Thirty years seems like a long time; more than a generation for sure and long enough to have a whole war named after the thirty years spent fighting it in the 1600’s.  It is also enough time to pay off the entire mortgage if you are one of the few who hasn’t moved six times in those years.  Time enough to see your children grow; long enough to enjoy the grandchildren and certainly expensive enough to be buying serious anniversary gifts.  If your kids are thirty they are most likely married.  If your car is thirty years old and still in good shape, it is worth more now than it was new.  If you spent the entire time working for one company you should be getting your retirement watch about now.  All in all thirty years is an impressive amount of time.

So when asked to write about Dance Week’s thirty years it seemed only natural to be impressed.  So I decided to take a look back in time, and see what was important then and what is now.  Personally, I was out of the Navy, in college, back at a studio working as a dance teacher, advanced teaching department supervisor and actively trying to learn enough to become certified as a Judge, which I would accomplish a couple of years later.  So I could tell you from my perspective what things have occurred, but let’s see what those that were there have to offer.

To be as complete and thorough as possible I emailed and asked Arthur Murray International, and Fred Astaire Dance Studios, to provide, statistics, history and their impressions of the industry and their companies and organization from 30 years ago.  In 1976, neither Arthur Murray nor Fred Astaire was active in the companies that bore their names, and the ensuing corporate entities that controlled those companies certainly had their own agendas and plans, but neither could have anticipated the times to come.

So secretive were their plans that even now Fred Astaire Dance Studios when asked to provide information has yet to respond.  Arthur Murray’s John Kimmons was kind enough to provide the following information (which has been edited to remove information about years other than 1976,

“…Please understand that some of the information you requested is confidential material.  In 1976 we had several hundred studios….  In 1976 we had studios in England, S Africa & Australia, …The president of the company in 1976 was George B. Theiss ….  The International Dance Director…:  1976-1979 – Don Roule….”

The NDCA (in those days known as the National Council of Dance Teacher Organizations Inc.) was active, but small and in those days headed by John Monte.  Tom Murdock was kind enough to furnish the Minutes of the 1976 Board of Governor’s Meetings.  According to the Minutes of April 25, 1976 in NY the Board discussed ways to counteract the … “reference (that) was made in two dance magazines recent editions and … articles and letters (that) put the Council and Board of Governors in a very poor light.”  The suggestion of a reprimand or more was offered.  It seems, criticism was not well received, and retribution was evidently, even then, considered.  The November, 1976 report shows a mere 289 members.  Other items included ISTD’s independence from England, rewriting the Bronze Syllabus, Examinations, publishing the calendar quarterly, and a Performing Arts Meeting.  Item 12 of the November Ballroom Department Meeting, “   suggested that judges coming from a pool on a rotational basis would be fairer to the judges, but on the other hand, (might) give the organizers some judges that they don’t want…”  I wonder why that idea was put aside by assigning it to a committee instead of being adopted or voted on.

Looking back to 1976, ballroom dancing was not a major part of everyday life.  Dance Fever would not be released until the following year.  A few Latin dancers were doing a new dance that would eventually develop into Latin Hustle, but it had not really taken hold yet.  Gerald Ford was president, and certainly was never known for his agility and grace.  The movie of the year was “Rocky”.  The Concorde jet introduced high speed trans-Atlantic flights.  The Vietnam War was over, so the peace movement had lost its punch.  The folk songs that addressed and even identified an entire generation of youth no longer carried the needed message of the day.  This generation was now more interested in looking ahead than behind.

I feel that dancing in this country in particular has run in cycles.  These generational changes in style and music have been more responsible for the variations of dance styles than dance instructors, dance schools and non-profit groups dedicated to the advancement of them.  Recent solo dance styles include heavy metal, grunge pits, and break dancing and they all had one thing in common.  They were solo styles of dance that were as far removed as possible from their parent’s disco dance styles.  The Charleston now often depicted in movies as a couple dance also appears to have started as a solo dance.  Not meaning there wasn’t a person of the other sex around, just that the people danced independently and to their own strengths, perception and intensity.  The Black Bottom was another one.  Vaudeville Shows offered an entire generation of first individual performers, and then side by side and partnership acts that then ushered in the first round of Trots and Walks, and couple acts that would provide entertainment for both sexes simultaneously.

By the mid 1970’s a new age had begun.  A new genre of music really took off with Van McCoy’s “The Hustle.”  Young teachers loved it and in studios around the country, were already using the new songs by Donna Summer, Bee Gees, Captain and Tenille and others for the Cha-Chas, Swings and wherever else they could make it work.  Old Timers thought it would never last.  It would not be until Dance Fever’s release in 1977 that operators would finally start to recognize the craze.  After a generation of dances like the Frug, and Watusi, many thought studios were relics from the past.  The names, Astaire and Murray that had made chains famous were no longer active.  Fred Astaire was still active in movies, though rarely dancing.  In 1976 he recorded a disco styled rendition of a Carly Simon’s “Attitude Dancing.”  Then he co-hosted, “That’s Entertainment Part 2 with Gene Kelly.  They would perform together, one last time, and many felt that was the end of an era.  Arthur and Katherine were long retired but would reappear a few years later on Dance Fever, a TV Disco show.

The World Standard Champions of 1976 were Richard & Janet Gleave.  The World Latin Champions were Peter Maxwell & Lynn Harman.  U.S. Professional Dance Champions of the day included Rick Gutterridge & JoAnn Duvernay in the American Style, which was a combined rhythm and smooth event, Larry Broussard & Mary Ellen Lacy, Bill Davies & Sandra Cameron, and Vernon Brock & Linda Dean.  The English were kings and most all that was worth reading came from there.

It is easy for people starting in dance today to be advocates.  It does not matter whether you are an amateur, professional, performer or spectator the world is full of dance competitions, dance movies, and reality based shows and more.  Some offer the hope of upcoming stardom.  Others use stars of TV, movies, sports and the news and expose their talents, failings, aspirations, and personalities.  Still others even go back and use old competition formats and styles and hope the general audience will learn to love them as we do.  Television has even offered its own “Pants Off” amateur stripper show, a dance “boot camp”, and of course more and better choreographed dance routines for MTV and other music channels.

Dick Mason, the founder of Dance Week, recalls the first edition of Dance Week having a photo of Beverly Taylor (later Kimmons) dancing a Bolero.  He also recalls Dance News of London and Dancer’s Digest as the primary dance publications of the time.  So Dance Week started first with results of competitions and not political matters, but they would come soon enough with disagreements between USABDA’s policies regarding pro-am participation and expelling an amateur.  It is against this backdrop that Dance Week began, 30 Years ago, as a way to keep America informed on dance.  I congratulate it on remaining independent, and hope dancers everywhere will wish it, as I do, the very best on its birthday.

Michael Reichenbach

Published Dance Week, Vol. XXX, No 1

September 8, 2006

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