bend knees

Hokey Cokey

The Hokey Cokey, Hokey Pokey or Hokey Tokey 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.

British Isles

Known as the Hokey Cokey it has virtually the same lyric, tune, and dance style as the U.S. version and was a music hall song and novelty dance popular in England in the mid-1940s.

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".

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

It may be interesting to note that the 'Hokey Cokey' has been adopted by Windsor, a house at the British public school, Solihull School. It is performed as a pre-match ritual, on the pitch in full view of the opposition, immediately prior to an inter-house rugby match. It is a jovial adaptation of the haka, as performed by the New Zealand All Blacks.

United States

Known as the Hokey Pokey, it became popular in the USA in the 1950s. Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak and Tafit Baker were granted the copyright for the song in 1950. According to popular legend they created this novelty dance in 1949 as entertainment for the ski crowd at Idaho's Sun Valley resort.

There is another contrary belief that states that Robert P. Degan and Joseph P. Brier, both natives of Scranton, Pennsylvania, wrote the original song as confirmed by the U.S. Copyright Office in 1996, thus giving two groups of musicians the rights. Ray Anthony's big band recording of the song turned it into a nationwide sensation by the mid-1950s (The "Hokey Pokey" appeared on the B side of Anthony's "Bunny Hop" single). Its rights were purchased in the mid-1960s by country-western music star Roy Acuff's publishing company, Acuff-Rose.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the dance is known as the Hokey Tokey. The reason for this would seem to lie with the famous New Zealand ice cream flavour called the Hokey Pokey. Presumably the Hokey Pokey dance changed it's name when it hit New Zealand shores so that it would not become confused with the ice cream.

Origins and Meaning

There are many theories and conjectures about the meaning of the words "Hokey Pokey", and of their origin. Some scholars attribute 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 1940: (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"). An Italian ice cream street vendor was called a hokey-pokey man.

Other scholars have 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.

According to Beth Ann Hughes "hokey cokey" comes from "hocus pocus", the traditional magician's incantation which in its turn derives from a distortion of hoc est enim corpus meum - "this is my body" - the words of consecration accompanying the elevation 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". The Anglican Canon Matthew Damon, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, says that the dance as well comes from the Catholic Latin mass. The priest would perform his movements with his back to the congregation, who could not hear well the Latin words nor see clearly his movements.

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 what it's all about...

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.

Similar to the repeat above, the American tradition repeat is:

  • Do, the hokey pokey,
  • Do, the hokey pokey,
  • Do, the hokey pokey,
  • And that's what it's all about.

There's a new variation of the Hokey Pokey in America performed by artist Wine-O, where instead of shake you walk:

  • You put your left foot in
  • You put your left foot out
  • You put your left foot in
  • Then You Walk It On Out.
  • You do the Hokey Pokey
  • You do the Hokey Pokey
  • You do the Hokey Pokey
  • You do the Hokey Pokey

The Dance in the UK

In 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,
  • 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, ra ra ra!

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 "ra ra ra!" they either clap in time or raise arms above their heads and push upwards in time. More often than not, each subsequent verse and chorus is a little faster and louder, with the ultimate aim of making people fall over.


  • 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.

