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The Hokey Cokey, Okey Cokey, Hokey Pokey, Hokey Tokey, or Cokey Cokey is a participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. It is well known in English-speaking countries. It is of unclear origin, with two main traditions having evolved in different parts of the world.


Origins and meaning

According to one account,[1] in 1940, during the Blitz in London, a Canadian officer suggested to Al Tabor, a British bandleader of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that he write a party song with actions similar to "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree". The inspiration for the song's title, "The Hokey Pokey", that resulted, came from an ice cream vendor whom Al had heard as a boy, calling out "Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump". He changed the name to "The Hokey Cokey" at the suggestion of the officer who said that 'hokey cokey', in Canada, meant 'crazy' and would sound better. A well known lyricist/songwriter/music publisher of the time, Jimmy Kennedy, reneged on a financial agreement to promote and publish it, and finally Al settled out of court, giving up all rights to the number. There had been many theories and conjectures about the meaning of the words "Hokey Pokey", and of their origin. Some scholars[citation needed] attributed the origin to the Shaker song Hinkum-Booby which had similar lyrics and was published in Edward Deming Andrews' A gift to be simple in 1960: (p. 42) .

" A song rendered ("with appropriate gestures") by two Canterbury sisters while on a visit to Bridgewater, N.H. in 1857 starts thus:
I put my right hand in,
I put my right hand out,
I give my right hand a shake, shake shake
And I turn myself 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 is was danced " deliberately and decorously...with slow rhythmical motion."

Before the invention of ice cream cones, ice cream was often sold wrapped in waxed paper and known as a hokey-pokey (possibly a corruption of the Italian ecco un poco - "here is a little")[2] An Italian ice cream street vendor was called a hokey-pokey man.

Other scholars[citation needed] found similar dances and lyrics dating back to the 17th century. A very similar dance is cited in Robert Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland from 1826.

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the phrase "hokey cokey" ultimately comes from "hocus pocus", the traditional magician's incantation. However, the dictionary discounts suggestions that "hocus pocus" in its turn derives from a distortion of hoc est enim corpus meum ("this is my body" - the Latin words of consecration of the host at Eucharist, the point, at which according to traditional Catholic practice, transubstantiation takes place - mocked by Puritans and others as a form of "magic words"), noting that "The notion that hocus pocus was a parody of the Latin words used in the Eucharist, rests merely on a conjecture thrown out by Tillotson". The conjecture put forward by Tillotson reads "In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation". The Anglican Canon Matthew Damon, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, has claimed that the dance as well comes from the Catholic Latin mass.[3] 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. 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.[4]

Close relatives of the song's original publisher and of the song's author have publicly stated their recollections of its origin and its meaning. These accounts differ.

In January 2009, the son of Jimmy Kennedy stated that the song which his father originally published as Cokey Cokey originated in 1942 from an experience his father had with Canadian soldiers stationed at a London nightclub. Jimmy Kennedy Jr. quoted his father's writing:

"They were having a hilarious time, singing and playing games, one of which they said was a Canadian children's game called The Cokey Cokey. I thought to myself, wouldn't that be fun as a dance to cheer people up! So when I got back to my hotel, I wrote a chorus based on the feet and hand movements the Canadians had used, with a few adaptations. A few days later, I wrote additional lyrics to it but kept the title, Cokey Cokey, and, as everybody knows, it became a big hit."

According to Kennedy Jr., his father told him "the unusual title was to do with drugs [cocaine] taken by the miners in Canada to cheer themselves up in the harsh environment where they were prospecting."[5]

Alternatively, the grandson of the song's author, Alan Balfour, stated in a letter to The Times published 11 January, 2009, responding to the then-recent claims that the song was anti-Catholic:

The idea that the Hokey Cokey song was inspired by any hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum), is a lot of bigoted bunkum (News, December 21). The man who wrote the Hokey Cokey was my grandfather – Al Tabor, a well-known bandleader of the 1930s and 1940s, and neither a Latin scholar nor a bigot.[6]

Alan Balfour has written a play about his grandfather’s life called The Hokey Cokey Man (scheduled as of January 2009 to start a five-week run at New End Theatre in London, UK, on 20 May 2009) and was interviewed at its announcement by The Times:

"All of a sudden the song has become something to hammer people with when all it was something to create cheer and a better feeling for the population during the time of the war.

"My grandfather would have thought this was totally absurd. It was never meant to be a dig at anybody, it was meant to inspire people to express themselves physically and celebrate living. It was to cheer everybody up not just Protestants or Jews or whoever.

"This whole business with the Catholic church is silly. The song and the music for the song certainly didn’t come from hocus-pocus."

Balfour said his grandfather told him he thought of the ice-cream sellers of his youth when he was looking for a cheery title for a throwaway ditty.

"When he was a boy they used to come up and down the street shouting 'hokey pokey, penny a lump' to sell ice cream. The Canadian officer said to him why don't you change it to 'hokey cokey' because in Canada 'cokey' means 'crazy'."[6]

Dance across the world


Known as the Hokey Cokey and Okey Cokey, the song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in in the mid-1940s in Britain and Ireland.

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".[citation needed]

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.


Mostly performed in the British style of the dance, it is known as the Buggy Wuggy (pronounced Boogie Woggie)[citation needed].


