Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Let Your Right Foot Slip" (Origin & Performance Instructions)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on the verse "Put your hand on your hips/and let your right foot slip".

Part I provides an overview of this verse and its perhaps better known version that has the second line "and let your backbone slip".

Part II provides selected text excerpts & videos of the children's singing game "Little Sally Walker" and several R&B songs that include the "let your backbone slip" form of this floating verse.

Click for Part II of this series.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, recreational, and aesthetic purposes.

"Put your hands on your hip/and let your backbone slip" is an instructional dance call. An instructional dance call is a spoken or sung line or rhyming verse which is given by a person to tell a group of dancers such as square dancers which series of dance movements they are to perform. In the context of this featured verse, the word "backbone" means "the spine". I believe that the verb "slip" means "move loosely" or "be flexible". The line "let your backbone slip" is thus interpreted to mean " shake your hips from side to side".

Possible Origins
I'm uncertain about the age of the verse "put your hands on your hips/and let your backbone slip" (and/or "let your right foot slip"), but these verses Black origin is certain. Notice below that a form of this verse was collected in the Caribbean in the children's singing game "Little Sally Walters".

In its essence, the featured verse is an instructional dance call. There is extensive documentation of pre and post civil war 19th century Black dance callers, fiddlers, and banjoist performing for White dances, or performing for Black dances. The first song included in Thomas W. Talley's now classic 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise is the dance song "Jonah's Band Party". That song is made up of a series of dance calls including those found in this verse:
Setch a kickin' up san'
Jonah's Band!
Setch a kickin' up san'!
Jonah's Band!
"Han's up sixteen! Circle to the right!
We're going to get big eatin's here tonight".*

Thomas W. Talley's collection also includes the still relatively widely known Black dance songs "Juba" and "Jump Jim Crow".*

I'm not certain whether "put your hands on your hips/and let your backbone (or "your right foot") slip" was known in the 19th century. However, those rhyming couplets are certainly similar in form and function to those 19th century Black instructional calls.

*A complete online version of Talley's Negro Folk Rhymes is found at That version includes the full spelling of what is now known as "the n word". Click for a post that I started in 2009 on Mudcat Folk & Blues discussion forum. That post provides lyrics to various African American dance songs & other songs from Talley's book. That particular post also includes hyperlinks to other Mudcat posts which contain additional song lyrics from Talley's book Negro Folk Rhymes book. In that post, the lyrics to those songs don't include the fully spelled out "n word".

Floating Verses In Children's Singing Games
"Put your hands on your hip/and let your backbone slip" is a floating verse that is found in the widely known children's game song "Little Sally Walker" ("Little Sally Waters"). The verse "put your hands on your hips/ and let your right foot slip" is often part of the less widely known children's song "All Around The Kitchen Cock A Doodle Doodle Do". I'm not certain which version of the second line is the oldest.

From 1997-2006, I taught the follow the leader movement game "All Around The Kitchen" to children who were part of game song groups & game song special programming events that I facilitated in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. Click this page of my cocojams website for the words I taught to this song as well as information about that song's early documentation, and information about the play activities that I used for that song.

A text excerpt & videos of "Little Sally Walker" children's singing games are found in Part II of this series.

Floating Verse In Commercially Recorded Songs
The "let your backbone slip" verse was lifted from the "Little Sally Walker" children's singing game & included in the mid 1960s African American Rhythm & Blues songs "Monkey Time (Major Lance -1963), "Baby Workout" (Jackie Wilson -1965), "Shake" (Sam Cooke & Otis Redding, 1966), and "Land Of 1000 Dances" (Wilson Pickett, 1966). Excerpts & videos of these songs are found in Part II of this series.

Other Black vocalists and White vocalists have recorded a number of R&B and Pop covers of these songs. This verse is also found in some Hip-Hop songs. For two examples of pop songs which were recorded by White vocalists that include this verse, click for a video of the 1989 song "Resurrection Shuffle" by Tom Jones, and click for a video of the early 2000 Atom Kitten's song "Get Real".

How "Let Your Backbone Slip" & "Let Your Right Foot Slip" Are Performed
The song "Little Sally Waters" is included in the 1997 book Brown Girl In The Ring: An Anthology Of Songs Games From The Eastern Caribbean by Alan Lomax, J. D. Elder, and Bess Lomax Hawes. The title "Little Sally Waters" is an older form of the title "Little Sally Walker". In the above named book, that singing game includes the verse "put your hands on your hips, let your backbone shake". Part of the play instructions for that song which is given in that book indicate that the girl in the center of the ring selects a partner and "The two then put their hands on their hips and "shake their backbones" in the familiar Caribbean "winding" motion."
In the United States, a 1970s video of Bessie Jones leading children & adults in the performance of the game "Little Sally Walker" shows the person in the middle miming the words of that song. Part of that mime is for the person in the middle of the ring putting her (or his) hands on her hips & shaking her hips from side to side while the group sings the "put your hands on your hips & let your backbone slip" words.

