Hokey pokey hocus pocus

I’m a sucker for the Hokey-Pokey, but I’m not sure why.

The Hokey-Pokey’s enduring influence on our culture is hard to explain. Why is it still around? I think its strange charm stems from its unabashed goofiness combined with its open-ended mystery. For instance: first you put your right foot in, then you take it out. You put your right foot in again, then shake it, and only then, just before turning yourself around, do you actually do the Hokey-Pokey. So what is the Hokey-Pokey, exactly? It happens between the shaking and the turning, but the song doesn’t provide any clues. My friend JMike is convinced the Hokey-Pokey refers specifically to the screwing-in-a-lightbulb motion you do with both hands before turning yourself around (or as he put it, “rotating your hands thusly around the long axis of your arms”). This sounds like plausible guesswork, but I do not consider it authoritative. What do you think the Hokey-Pokey is?

It is the closing line that moves the Hokey-Pokey from mediocrity to greatness: “That’s what it’s all about.” Ambiguity is everywhere. What’s “that”? What’s “it”? Truly, the Hokey-Pokey is a mirror in which every age sees its own reflection. We might ask, for example, what William Shakespeare would have made of the Hokey-Pokey. As luck would have it, the Washington Post’s Style Invitational recently invited readers to “rewrite some banal instructions in the style of some famous writer.” The winning entry, by Jeff Brechlin of Potomac Falls, Virginia, gives a sonnet version of the Hokey-Pokey in the style of William Shakespeare (you have to scroll down a bit to find it). How might the bard have styled the song that launched a thousand skate-themed birthday parties? Ahem…

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.

9 thoughts on “Hokey pokey hocus pocus”

  1. Thank you for that. My middle son detests the hokey pokey so I read them the sonnet. When he is older and reads Shakespeare he will like it more.
    Just a while ago I heard on CBC Radio that a young Canadian was touring the world and found himself in some obscure little country where they were doing local traditional dances and wanted to see the Canadian traditional dance. He tried to explain the Canadian Collage but that didn’t satisfy them so he did the hoeky pokey for them! They loved it but he made the mistake of letting people know and the announcer at the CBC made a citizens arrest and revoked his passport and citizenship. Other that that she has no power to do this I was right behind her decision! I mean…I mean…the hokey pokey as our national traditional dance? I think I would have made one up…I hope.
    Take care and enjoy.

  2. As a rolling skating hokey poker I was delighted at this blend of physical skill? and literature. I have not seen a finer wittier writing; it almost drives me to the Bard, but not quite.

  3. What I love about the hokey pokey is that it’s self-referential. Within the instructions for doing the hokey pokey is the line “you do the hokey-pokey”. It’s like a recipe for infinite layer cake that goes like this:

    Infinite Layer Cake
    1. Bake a cake layer and frost
    2. Make an Infinite Layer Cake and put this layer on top

    Silly? Yes. But consider that at this moment, cells in your body are making exact copies of themselves, following instructions in their DNA which includes making a copy of those instructions…

    If that’s not what’s all about, I’d like to know what is!

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  5. The Hokey is a great way to have fun dancing especially for those who don’t know how to formally dance.

  6. I just got a funny e-mail:

    Larry LaPrise, the man that wrote “The Hokey Pokey” died peacefully at
    the age of 93.

    The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin.

    They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started.

  7. I noticed a message posted by Mary Argast. I would love to contact her. We were friends before she moved to Iowa. My letters to Iowa were returned. Looks like she moved back to Bellingham.
    The Hokey Pokey is the only dance I can still do!

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