There are some things one just can’t get past, and I experienced one of them again recently: not being able to dance anymore. I just hate it – not being old – but struggling with severe arthritis. My knees and back will scream at me if I try to dance. They just won’t do it.
And that’s what hurts mentally and emotionally, because I love to dance and have done so as long as I can remember. I guess I was born this way – wanting to move with the rhythms I hear. It made playing bass viol seem natural; it made growing up among people who loved to dance fun; it made going through adolescence in the age of the birth of rock ‘n roll a near miracle.
I learned to dance from my parents. We lived in small, mostly Czech or German oriented communities from the year after I was born until I finished school. I first danced when I was 7 or so standing on my Dad’s feet while he did the polka around the American Legion or other dance hall where they lived in southern Nebraska. Going to Saturday night dances was what people did in those towns, and us kids got to go along many times.
We learned to do the polka, two-step and the schottische. As we got older, we picked up the boogie from our aunts and uncles who were younger than our parents and dancing their way through the big-band era and going to dance halls and roadhouses.
When we moved to Kearney, I was starting junior high school and started playing bass in orchestra, concert band and also the high school dance band. Kearney happens to be located on U.S. Hwy. 30, which stretches across the country from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Kearney is at the halfway mark, and consequently, for many years, was the site of the 1776 (miles east to Philadelphia and west to San Francisco) Ballroom, where many big bands and big name entertainers stopped while touring.
Playing there were the top musicians of the time, including Louis Armstrong. Singing with him on one tour was Bessie Smith, blues singing legend. Stan Kenton stopped there, and the Glen Miller’s Band, still touring.
Was it Duane Eddy in person? I don’t really remember, but I do remember hitting the dance floor at 1776 one time, rocking out to his version of “Raunchy” and his big hit of 1958 “Rebel Rouser.” It didn’t matter at the time because that night of dancing on that big dance floor was a bit of heaven to me.
We – the Class of ’59 — were that small group of pre-war babies, who grew up in the age of Eisenhower and the birth of rock ‘n roll with Bill Haley and the Comets, L’il Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Four Seasons, The Platters, Everly Brothers and on and on. If the generation before had the big bands, we had rock ‘n roll, which incorporated all the elements of the true American music that came earlier and later gave birth to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers and ZZ Top. It continues.
(I know, I know – Elvis – but I was never a fan.)
Going on to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (more road houses and dance opportunities), then California, South Carolina and Europe, the beat went on. Eventually I landed in Texas, home of Western swing and the Texas Two-Step, where roadhouses and dance halls abound.
My dancing days were still going on in 1980 when we moved to Mississippi, where there is lots of blues and in nearby Louisiana, zydeco – THE dance music. In fact, in Hattiesburg music and dancing seem to be a big part of what it’s all about. If only I could still do it!
Here I am, going on 35 years in Hattiesburg, and there I was the other night at one of our great downtown music venues, The Thirsty Hippo, hanging out and listening to a great duo (Southern Merchants) working through a boogie woogie and blues play list. From Big Bill Broonzy to Fats Domino to their own compositions, Paul Linden on piano with Brad Newton on drums, laid down a line so powerful, so compelling, so calling my name to the dance floor that I wanted to holler.
Instead, I swayed, clapped, twitched and moved best I could in my chair. And, I watched a 4-year-old girl moving to the beat and then out onto the dance floor, holding her dad’s hands as she began to dance.
You go, Girl!