In part because R&B & Pop dance songs focus on tunes more than words, I don't believe that most females dancing to songs in the 1960s & on that include this featured verse necessarily did anything different when (or if) they heard that verse. Videos of those dances (as found in Part II of this series) show most of the White studio dancers just continuing to do whatever dance moves they were doing before those lyrics were sung. Other videos show those dancers putting their hands on their hips and shaking their hips back & forth. I assume that hand on your hip/hip shaking movement is the what is "supposed to be done" for the words "let your backbone slip" - with "backbone" in this context meaning "spin" and "slip" in this context meaning "be flexible".

From 1997-2006 I taught the movement game "All Around The Kitchen" & other old & adapted African American game songs to groups of children & their adult & teen staff. (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania & the surrounding area.) In so doing I used the second line "let your right foot slip" instead of the line "let your backbone slip". I'm not sure how I learned this version, but I'm reasonably sure that I didn't make it up myself. I also taught those groups the following movements to do for those lyric:
(All movements are performed to the beat while standing in place)
1.Put your hands on your hips when that line is sung
1. On the word "let" - extend your right foot toe pointing in front of you

2. On the word "your" - place your foot directly in back of your position

3. On the words "right foot" - point your right foot in front of you

4. On the word "slip" - return your right foot flat next to your left foot
This may be the "traditional" way that "let your right foot slip" was/is performed. Or it may be a dance routine that I observed somewhere & made my own. I'm not a dancer or a choreographer so it's unlikely that I made up this routine by myself.

If anyone has any information or an opinion about the dance movement that I use to "let your right foot slip", please share it with me & other pancocojams readers.

Variant Form Of "Little Sally Walker"
As an aside, my sense is that since at least the 1960s, the version of "Little Sally Walker" which contains the "put your hand on your hips/and let your backbone slip" verse isn't well known among either African American (particularly African Americans outside the South). Also, since at least the early 2000s, an updated version of this rhyme which I call "Little Sally Walker Walking Down The Street" appears to be much more popular in the United States than any other version of that game song. I believe that this updated version originated among African American children & then spread to other American children and also to teens, and young adults where it is used as a stress reducing group activity.

RELATED LINK This is page #1 of 3 pages of lyric excerpts of songs that include the lines "put your hand on your hip & let your backbone slip".

Click for information about the early collection & publication of the children's song "All Around The Kitchen".

My thanks to the unknown composers of the children's playground songs that include this featured verse. Thanks also to the composers of R&B songs that include this verse. Thanks also to those whose comments I quoted or provided links to.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. This pancocojams post - #373 - marks the first year birthday of pancocojams.

    I started this cultural blog on 8/29/2011 in part because a post on jumping the broom that I had submitted to another blog was rejected. The editors of that blog indicated that that post was not suitable for publication on their site because they didn't believe that the subject of the African American traditions of jumping the broom were culturally relevant. I realized then that if I wanted a blog that focused on a folkloric approach to Black music, dance, and customs, I would have to create it myself. I'm very glad that makes creating blogs so easy to do.

    Thanks to all those who have happened upon this blog! Throughout this year I have enjoyed sharing information & comments about and videos of music, dance, and customs from African American and other Black cultures. And I have learned alot from doing so and I have also learned from & appreciate those who have written comments regarding these posts.

    I look forward to this next year of pancocojams blogging.

    Thanks again!


  2. Thanks for this, love those 60's songs and was looking around for the phrase origin

    1. You're welcome,May 13, 2013 at 5:34 PM.

      I'm glad you found this post.

  3. Thank-you for sharing your knowledge here. It is well written and engaging enough that I stayed well after I got the answer I was looking for.

    1. Thanks, anonymous!

      I really appreciate your comment.

  4. On the band Journey's "Captured" album (1980), in the song "Walk(s) Like a Lady, " Steve Perry sings the line, "I see you walking down the street, pretty baby, with your hand on your hip. Make your backbone slip." In other live versions in concert (which can be found on YouTube), he includes similar lines. On the studio album "Departure," however, this line is not included. The song has a blues feel to it whereas most of Journey's songs would be classified as rock. Steve Perry really enjoyed this feel of music, apparently, as he always cited Sam Cooke as one of his earliest musical influences.

    1. Jeanene, thanks for your comment about the inclusion of those lines in some of Journey's performances of "Walk(s) Like A Lady."

      Here's a link to that song. The line "I see you walking down the street, pretty baby, with your hand on your hip. Make your backbone slip." at around 6:36:

      Thanks for introducing me to that band. I thought that song was quite good.