Let me be clear right from the beginning-I never actually met Dick Clark- yet our relationship spanned decades. 

Earlier this week, Dick Clark passed away. His death marks the end of an era. Long before we had access to the momentary updates provided by Tweeter, Facebook and other social media, teenagers relied on Dick Clark and American Bandstand for information on the latest music, dances, hairstyles and clothing. American Bandstand was America’s first reality show. (1957-1963 it ran daily. Then, it ran weekly until 1987.)

My history with Dick Clark began when I was seven. My favorite baby sitter, Edie, introduced me, through American Bandstand, to the phenomenon of being a teenager in the late fifties. She taught me to Lindy Hop while we raptly watched the dancers on the clunky RCA black and white console television that was the focal point of my parents’ living room. She wore bobby socks and poodle skirts and with a chiffon scarf tied around her pony tail( just like those girls on Bandstand) and  I thought she was incredibly glamorous . I adored her; she whirled me around the living room until I was so dizzy I collapsed in giggles. Between our “lessons” I would watch Bandstand alone, memorizing every move. Then I would diligently practice atop my parents’ bed. From this vantage point I had access to the large mirror suspended over my mother’s dresser and thus could critique every nuance of my progess. “Get off the bed”, my mother would scream. “You will fall and crack your head open”.

I grew up in North Jersey. Not unlike Palisades Amusement Park, we felt a certain pride in Bandstand. Although the show was technically not located in Jersey but in “Philly” we still claimed some ownership. After all, many of the Bandstand regulars were South Jersey kids who made the trek across state lines to dance on the famous TV show. We would gossip about “knowing someone”- a second cousin of a friend of a friend -that may have danced on Bandstand. Rumors of such celebrity swirled and we practiced our dance moves holding on to the fantasy that maybe, someday, we would cut school, buy a bus ticket or find an older kid with a driver’s license, and make our pilgrimage to Bandstand.

My dancing partners evolved after I no longer needed a baby sitter. I danced with the broom and occasionally with the upright Electrolux. I danced with the bedroom door which demonstrated a unique talent for “swing” and later with my girlfriends.  We practiced our steps for hours. We would break only to experiment with hair styles we saw on Bandstand-teasing our hair into ridiculously sculpted helmets shellacked into place thanks to copious cans of Aqua Net. We applied Maybelline cake mascara until our lids stuck together. Then we danced some more. Until we were old enough for after school jobs, we spent endless hours in our pursuit of all that was quintessentially cool.  

We learned to Swim, Slide, Stroll, Shake and Shimmy . We learned the Frug, Monster Mash, Mashed Potato, Hitchhike, Hully Gully, Watusi. We learned the Bristol Stomp and Locomotion. We expressed our love of animals through the Monkey, Pony, Dog. And we learned the dance craze of all dance crazes, The Twist. We idolized the girl bands with names like the Orlons, Chiffons, Marvelettes, Ronettes, Crystals or the Shangri-las. Friday night dances were where we showcased our dancing acumen. We girls danced together while the boys stood around in clusters ogling our gyrations but too intimidated to approach us.

We studied the dances and song lyrics with an enthusiasm we never showed for school work. Our parents shook their heads in disbelief. This wasn’t dancing-this was obscene, they would tell us. Yet, I would sometimes catch my parents, trying to pivot on their toes and move as if they were drying their backs with a big towel.

Boys emulated the pop groups they saw on Bandstand by singing on street corners, working on their harmony. In the spring and summer, their changing adolescent voices wafted through the warm thick city air. We worked to be cool– and cool in the late fifties and early sixties was everything American Bandstand.

Fast forward a few years; Dick Clark became my non-judgmental companion on those dateless New Year’s Eve nights, which in high school, felt like the end of the world. I confess he made New Year’s Eve in Times Square seem so magical that he is partly responsible for this adventure making my adolescent bucket list. In 1968, as a college sophomore, I recognized that goal and while we never even glimpsed Dick Clark, it was a wild and memorable night.

In years since then, I occasionally practiced my game show skills by watching $25,000 Pyramid. But for the most part, Dick Clark and I went our separate ways. He was a staple in those painful years of adolescence and seemed ageless. He did not judge us, he related to us. He is definitely a “grown up”- always dignified and gentlemanly, but never stuffy or pedantic. He loved the music and the kids. We felt that authenticity and related to him. In a generation known for “never trusting anyone over thirty” he was the exemption to our rule. He bridged the generation gap effortlessly. He was forever young.

We will miss Dick Clark but his impact on a generation will not be lost.

And now, I’ve gotta get going- all this reminiscing has me tapping my toes. So, at the risk of throwing out my back, I need to just dance.  To enjoy your own impromptu dance party, click on any of the links provided.

For a great retrospective of the sixties from the vantage point of American Bandstand, click here.





Tags: , ,

One Comment

  1. CJ Golden on the 22. Apr, 2012 remarked #

    Oh, how I’d love to see you with that Electrolux!
    Thank you, Donna, for this light-hearted and sentimental reminiscence.

Leave a Comment