“Jitterbug” is a fun dance with a horrible origin. And what classic dance was once considered “indecent?”

Tonight the stars will boogie again, getting one step closer to the championship on “Dancing with the Stars.” Will tonight’s show feature the rumba? The cha-cha? The jive?

We’re less interested in which dances we’ll see tonight and more intrigued with how the dances got their names.

As you may suspect, the term “ballroom dancing” originates with the word “ball.” But what you may not know is that “ball” comes from the Latin word ballare, which means “to dance.”

The waltz is now considered a harmless, traditional type of ballroom dancing. But in 1825, it was described as “riotous and indecent.” It comes from the German word walzen, which means “to roll, dance.”

The cha-cha is of Cuban origin. The name of the dance is onomatopoeic. It derives from the rhythm created by a percussion instrument called the güiro and the shuffling of the dancers’ feet. (The güiro is made from a hollow gourd. It’s played by rubbing a wooden stick called a pua along parallel notches that are cut into one side of the gourd.)

The tern jitterbug is used to refer to different swing dances, such as the jive and the lindy hop. It comes from slang used in the early twentieth century to describe alcoholics. The term became associated with swing dancers because, like the jitters of alcoholics, they were seen to be out of control. The term was popularized with jazz bandleader and singer Cab Calloway’s song “Call of the Jitter Bug.”

Any other dances you’d like to know about? Let us know.

Recent findings from M. Oskoui and co-authors highlight research in spinal muscular atrophy.

Health & Medicine Week January 14, 2008 “Noninvasive ventilation has become increasingly available to spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) patients since the early 1990s (see also Spinal Muscular Atrophy). This is expected to have improved survival for SMA type 1 patients,” scientists in the United States report.

“To assess whether there has been a change in survival in patients with SMA type 1 between 1980 and 2006. We used deidentified, family- reported data from participants in the International Spinal Muscular Atrophy Patient Registry and obtained additional clinical information through a mail- in questionnaire. One hundred forty- three patients with SMA type 1 were included in the analysis. Survival of patients born in 1995-2006 (n = 78) was compared with that of patients born in 1980-1994 (n = 65), using the Kaplan-Meier method and Cox proportional hazards models with age at death as the outcome. Patients born in 1995 though 2006 had significantly increased survival compared with those born in 1980-1994 (log- rank test, p = 0.001). In a Cox model, patients born in 1995 2006 had a 70% reduction in the risk of death compared with those born in 1980-1994 (hazard ratio [HR] 0.3, 95% Cl 0.2-0.5, p< 0.001) over a mean follow- up of 49.9 months (SD 61.1, median 22.0). However, when controlling for demographic and clinical care variables, year of birth was no longer significantly associated with age at death (HR 1.0, 95% Cl 0.6-1.8, p = 0.9), whereas ventilation for more than 16 h/d, use of a mechanical insufflation-exsufflation device, and gastrostomy tube feeding showed a significant effect in reducing the risk of death," wrote M. Oskoui and colleagues. web site spinal muscular atrophy see here spinal muscular atrophy

The researchers concluded: “Survival in spinal muscular atrophy type 1 patients has increased in recent years, in relation to the growing trend toward more proactive clinical care.” Oskoui and colleagues published their study in Neurology (The changing natural history of spinal muscular atrophy type 1. Neurology, 2007;69(20):1931-1936).

For more information, contact P. Kaufmann, 180 Ft Washington Avenue, HP-5, New York City, NY 10032, USA.

Publisher contact information for the journal Neurology is: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 530 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106-3621, USA.


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  2. lingUist geeK-sage(RP) -  December 7, 2010 - 1:56 pm

    I love dancing but not contemporary dances..I am the best dancer in the California..wanna see my medal?

  3. Curly -  November 17, 2010 - 4:24 pm


    It didn’t devolve from it at all. Both definitions exist today, according to my dictionary. There are several definitions of cakewalk:

    1. competition based on walking: an informal contest to music, with a cake as a prize for executing the most elaborate or amusing walking steps, popular among African Americans in the United States in the 19th century
    2. something very easy: something that is very easy to do or to achieve (informal)
    3. strutting dance: any kind of popular dancing with exaggeratedly elaborate or strutting steps
    4. music for cakewalk: a piece of music suitable for any kind of elaborate strutting dance

    Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    So definition #2 is probably based on the idea of “cake” being easy (like saying something is a piece of cake), whereas Cyberquill’s idea might have been the source of definition #3, seeing as cake might cause people to take exaggerated steps. This also clears up z’s concern about Cyberquill’s origins being different from his – it’s because they’re two different things.

  4. JfromI -  November 10, 2010 - 7:07 pm

    I love Word of the Day forums; they are very interesting. I have a separate folder in which I save them all.

  5. Niki -  November 10, 2010 - 6:52 pm

    @Chosensister they still do that, last year I attended a Cake Walk just like that. They hold one every year at the Junior High and Elemetary Schools in my area. 50 cents, get a cake, the whole shebang. The only difference being that not ALL the cakes were homemade. (my only point is that that’s still around.)

