand[]

In New Zealand, the dance is usually known as the "hokey tokey",[16][17] because hokey pokey is the usual term for honeycomb toffee.[18]

United Kingdom[]

Known as the "hokey cokey" or “okey cokey”, the song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in Britain.

There is a claim of authorship by the British/Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, responsible for the lyrics to popular songs such as the wartime "We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line" and the children's song "Teddy Bears' Picnic". Sheet music copyrighted in 1942 and published by Campbell Connelly & Co Ltd, agents for Kennedy Music Co Ltd, styles the song as "the Cokey Cokey".[19]

In the 1973 Thames Television documentary, May I Have the Pleasure?, about the Hammersmith Palais de Danse, Lou Preager comments on how his was the first band to record the 'Okey Cokey'.

EMI Gold released a Monsta Mash CD featuring the "Monsta Hokey Cokey" written and produced by Steve Deakin-Davies of "The Ambition Company".

The song was used by comedian Bill Bailey during his "Part Troll" tour, however it was reworked by Bailey into a style of the German electronic group Kraftwerk, including quasi-German lyrics and Kraftwerk's signature robotic dance moves.[20]

The comedy act Ida Barr, a fictional East End pensioner who mashes up music hall songs with rap numbers, almost always finishes her shows with the hokey cokey, performed over a thumping RnB backing. Ida Barr is performed by a British comedian Christopher Green.

United States[]

Known as the "hokey pokey", it became popular in the US in the 1950s. Its originator in the US is debatable:

In 1953, Ray Anthony's big band recording of the song turned it into a nationwide sensation. The distinctive vocal was by singer Jo Ann Greer, who simultaneously sang with the Les Brown band and dubbed the singing voices for such film stars as Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak, June Allyson, and Esther Williams. (She also charted with Anthony later the same year with the song "Wild Horses".)

In 1978, Mike Stanglin produced a "skating version" of the Hokey Pokey, for use in skating rinks.[23][24]

Dance moves[]

United Kingdom and Ireland style of dance[]

The instruction set goes as follows:

You put your [left arm] in,
Your [left arm] out:
In, out, in, out.
You shake it all about.
You do the hokey cokey,
And you turn around.
That's what it's all about!

On "You do the hokey cokey", each participant joins their right and left hands at the fingertips to make a chevron and rocks the chevron from side to side. After that the participants separately, but in time with the others, turn around (usually clockwise when viewed from above – novices may go in the opposite direction to the main group, but this adds more hilarity to this joyous, novelty dance). The hands are either still joined together, or moved as in a jogging motion – dependent on local tradition or individual choice.

Each instruction set is followed by a chorus, entirely different from other parts of the world. There is either a caller, within or outside the group, or the instructions are called by the whole group – which can add to confusion and is laughed off as part of the dance's charm and amusement.

Whoa, the hokey cokey
Whoa, the hokey cokey
Whoa, the hokey cokey
Knees bend, arms stretch,
Rah, rah, rah!

The first three lines of this chorus are sometimes rendered 'Whoa, the hokey cokey', with the 'whoa' lasting three beats instead of two. It can also be said "Whoa, the hokey cokey cokey".

For this chorus all participants stand in a circle and hold hands: on each "Whoa" they raise their joined hands in the air and run in toward the centre of the circle, and on "…the hokey cokey" they run backwards out again. This instruction and chorus are repeated for the other limb, then for the upper right, then upper left arm. Either the upper or lower limbs may start first, and either left or right, depending on local tradition, or by random choice on the night. On the penultimate line they bend knees then stretch arms, as indicated, and on "Rah, rah, rah!" they either clap in time or raise arms above their heads and push upwards in time. Sometimes each subsequent verse and chorus is a little faster and louder, with the ultimate aim of making people chaotically run into each other in gleeful abandon. There is a final instruction set with "you put your whole self in, etc", cramming the centre of the dance floor.

Often, the final chorus is sung twice, the second time even faster and the song ended with the joyous chant, 'aye tiddly aye tie, brown bread!'.

United States style of dance[]

The dance follows the instructions given in the lyrics of the song, which may be prompted by a bandleader, a participant, or a recording. A sample instruction sequence would be:

You put your [right leg] in,
You put your [right leg] out;
You put your [right leg] in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey,
And you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about!

Participants stand in a circle. On "in" they put the appropriate body part in the circle, and on "out" they put it out of the circle. On "And you shake it all about", the body part is shaken three times (on "shake", "all", and "-bout", respectively). Throughout "You do the hokey pokey, / And you turn yourself around", the participants spin in a complete circle with the arms raised at 90° angles and the index fingers pointed up, shaking their arms up and down and their hips side to side seven times (on "do", "hoke-", "poke-", "and", "turn", "-self", and "-round" respectively). For the final "That's what it's all about", the participants clap with their hands out once on "that's" and "what" each, clap under the knee with the leg lifted up on "all", clap behind the back on "a-", and finally one more clap with the arms out on "-bout".

