As news of the death of Tina Turner hit Australia’s shores, people all over the country stopped what they were doing and started to dance.
School students, gym rats, TikTokers and even the staff at the United States Embassy paid tribute with a series of steps and kicks that looked like a cross between line dancing and the Macarena, set to one of Ms. Turner’s songs, “Nutbush City Limits.”
She did not perform these moves with the song. But somehow — and no one is quite sure how — the dance, the Nutbush, has become so widespread in Australia that it is sometimes called the country’s unofficial national dance.
“You hear the duh-duh, duh-duh, and the feet start tapping and the moves come back to you,” said Skye Clarke, a teacher in the state of Victoria who led a Nutbush dance for her students on Thursday. She added: “You might not have done it for 10-plus years, but it comes back to you pretty instantly.”
When the song plays, whether at a bar, backyard barbecue, birthday party or wedding, sitting still is not an option.
“It would be rude not to join in,” said Jess Bowman, another teacher who helped organize a performance at her school in New South Wales. “You do it, otherwise someone yanks you onto the dance floor.”
It is a dance that has been passed down to elementary school students from teachers over generations, Ms. Bowman said. “When we were kids at school, we were taught the Nutbush. Now that we’re the new generation of teachers, we’re teaching our kids. And the ones who become teachers will teach it to their kids.”
The origins of the dance are a mystery. Some experts say it resembles the Madison, a 1950s and ’60s line dance, or ’70s disco dances like the car wash and the hustle. A common theory is that enterprising schoolteachers spread the dance by teaching it to their students as a fitness routine, although there are no records of it being formally mandated in classrooms.
“No one seems to know exactly where it came from,” said Jadey O’Regan, a pop culture expert at the University of Sydney. “It’s like a crop circle. Who made it? Where did it come from?”
Part of its longevity lies in being a relatively simple dance that people of all ages can do, said Michael Whaites, a lecturer in contemporary dance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He recalls first doing the Nutbush in brown, flared corduroy pants at a school disco in 1979.
“It’s a bit daggy,” he said, using a slang word for unfashionable, “but it’s a thing that has nostalgia attached to it, as well as a fun thing to do that brings people together.”
He added: “It can be done by two or 200 people. And don’t we hold the world record?”
Australia does, in fact, hold a world record for the most people doing the dance — although no other countries have been known to try to vie for the crown. Last year, 4,084 attendees did the Nutbush at the Birdsville Big Red Bash, a country music festival held in the outback, wearing tutus, dinosaur costumes and wigs.
Festival goers will try to break the record again in July, said Laura Impey, one of the organizers of the event, which will also be a milestone for the hit song.
“We thought it’ll be quite special to be doing this Nutbush attempt on the 50th year of the song having been released,” she said. “And it’ll be an even bigger, more special tribute to Tina Turner as a whole.”
Ms. Turner’s ties to Australia extend beyond the popular dance. Her manager for years, Roger Davies, was from Melbourne and propelled her return to stardom in the ’80s. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, she became the face of Australia’s rugby league competition when she sang her songs “What You Get Is What You See” and “The Best” in commercials for the sport.