Ska started in Jamaica in the 1950s. The Jamaican people usually listened American radio and records, but when we switched to rock n roll, they couldn't stand it. They needed their own music. Also, Jamaica had just gained independence from Britain. Their president called for a type of music that was truly Jamaican, not a copy of British music. Thus, ska was born as a blend of every rhythmic style of music found at the time. Ska gets its name from the morning greeting of the man who really started the music. Every day he yelled "Happy skavoovee" to people, and so the music was called "ska." The original dancing was simply "the ska" and was just the people of Kingston moving to the beat. Some well known artists of this type of ska are Desmond Dekker and the Aces, The Skatalites, Peter Tosh, Toots and the Maytals, Prince Buster, and Bob Marley. In Jamaica, a very slow form of ska developed into rocksteady. Rocksteady developed into reggae. It is a popular misconception that ska came from reggae. The Jamaicans who made ska were hoodlums. They were "the guys your mother warned you about" like Fonzie. They're sort of Jamaican punks. The Jamaican slang for "cool" was "rude." Thus, these guys were called "rude boys."
In the 1960s, Jamaican music, mainly ska, became popular in the UK as well as the world. It was Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" that turned the world onto ska. Mods and skinheads were prominant in the ska scene. Remember that skinheads were not Nazis; it was a fashion. Bob Marley, though generally known for his dreadlocks, was a skinhead at one point. Even the Beatles thought ska was cool and tried to incorporate ska-elements into "Obladi Oblada."
The first record label in the UK to cater exclusively to this kind of music was started by Jerry Dammers, the keyboardist for the Specials (aka The Special AKA). Because ska was really the first (and still probably only) musical genre to equally incorporate both black and white artists, he named his label Two Tone Records. Every record released contained a drawing of a man named Walt Jabsco who dressed completely in a black and white suit with a thin black tie and porkpie hat. This drawing was based off of a picture of Peter Tosh in traditional rude boy fashion. Also on the album covers was a pattern known simply as "Two Tone." This is the signature checkerboard pattern. It represents racial unity since there are equal amounts of both black and white and they are touching, not separated. Equality and untiy between black and white are both represented. It is also important to note that Walt was all black and white as well. The more well-known bands of this time are The Specials (aka The Special AKA), Madness, The Selector, The Beat, The Bodysnatchers, and The Swinging Cats.
Skanking originated in the UK at this time. Instead of keeping ones feet on the ground like doing the twist, people started kicking higher and swinging their arms more wildly. This fit since 2Tone ska is more upbeat than Jamaican ska. The faster tempo and wilder dancing could be attributed to the early punk influence.
Jamaica reached the US in the 80s. By then, so much had been added to the original ska, that it was very different. After all the addition of punk and rock n roll, ska was very different. This is where ska gets confusing, however. Some will claim that ska is still in its 3rd wave. Others say 4th. I go with the latter. Whether one considers there to have been 3 or 4 waves is inconsequentiontial. Early American ska was closer to 2Tone with punk influence than modern ska is, yet some people aren't willing to say that ska-pop is the 4th wave since there was a smoother transition between 3rd and 4th wave than the others. Generally the bands that were popular in the 80s are more 3rd wave and the ones that popped up in the mid-90s are 4th. I will say that 3rd wave ska bands include bands like Fishbone, The Toasters, No Doubt (old stuff), The Reel Big Fish (old stuff)and The Untouchables. For 4th I'll include more punk and pop things as The Reel Big Fish (new stuff), Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt (newer stuff), Less Than Jake, Catch 22, Hepcat, and Streetlight Manifesto. The part where No Doubt and The Reel Big Fish are in both because of their sound changes is where the wae system breaks down. The inclusion of bands in both sections is what makes it harder to define where 3rd wave ends and 4th begins.
I'm listening to a great ska band called Streetlight Manifesto.