The body parts usually included are, in order, "right leg", "left leg", "right arm", "left arm", "head", "buttocks" (or "backside"), and "whole self"; the body parts "right elbow", "left elbow", "right hip", and "left hip" are often included as well.

The final verse goes:

You do the hokey pokey,
The hokey pokey,
The hokey pokey.
That's what it's all about!

On each "pokey", the participants again raise the arms at 90° angles with the index fingers pointed up, shaking their arms up and down and their hips side to side five times.


In the United Kingdom the hokey cokey is regarded as a traditional song and is therefore free of copyright restrictions. In the United States, Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls 100% of the publishing rights to the "hokey pokey."[25]

In popular culture[]


Comedy and humor[]


(Alphabetical by group)



You put your left boot in
You take your left boot out
You do a lot of shouting
And you shake your fist about
You light a little smokey
And you burn down the town
That's what it's all about
Aah, Himmler Himmler Himmler—

Video games[]

In the video game Constructor (1997), the Thief in the Pawn Shop can be heard mentioning a computer called the "Hokey Cokey 2000".

Other uses[]

The Washington Post has a weekly contest called The Style Invitational. One contest asked readers to submit "instructions" for something (anything), but written in the style of a famous person. The popular winning entry was "The Hokey Pokey (as written by William Shakespeare)", by Jeff Brechlin, Potomac Falls, and submitted by Katherine St. John.[citation needed]


  1. ^ BBC America http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2012/03/frasers-phrases-the-curious-history-of-the-hokey-cokey. Retrieved 29 November 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Chambers, Robert. Popular Rhymes of Scotland.
  3. ^ Andrews, Edward (1960) [First published 1940]. The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers. ISBN 978-0-486-20022-4.
  4. ^ Smith, Caroline L. (1872). American Home Book of Indoor Games, Recreations & Occupations. Boston: Lee & Shepard. pp. 156–157.
  5. ^ Nicholson, Edward Williams Byron. Golspie: Contributions to Its Folklore.
  6. ^ Northall, G. F. English Folk-Rhymes: A collection of traditional verses relating to places and persons, customs, superstitions, etc. 1892. pg. 361
  7. ^ Copyright is estimated at 1898-1900 as title page is missing. The book lists Queen Victoria as still living and Grover Cleveland just completing his second term in office, which ended in 1897.
  8. ^ MacDonald, Stuart (2009-01-11). "Hokey Cokey no Catholic dig". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  9. ^ Daily Telegraph: Doing hokey cokey 'mimics Latin Mass', David Bamber, 14 March 1999.
  10. ^ Cramb, Auslan (21 December 2008). "Doing the Hokey Cokey 'could be hate crime'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  11. ^ Carson, Alan (22 December 2008). "Hokey Cokey will land you in pokey". The Scottish Sun. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Canada's Hokey Pokey cause of England dust up", canada.com Archived January 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Letter to the or, "Hokey Cokey: no Catholic dig – Grandson of the writer defends song against claims that it is anti-Catholic, saying it is based on a phrase about ice cream", The Times (London, UK)
  14. ^ "Fraser's Phrases: The Curious History Of 'The Hokey Cokey' - BBC America".
  15. ^ "Do the boogy woogy". 21 January 2011.
  16. ^ "Ball at Otakiri". Bay of Plenty Beacon. 14 September 1945. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  17. ^ Griffiths, John (2008). "Popular culture and modernity: dancing in New Zealand society 1920-1945". Journal of Social History. 41 (3): 611. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Hokey Pokey", Recipe, Evening Post, 1927
  19. ^ Lloyd, John; John Mitchinson (2007-08-07). The Book of General Ignorance. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-307-39491-0.
  20. ^ "Bill Bailey – Kraftwerk – Part Troll". YouTube. 2004. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  21. ^ a b c d Weber, Bruce (December 3, 2009). "Robert Degen, Who Had a Hand in the Hokey Pokey, Dies at 104". The New York Times.
  22. ^ a b DuPuis II, Roger (November 27, 2009). "Scranton native cred with writing famed 'Hokey Pokey' dies at 104". The Times-Tribune. Scranton, Pennsylvania.
  23. ^ "Roller skating and the Hokey Pokey- who did this version?". www.inthe00s.com. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  24. ^ Burnett, John; Maeckle, Monika (1979). "HIGH ROLLERS". D Magazine. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  25. ^ Weber, Bruce (3 December 2009). "Robert Degen's New York Times obituary". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "FryFest Breaks Hokey Pokey World Record". KCRG-TV. Archived from the original on 2010-09-05. Retrieved 2010-09-05.

External links[]