By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald
Picture: Clinton’s day the music died, when the Coliseum burned down, 1958.
Remember when people danced and they actually touched? There are still a few folks left who can “cut a rug.” Once upon a time, they did it to the “Lindy Hop”. In the roaring 20’s, the Charleston or Conga Lines were all the rage with flappers. During the 30’s, cartoon dancer Betty Boop came along, patterned after singer, Helen Kane, whose delightful baby voice once sang, “I wanna be loved by you!”
Young people have always enjoyed high energy dancing, but slower waltz-type dances helped generations of romantics to “break the ice.” Years ago, people were reticent to get emotionally involved on what’s called, “the physical level.” There was a natural feeling of shyness, which dancing helped to alleviate.
The Modernistic Ballroom in the Coliseum and Root Park, sometimes called Shadduck Park (Shad-Oak Park) in Lyons, were social “haunts” where young people could always congregate for a worthwhile activity their parents would readily condone. Do you recall “chaperones?”- At times girls could not be left alone with a beau, especially after dark? Curfews were very strict and, if broken, parents were certain to “put their foot down.” Perhaps it was the advent of more automobiles, perhaps it was losing our large ballrooms, but things changed a lot when drive-in movies took the place of dances!
Back then, youthful daters often went south to Fairy Land or the Col Ballroom in Davenport. (As a kid, I thought they were saying “The Cow” ballroom!) Adventuresome individuals might even trek up to Dyersville, because the very best dancers were known to be there or at the Melody Mill in Dubuque. It was amazing to see scores of twirling couples Fox Trotting around the large floors, with neophytes gingerly hugging the inner circle.
Most kids learned to dance in physical education class. There were “square dances,” which later gave way to a good ole’ Country Two-Step. Coach Gene Knight was truly versatile, and he loved organizing dances for kids. Remember? - “You put your elbow in; you pull your elbow out; you put your elbow in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey, and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!” Gayle O’Hern and Eleanor Kluver did the same at their buildings. Bob Douglas could even go a step further with agility and did a masterful unit on gymnastics, which he still directs… while in his seventies! He’s truly the “Jack LaLayne” of Clinton fitness.
Some songs described the dance, “The Hucklebuck,” for example. It went: “Now, here’s a dance you should know, when the lights go down low, grab your partner and go…. You do the Hucklebuck, you do the Hucklebuck, if you don’t know how to do it, Man, you’re outta luck; wiggle like a snake, waddle like a duck, that’s what you do when you do the Hucklebuck!”
And the “Eagle Rock” - “ First, you put your two knees way up tight, then you wiggle to the left and you wiggle to the right; you bounce around the floor kinda nice and light, and then you twist around and twist around with all your might. You do the Eagle Rock way out in space, you do the Eagle Rock with style and grace…and that’s what I call balling the jack!”
Both parents and teachers contributed toward young people’s learning to “trip the light fantastic.” Many a mother taught a shy son some steps the night before a big Prom or a Deb Dance. She and Dad, too, would often discuss acceptable dating behavior around the dinner table. So, every teenager then was familiar with the boundaries of what was allowed and what was not. - There would be no “petting,” and one must get a girl home by curfew. Of course, you could stop off at Rastrelli’s, The Revere, or Marcucci’s for a short while, but you dare not tarry too long!
All of this came to a screeching halt in 1956. The top songs just prior to THE REVOLUTION were Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues” and “That Singing Rage, Miss Patti Paige,” performing “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” and then…. BANG!! Elvis hit it big with “Heart Break Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Bill Haley and the Comets sang “Rock Around the Clock.” Teenagers would never be the same again. And, it seems, they have been ever since “rebels without a cause!”
Still, the Jitter-Bug was easily adapted for dancing to the loud, raucous be-bop or rock revolution dancing. Everyone practiced all the moves at home watching “American Bandstand,” and became more proficient at Club 14 or CYO functions. BUT WAIT, in 1957, the nuns banned Elvis (the Pelvis) Presley songs from any of their dances; and, just when we’d learned how to twirl and do the intricate moves of the “Clinton Hop,” Chubby Checker (named to mimic, Fats Domino) came on the scene in 1962 with “The Twist!” Sadly, I don’t think anyone has “touch danced” since then, except perhaps at 50’s and 60’s hops or for school dress-up days. Why, just the other day some young girl needed to have the term “sock hop” defined for her. (You couldn’t dance on the gym floor with your shoes on!)
Why not, just for fun, put on your poodle skirt or some skin-tight jeans. Don your dirty white bucks or your saddle shoes. Grease your hair back or put it in a pony-tail; form lines for the “Bunny Hop” or “The Stroll”; set that bar for a “Limbo,” and put those feet in motion,…. then…. WAIT! Calm down and please be seated, .… ‘cuz you’re all pretty old for this. -- You could get hurt!!