Faces of the Harlem Renaissance

Earl "Snakehips" Tucker

1905-1937 / Dancer

Dubbed the "Human Boa Constrictor," Earl Tucker invented a dance called the "Snakehips" in the early 1930s.

Tucker enjoyed patronizing Harlem music clubs. At one of them, the Savoy Ballroom, his unusual style of dancing—a sort of shimmy that relied heavily on wiggling hips—attracted a great deal of attention.

So fluidly and flexibly did Tucker perform the dance that he appeared to lack a skeleton. He made quite a name for himself on the club circuit, then parlayed that popularity into performances at Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club.

The dancer's renown (or notoriety, depending on your view) reached its apex in 1935, when he appeared in a ten-minute film entitled Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. The bulk of this short feature focuses on Duke Ellington composing at the piano, crosscut with shots of the bandleader's orchestra playing an elaborate Ellington composition that interprets aspects of African-American life. Those segments included teenager Billie Holliday singing the blues, and "Snakehips" Tucker demonstrating his eclectic and eccentric style of dance.