Waxing Nostalgia: Teen Dance Scene 1964
For some time I have thought about dancing again as I’ve missed my ice skating dance routines ever since my hip replacement. Reflections about dancing brought me back to the time when my girlfriends and I went to the teen mixers at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. I couldn’t find any references to the dances on the web, but in the mid-1960s, Holy Cross was the place to be on a Saturday night.
Most of the teens who attended the dances came from the working class communities in the adjacent neighborhoods, and most were Catholic, of course. We attended the public school so it was a bit of a leap to attend a dance outside of our school where we wouldn’t know anyone. Some of our friend’s parents didn’t like the idea of their daughters going to a Catholic dance, but somehow we convinced them it would be ok. Secretly, we always thought that Catholic boys were “fast” but not necessarily that was bad, just we had to be aware. I can’t remember that myth ever playing out. We were somewhat protected in our suburban bubble. My sister remembers her shocked reaction when she saw smoking going on around the corner of the church.
The Church kept a strict dress code. Boys had to wear coats and ties and for girls, skirts or dresses. We would spend all day getting ready: washing our hair in the morning and using those humongous plastic rollers so that our hair would have puff rather than curl. We would sit under a hair dryer bonnet for hours. More daring girls would wear heavy eye makeup and challenge the limits on how short their skirts could be. It was a fine line, and the authorities would send you home, if you crossed it. Looking back, I believe the dress code established a certain decorum, even if we complained at the time.
We would join long lines outside the gym to pay our 75 cents to get in, passing by the three or four priests that lined up near the entrance. Everybody danced on the crowded floor; we didn’t have to worry about being a wall flower. When dancing, the boys would cut in front of us, nudging each other out-of-the-way. We had bragging rights depending on the number of boys that would cut in. The temperature in the room would rise through the night, but the boys still had to keep their jackets on.
Versions of the Bristol Stomp provided the basic dance steps, and dancers would hit the wooden floor with a collective stomp on the beat. That unison had to be a genre of tribal dancing, and while we danced with a partner, it was really a group dance–and that made it exciting!
The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol,
When they do the Bristol Stomp. Whoa-oh.
Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’,
Ah-ah-ah, ah. When they do the Bristol Stomp.
Kal Mann & Dave Appell
After every dance number, we would escape back to our girl pods and share our analysis. “Wow, that was a cute guy you were dancing with.” “He asked for my number!” “Look, he’s wearing a Beatle jacket.” “Did you see that split?” Boys were considered hot if they did a split; and if a guy had a Beatle haircut, he racked up more status points.
The DJ usually played Doo-Wop music for the slow dances: See the Pyramids Across the Nile, In the Still of the Night, Till Then, You Belong to Me. I remember melting every time the songs played.
Back to the Future: Learning to Dance all Over Again
I looked around the web to find a local dance studio that might offer a few lessons in rock just so I could get dancing again. Ironically, not far from Holy Cross Church, I came across Don’s Dance World, and he was setting up a small adult class in jitterbug. When the class started, what was strange was learning steps to what I just kinda did without thinking when I was a teen. Now, I had to think about it! Don had us repeat the steps many times, switching partners often. He also recited little mantras to help remember the steps:
Sweet ta heart ta back-step
Guy a-turn-a back-step
Girl a-turn-a back-step
Many thanks to Joan, Mike, Robyn, John and Don for their part in the video. At some level, I channeled back to those steamy nights at Holy Cross.
Rock and roll will always be.
I dig it to the end.
It’ll go down in history,
Just you watch, my friend.
Rock and roll will always be.
It’ll go down in history.