By Mary Ann Apostol
When I was a teenager I used to race home every afternoon, sit down in front of the TV, and watch the kids dancing on American Bandstand. Like so many young people across America, my friends and I knew all of them by name. We considered those kids to be role models. We copied their clothes, hair, and maybe most of all, their dances—because what dominated the TV screen were kids moving to the beat of our whole generation. We felt that beat, and watched the couples who always danced together. These were people we got to know.
There were Arlene Sullivan and Kenny Rossi, Bunny Gibson and Ed Kelly, Justine Carelli and Bob Clayton, Joyce Shafer and Norman Kerr, Carole Scaldeferri and Nick Gaeta, Mary Beltrante and Lou DeSero, Barbara Levick and Joe Wissert, Janet Hamill and Eddie Connor and Carmen Jimenez and Frank Vacca. They were the ones setting the trends for kids from coast to coast. Watching them we saw the moves, and imitated them.
From the daily dance on the tube we learned the steps that we would take with us to school dances, record hops and parties. We learned them all: the Slop, the Hand Jive, the Bop, Chalypso (a combination of the Cha-Cha and the Calypso) and the Stroll. The kids who appeared regularly on American Bandtstand weren’t paid. These were the real thing – teenagers dancing to the latest Top 40 hits. In real life the dance partners were usually dating, which made watching every day into a kind of soap opera. It was as if there were a national high school right there on TV. Keeping up with who was breaking up and making up was a regular part of an American teenager’s week.
The regulars were also known as “The Committee.” They were on day-in-day-out, but there were also a lot of other kids dancing among them. These were young people who lined up each day, hoping they could be among the fortunate who got the opportunity to dance along with the Regulars. Like so many of us, they wanted to be on TV where all their friends would see them getting their chance at fame. It wasn’t so different from the urge of today’s contestants on “American Idol.” The show featured dance contests to spotlight songs, dancers and dances. Contestants signed up and got a number. Once a week the numbers would be pinned on the contestants’ backs and viewers cast ballots for favorites. This would go on for three or four weeks, then the winners would be announced on the air.
A dancer didn’t have to be that skillful. It was more a matter of how they came across to the cameras. The way they looked, or their manner might count for more than the technical quality of their moves. It was how a dancer came across to the audience. If we liked them we would vote for them. Of course, there were prizes, but they weren’t anything that would make a dancer rich. You might get a portable TV. One prize that lots of us wanted was our own personal jukebox.
The show brought in most of the best groups of that time. On any given day you might catch Martha and the Vandellas, Little Eva, The Beach Boys, Dee Dee Sharp, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, or Jay and the Americans, Among other acts on the show were Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Shirelles, Tina Turner, The Everly Brothers, Little Anthony & the Imperials, and Paul Anka. It was an amazing line-up. Though the performers were there, live on the show, most of them didn’t sing live. American Bandstand was where lip-synching became an artform.
The name most associated with American Bandstand is that of Dick Clark, but when it premiered locally in Philadelphia on October 7, 1952 (as “Bandtstand”) the host was Bob Horn. Dick Clark took it over in 1956, and it first aired as “American Bandstand” on the ABC on August 5, 1957. The last episode aired on October 7, 1989.
Mary Ann Apostol is a Baby Boomer, Jewelry Maker and Social Networker. Her Jewelry line Beautiful Dreamer Jewelry can be viewed at in-home or office parties around Broward County. For more information you can contact her at email@example.com.
Reprinted from May 2011