Who invented the punk Pogo dance? Where did it come from and where did it go? Punktuation investigates.
Pogoing was ‘invented’, so punk-lore goes, by Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious. In the Pistols’ movie The Filth and the Fury, Vicious claimed he created the pogo sometime around 1976. He said he invented the dance as a way of mocking people who came to see Sex Pistols’ gigs, but who were not part of the punk movement.
Shane MacGowan, also attributes Pogo dancing to Vicious, but he said Vicious wore a leather poncho at gigs which prevented him from any form of dancing other than jumping up and down.
In her autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Viv Albertine of The Slits had another version she claims that the Pogo was inspired by the way Sid jumped up and down while playing saxophone.
But Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees remembers it differently however: “We first met Sid at one of the concerts. He began bouncing around the dance floor, the so called legend of the pogo dance. It was merely Sid jumping up and down, trying to see the band, leaping up and down because he was stuck in the back somewhere.”
Whether Vicious actually invented the dance or not, the pogo quickly became closely associated with punk rock.
However, the first ‘official’ punk dance was already seen as ‘old hat’ by 1978, and was pronounced ‘dead’ by Debbie Harry on Glenn O’Brien‘s anarchic Manhattan cable access show TV Party, (If you lived in New York and had cable in the 1970s, you may remember it was a fixture on public access Channel J)
Debbie offered to demonstrate it anyway as “historic reference.”
At first glance, the Pogo looks like harmless fun, especially compared to the brutal wall of death, but the Pogo was seen by those watching it as any thing but fun – a ‘health and safety nightmare’ before health and safety was even a thing and bouncers regularly threw people out of clubs for it.
A little-known fact is that Men Without Hats’ ’80s hit single “The Safety Dance,” was written about that very thing.
Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk says he penned the ditty after he was kicked out of a club for pogoing.
“It was the end of disco and DJ’s would occasionally slip in Blondie’s Heart of Glass, Devo or Rock Lobster by the B’52s and we would get up and start pogoing. The bouncers would just interpret that as fighting and we’d get turfed, ” he told YouTube Channel Professor of Rock.
The true origins of the dance aren’t fully known but it certainly predates punk and Vicious. If you watch The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, for example there is a scene set in a club where Ringo Starr is on the dance floor pogoing with a gawky, posh chap in a suit.
Some say the dance can be traced back even further to a dance called Adumu — a Maasai warrior jumping dance. The Sonjo people of Tanganyika who live within Maasai territory, also have a dance called Gikhoji in which the object is to jump as high as possible without perceptibly bending the knees.
Like all dances the Pogo didn’t totally vanish, it morphed. It evolved in the ’80s into slamming, the skank and the circle pit and by the 2000’s it had become the totally amazing Wall of Death!
What punk dance will come next?
The Pogo is dead! Long live The Pogo!