  6. LALAlander -  November 10, 2010 - 3:09 pm

    I liked the article. Im doing bio homework. So i got distracted i love reading and also anything to get away from homework. :D

  7. giggle wiggle -  November 10, 2010 - 2:56 pm

    A jitterbug sounds like someone whose world turns up side down wherein one looks no different from others or a little.

    Turning it around one more another flip is a long way home, where you would have never been.

  8. Chosensister -  November 10, 2010 - 2:41 pm

    When I was a young girl our high school band held a “cake walk” every Saturday, on our court house square. There was a “path” drawn in chalk, around the perimeter of the “square and it was divided into squares and they were numbered. The band would play a tune and while the music was playing, people would walk on the path – stepping on the numbered squares. When the band quit playing, someone would pull a numbered tile out of a glass jar – and call out the number. Whoever was standing on that numbered square would win a cake that one of the “band parents” had baked for that occassion. They would continue doing this until all the donated, homemade cakes were gone… Oh, and it cost 50 cents per person to participate in each cake walk ! Those were the days, my friend…

  9. CJ -  November 10, 2010 - 12:38 pm

    Thanks for the interesting information. Maybe the title, though, is a bit overstated? “Horrible origin” implies something unethical, etc., not a disease…

  10. Rampaw -  November 10, 2010 - 11:17 am

    Merengue is the dance; meringue is the pie topping.

  11. TonyC -  November 10, 2010 - 10:30 am

    The reason the Waltz was considered indecent was because it was the first ballroom dance of that era where the man and woman had to touch each other. Previously, traditional ballroom dances of the time were more like line dances, where men would line up and women would line up separately with a large space in between and dance around each other in different steps and movements. It was like the Lambada of the day, where it was initially considered indecent and provocative, but as time passed became accepted.

  12. AileanFritoitya -  November 10, 2010 - 9:47 am

    Another bug I’ve caught: John Waters’ “The Roach.”

  13. Griff -  November 10, 2010 - 8:24 am

    Suck a lot less? Really? This article is intended to be about word origins, not a history of dance. A few more sentences would be interesting, but there’s no need to be nasty about it.

    Great job on the Hot Word articles in general. Lures me away from my homework every time. :)

  14. Matt -  November 10, 2010 - 8:21 am

    How about Merengue? Why is it both a dance and a confection?

  15. Wondering -  November 10, 2010 - 7:28 am

    I thought that the tango was the forbidden dance. What about that one?

  16. TenaciousT -  November 10, 2010 - 7:09 am

    I think you should do a history of EACH of the dances. I found this information very useful and I thank you. However, I do have to agree that “Why” the waltz was considered indecent was a question that also crossed my mind and I thank the person for sharing; however, I do not appreciate their rudeness in belittling you because you didn’t include that piece of information; some of us APPRECIATE the information you share. Perhaps in the future you could include a link for people who would like more information.

  17. z -  November 10, 2010 - 6:51 am

    A Cakewalk was not a dance from eating to much cake.
    “Its origins in slavery and the plantation south, the Cakewalk was the sole organized and even condoned forum for servants to mock their masters. A send-up of the rich folks in the “Big House,” the cakewalk mocked the aristocratic and grandiose mannerisms of southern high-society. Much bowing and bending were characteristic of the dance, which was more a performance than anything else. Couples lined up to form an aisle, down which each pair would take a turn at a high-stepping promenade through the others. In many instances the Cakewalk was performance, and even competition. The dance would be held at the master’s house on the plantation and he would serve as judge. The dance’s name comes from the cake that would be awarded to the winning couple.” – http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug03/lucas/cake.html

  18. Ruby -  November 10, 2010 - 6:03 am

    I just read the comment by Cyberquill about the word cakewalk. His/her story of the origin is funny, but I was curious as to the truth, so I took a quick peek to see what the real origin was.

    But now I’m wondering: How did cakewalk devolve from an intricate dance step down to mean something that is easily accomplished? An intricate dance step is not something I would consider easily accomplished. Anyone know the answer?

  19. Ruby -  November 10, 2010 - 5:57 am

    Thank you for the fun tidbits. I always enjoy these articles. They usually send me off on further investigations of my own.

    Now that I’m thinking about these things, I’m going to have to go look up the origins of the words polka and limbo.

  20. Mack -  November 10, 2010 - 4:52 am

    Watch yourself, Cassia, it’s a long fall from that high horse.

  21. torrap -  November 10, 2010 - 3:14 am

    how about tango, i’ve heard that it was also described as sensual and indecent :/

  22. clive -  November 9, 2010 - 8:27 pm

    I remember dancing the waltz in the 50s……….. So Sexy.

  23. kingofleonlover -  November 9, 2010 - 6:08 pm

    Ooo ooo! Do the Samba!!!

  24. Cyberquill -  November 9, 2010 - 5:07 pm

    And cakewalk comes from slang used in the early twentieth century to describe the sluggish way people dance after they had too much dessert.

  25. Cassia -  November 9, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    This article would suck a lot less if you actually told us something. Like why was the waltz thought of as indecent? By the way, it was because the dancers had to stand very close to each other.


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