There have been many theories about how the Nutbush dance that has long been a staple at Australian weddings and parties came about.

But a new study has found the routine to American singer Tina Turner’s 1973 song Nutbush City Limits was invented by the New South Wales education department.

The research was a collaboration between the University of South Australia and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. 

University of South Australia sociologist Jon Stratton said instructions for the Nutbush were distributed to teacher training institutions as a teaching aid in 1975.

“Teachers were concerned to get some dance that school kids … would find interesting and want to do,” Professor Stratton said.

“Dances have been used for years as part of physical education and creative arts and it was in that context that the Nutbush was quite literally invented.

“It was put together and then distributed through a teachers’ meeting.”

The study also found the moves for the dance differ between states and territories, and that the original inspiration could have been a line dance that dates back to the 1950s.

“It’s possible that the Nutbush was based on the Madison — it’s also likely that some schools actually taught the Madison,” Professor Stratton said.

There have been attempts to create a world record for the number of people dancing the Nutbush at one time, with the benchmark standing at 6,594 at the 2023 Mundi Mundi Bash in remote NSW

Legendary pop singer Turner, who died in May last year, wrote the lyrics to the song which refer to her childhood hometown, Nutbush in the US state of Tennessee.

‘Outside of Australia, the Nutbush doesn’t exist’

The song was released in 1973 but did not make it into Australian music charts until March 1975.

“First of all, what [the dance] did was put Nutbush City Limits back in the charts. This is one of the ways of tracking when the Nutbush became popular as a dance,” Professor Stratton said.

“It climbs into the top 10, first in New South Wales and then in Victoria and Queensland.

“That’s when the dance started to be popularised in schools. As an effect of that, people were buying Nutbush City Limits again.”

More than 6,500 festival-goers set a world record at the Mundi Mundi Bash.(Australian Story: Erin Semmler)

Despite the dance propelling the song to the top of the Australian charts years after its release, Professor Stratton said there wasn’t any evidence Tina Turner knew about the dance at the time.

“Outside of Australia, the Nutbush doesn’t exist,” he said.

“Now, of course, you get all these people on TikTok attempting to do the Nutbush.”

Professor Stratton attributed its longevity to its persistence in classrooms.

“It hasn’t stopped being taught in schools,” he said.

“It’s hung around because the people who have learnt it just enjoyed it so much.”

He singled out the song’s “strong rock beat” that makes it easy to dance to, but said the Nutbush was quintessentially Australian.

“Somebody puts on Nutbush City Limits, a whole pile of Australians get up and dance to it,” Professor Stratton said.

“This is what happens in London for example: put on Nutbush City Limits at some party, all the English people go, ‘Oh yeah, boring, don’t dance to that these days’.

“All the Australians get up and do the Nutbush and they’re going, ‘Ah you’re Australian too, I didn’t realise that’.

“After Tina Turner passed last year, the US embassy in Canberra, as a way of acknowledging her and her importance in Australia — they all went out to the forecourt and did the Nutbush, badly I’d have to say.”