Which came first the chicken or the egg dance?

by Rick Roberts
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We have all heard of the chicken dance. It is the perfect awkward moment when your weird uncle takes to the dancefloor at a wedding, tucks his hands into his armpits, and starts to prance around the floor like a chicken. It is a moment that we all dread but all know it wouldn’t be a proper family wedding unless he did it. The one thing that I have never seen my uncle do, is the chicken dance.

While the chicken dance has arguably never been popular it has ruined weddings since the 1970s. The egg dance was popular from the 15th to the 19th century. Its origins relate all the way back to pagan times. Today while we are familiar with the easter bunny, the association of eggs and springtime goes back much further. 

Pagans used eggs as a symbol for new life during springtime. Christians later adopted the symbol to represent the resurrection of Jesus. As time went on the way we celebrated this changed dramatically and today most people don’t realize the Easter bunny has anything to do with Jesus. It was the same in the 15th century. 

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While these games originally became popular as part of spring festivals they took off from there. There were two forms of egg dance. One required a chalk circle to drawn on the ground and an egg to be put in the circle. The game was to dance around the circle without breaking the egg. While that sounds easy there were a number of varieties to make it more difficult. Sometimes there were many other items that you could not hit, sometimes you were blindfolded, sometimes you had to successfully flip a bowl and cover the egg without breaking it. The second version was likely for wealthier people as it required placing many eggs on the floor in the circle The dancer had to dance in a lively fashion and avoid hitting any of the eggs, tougher than it sounds.

By the 1800s the term had become popular to mean a variety of things. It was often used in the political realm to describe how politicians must dance around many issues (eggs) to get things done. While no politicians have been spotted in an egg dance there have been numerous depictions in cartoons.

In one famous case, the egg dance actually led to a wedding (instead of ruining it, like the chicken dance). In the 1500s during an Easter festival, there was an egg dance organized. One hundred eggs were placed on the ground and it was said that any couple who could dance in the circle without breaking a single egg could be married. Three couples tried and failed. The Duke of Savoy decided to give it a try. His name was Philibert, a terribly ugly name and likely why people today refer to him as Philibert the handsome, in some effort to distract from how terrible the name Philibert is. He asked Marguerite of Austria to dance with him. She accepted (perhaps he really was handsome or perhaps she didn’t know how ugly his name was). The pair was successful and later married. 

The next time someone asks you which came first “the chicken or the egg?” you can answer factually that the egg must have came first because of evolution, as at one point there would have been something inside that wasn’t quite a chicken. Or you can tell whoever asks to forget the chicken and the egg; the egg dance came first and that is all that really matters. After that, you should draw a chalk circle, place an egg inside, and challenge them to an egg dance-off.

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