In Australia the dance is commonly known as the Hokey Pokey.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the dance is commonly known as the Hokey Tokey. It may be that the song's name was changed so as not to be confused with the famous New Zealand ice cream flavour called Hokey Pokey.[citation needed]

United States

Known as the Hokey Pokey, it became popular in the USA in the 1950s. Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak and Tafit Baker of the musical group the Ram Trio, recorded the song in the late 1940s.[7] They have generally been credited with creating this novelty dance as entertainment for the ski crowd at Idaho's Sun Valley resort. However, two club musicians from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Robert Degen and Joseph P. Brier, had previously copyrighted a very similar song, "The Hokey Pokey Dance", in 1944.[7] (One account says that copyright was granted in 1946.)[8] According to Degan's son in The New York Times, Degan and Brier wrote the song while playing for the summer at a resort near the Delaware Water Gap.[7] Degan resided at Richmond Place Rehabilitation and Health Center in Lexington, Kentucky until he passed away on November 23, 2009 at the age of 104.[8] In 1956, after Ray Anthony's big band recording of the song turned it into a nationwide sensation,, Degen and Brier, who died in 1991, sued the members of the Ram Trio and several record companies and music publishers for copyright infringement, asking for $200,000 in damages and $1 for each record of the LaPrise "Hokey Pokey". The suit was settled out of court. LaPrise later sold the rights to his version to country-western music star Roy Acuff's Nashville publishing company, Acuff-Rose Music; that company was sold to Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2002.[7]

A competing authorship claim is made by or on behalf of British bandleader Gerry Hoey from around 1940, under the title "the Hoey Oka".[citation needed]

Dance moves

Participants stand in the shape of a big ring formation during the dance. The dance follows the instructions given in the lyrics of the song, which may be prompted by a bandleader or another danceleader.

  • Specific body parts are named, and these are then sequentially put into the ring, taken out of the ring, and finally wiggled around maniacally inside the ring.
  • After this is done one raises one's hands up to the side of the head, wiggles them, and turns around in place until the next sequence begins, with a new named body part.

A sample instruction set would be:

  • You put your left leg in
  • You put your left leg out
  • You put your left leg in
  • And you shake it all about.
  • You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around
  • That's (clap) what (clap) it's (lift leg and clap under the knee) all (clap behind back) about (clap and raise right hand)...

In some cultures, this step is only repeated after a new chorus,

  • Oh, the hokey cokey,
  • Oh, the hokey cokey,
  • Oh, the hokey cokey,
  • That's what it's all about.

The Dance in the UK

In at least some parts of the UK the entire dance can be quite different. The instruction set would go as follows:

  • You put your left leg in
  • Your left leg 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 his/her hands at the fingertips to make a chevron and rocks them from side to side.

Each instruction set would be followed by a chorus, which is entirely different from other parts of the world:

  • Whoa, the hokey cokey!,
  • Whoa, the hokey cokey!,
  • Whoa, the hokey cokey!,
  • Knees bent, arms stretched, rah! rah! rah!

For this chorus all participants are stood in a circle and hold hands, on each "whoa" they all raise their joined hands in the air and run in toward the centre of the circle and on "the hokey cokey" they all run backwards out again. On the last line they bend knees then stretch arms, as indicated, and for "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. Invariably, somebody ends up on the floor.


In the United Kingdom the "Hokey Cokey" (although not necessarily the U.S. Hokey Pokey) is regarded as a traditional song and is therefore free of copyright restrictions.

In Popular Culture

The BBC TV Comedy series Allo Allo showed one of its characters (Herr Otto Flick) demonstrating a variation of the Hokey Cokey in an episode from Series 3. Being a Gestapo officer the lyrics are changed to reflect his sinister nature as follows:

You put your left boot in You put your left boot out In out In out You shake it all about You light a little smokey and you burn down the town That's what it's all about

Heil Himmler Himmler Himmler etc.

Stand-up comedian Jim Breuer usually sings the Hokey Pokey while impressing AC/DC

The song is featured heavily in the season five episode of the X-Files, entitled Chinga.

There are many variations of a joke in which the teller (or "A guy," if not told in the first person) travels to see a mystic or religious figure to learn the meaning of life, asking the seer to tell him "what is it all about?" The answer (and punchline) is that the seer sings the first few lines of the song, implying that the "Hokey Cokey" really is "What it's all about."


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Edmund Forte. "Hokey Pokey and All That: The history of ice cream".  — Forte presents this and several alternative hypotheses.
  3. ^ Daily Telegraph: Doing hokey cokey 'mimics Latin Mass', David Bamber, Sunday 14 March 1999.
  4. ^ "Hokey Cokey will land you in pokey", The Scottish Sun
  5. ^ "Canada’s Hokey Pokey cause of England dust up",
  6. ^ a b Letter to the editor, "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)
  7. ^ a b c d Weber, Bruce. ""Robert Degen, Who Had a Hand in the Hokey Pokey, Dies at 104", The New York Times, December 3, 2009
  8. ^ a b DuPuis II, Roger. "Scranton native credited with writing famed 'Hokey Pokey' dies at 104", The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), November 27, 2009

External links

  • Hokey Pokey - U.S. NIEHS website - Printed lyrics with synthesized music (no sung lyrics), with U.S. copyright information (audio plays automatically).
  • Hokey Cokey - UK BBC website - Printed and sung lyrics with music, no copyright attribution (click for audio).

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