Popular Culture, Trivia

  • Martin de Maat used the words of the song in his lessons to comedy students at The Second City, saying: "The Hokey Pokey. Think about it. At the end of the song, what do we learn? What is it all about?... You put your whole self in!"
  • At Virginia Tech, where the athletic teams are known as Hokies, fans dance the Hokey Pokey between the third and fourth quarters of football games.
  • The song is humorously and existentially dealt with in Jimmy Buffett's song "What If The Hokey Pokey Is All It Really Is About?" in his 2002 album "Far Side of the World".
  • In the universe of Babylon 5, the Hokey Pokey has apparently survived to the 23rd century, as it is referenced by Londo Mollari as "the one song that nearly all humans sing to their children at some point or another". Mollari is mystfied by this, while apparently some Minbari actually quite like the song.
  • Supporters of Newcastle United Football Club sing the name of their striker, "Oh Shola Ameobi", to the tune of the Hokey Cokey whenever he scores a goal.
  • In the episode of Full House "Greek Week" Papouli refers to the Greek way of getting married is putting a flower on a woman's shoulder then walking around the table and that's what it's all about. Danny says that's not marriage and that's the Hokey Pokey.
  • In one episode of Family Matters when Eddie, Waldo, and Urkel were at a party and Eddie is too sad that his girlfriend cheated on him, Waldo and Urkel cheer him up by doing the Hokey Pokey.
  • To some, the final word on the Hokey Pokey was given by the actress Teri Garr one night on the David Letterman show: "It's the most liberating of all dances: you put your whole self in, you put your whole self out! You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. And that's what it's all about!"
  • Magic: the Gathering features a card called Knight of the Hokey Pokey with the flavor text stating "That's what it's all about".
  • In Britain the Hokey Cokey is evocative of the 1940s and the Second World War, and is regarded as a traditional Pub song and part of Cockney music hall tradition.
  • In the Second World War comedy 'Allo 'Allo, episode 2 of season 2, Herr Flick shows to Helga the "traditional Gestapo Dance": You put your left boot in / you take your left boot out / you do a lot of shouting and you shake your fists about / you light a little smokey and you burn down ze town / zat what it's all about... heil! / Ah... Himmler Himmler Himmler....
  • This song is prominently featured in episode 107, "Chinga", during season 5 of the X-Files.
  • In Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Berg is banned from the roller skating rink after putting his "whole self in" during the Hokey Pokey.
  • On the American comedy show The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert interpreted the Hokey Pokey as a sort of Restless Leg Syndrome anthem.
  • British Comedian Bill Bailey performed a German translation called "Das Hokey Kokey" in Part Troll, where he claimed it was a "lesser-known, lesser-performed track" by Kraftwerk (where he, joined by Kevin Eldon, Martin Trenaman and John Moloney danced robotically). Clip available on YouTube.

Man steckt die linke Arm ein, die linke Arm aus.
Ein, aus, ein, aus.
Man springt es alles um.
Man macht das Hokey-Kokey und man dreht sich herum.
Das ist die ganze Sache.
Ja, das Hokey-Kokey. Ja, das Hokey-Kokey. Ja, das Hokey-Kokey.
Knien gebogen, Armen gestreckt. Ra. Ra. Ra.

Man steckt die linke Bein ein, die linke Bein aus.
Ein, aus, ein, aus.
Man springt es alles um.
Man macht das Hokey-Kokey und man dreht sich herum.
Das ist die ganze Sache.
Ja, das Hokey-Kokey. Ja, das Hokey-Kokey. Ja, das Hokey-Kokey.
Knien gebogen, Armen gestreckt. Ra. Ra. Ra.

Notable about this performance is also the incorrect translation of the English lyrics into German.

  • A reprise of this dance was done during an episode of Sunset Beach that featured Caitlin Richards Deschanel wedding to Cole Deschanel,with a very pregnant Olivia Blake taking part.
  • At the satirical Pantomime put on by the British Embassy in Beijing during the Christmas season of 1983, a song to the tune of "Hokey Pokey" satirized the bland Chinese banquet delicacy "The Three Delicious". Those who had suffered a good deal from "Chinese Banquet Torture" appreciated the chorus: "Oh, the Three Delicious: / Sea slug, fish tum, fungus soup."
  • In a parody of the science fiction comic Freefall there is a reference to a "cramped space" version that goes "You put your right hand in, you put your left eye out..."
  • Supporters of the Scotland national football team sing revised lyrics celebrating Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, replacing "Oh, the Hokey Cokey" with "Oh, Diego Maradona" and "Knees bend..." with "He put the English out, out, out". Fans of Aberdeen F.C. use changed lyrics to praise club hero Darren Mackie replacing 'hokey cokey' with "Darren Darren Mackie" and 'that's what its all about' with "He put Dnipro out out out" to celebrate a football victory.
  • In the Washington Post Style Invitational readers were asked to "rewrite some banal instructions". Jeff Brechlin of Potomac Falls, Maryland wrote a version in sonnet form as if it was written by William Shakespeare:

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.

The Hoke, the poke--banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.

  • In My Gym Partner's A Monkey, the Hokey Pokey is parodied as the Shakey Jakey.
  • It has been translated in french as 'La danse d'Hélène' sung by Joy Real :

Je mets le doigt devant Je mets le doigt derrière Je mets le doigt devant Je fais de tous petits ronds Je fais le boogie woogie Je fais le tour de moi même Et je vais en avant


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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