5th Avenue Theatre Parade Hairspray Anything Goes 1776

writing: articles, sales copy, and editing


client: The 5th Avenue Theatre
project: Hairspray Articles

One of Hairspray's major elements was the television dance shows of the early 1960s and the dances that inspired them.


They Had a Good Beat and Were Easy To Dance To

A teenager growing up in the 1940s took life seriously. Expectations were clear: young men should join the service or get a job, and young women should meet a man, marry and have children — and young people should act responsibly without demanding freedom in return. That all changed in the 1950s. With the economy booming, parents indulged their children. America's youth received allowances, found themselves with free time after school to socialize and have fun, and began to boldly express this new-found freedom through music. They rejected the Tin Pan Alley, swing and blues music that their parents favored and sought a wilder, rougher, lustier soundtrack, namely "rock-and-roll:" a mixture of black musical styles by white performers like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, rockabilly, doo-wop and dance-inspiring songs like The Twist.

In response to this youth movement, a new TV craze hit the airwaves. Programs like Your Hit Parade, in which Raymond Scott's orchestra and the Hit Paraders performed popular songs like Que Sera Sera and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, were replaced with rock-and-roll shows that played music "the kids" liked, featuring live (or lip-synched) performances and plenty of dancing. Local shows popped up from Los Angeles to Rhode Island, including The Art Laboe Show, Dave Sennett's Dance Party, Six-Five Special, Dig This!, Oh Boy!, Drumbeat and Cool For Cats. The king of them all was, of course, American Bandstand.

American Bandstand began in 1952 as a local Philadelphia program called Bob Horn's Bandstand. In 1956, the show got a new host — clean-cut 26-year-old Dick Clark — and was renamed American Bandstand. The first national show aired on August 5, 1957, and debuted Jerry Lee Lewis' Whole Lotta Shaking Goin' On. The show soared to instant, nation-wide popularity for good reason: it was the first show teens watching at home could relate to. Bandstand was the showcase for the latest records, the hippest fashions and the newest products. One element above all kept kids tuned in and rockin' round the clock: the show was built around a regular group of Philadelphia high school students. They quickly developed a national following — everyone knew their names and personalities, copied their moves and kept track of who was dating whom. For both teens and pre-teens, the Bandstand kids were the models against which they measured themselves. The kids on Bandstand were all they aspired to be.

Clark made the most of this popularity. He'd ask the kids about favorite songs and clothing trends and highlighted new dance fads as soon as they cropped up. Clark also initiated a Rate-A-Record segment, in which three kids would listen to and rate a new song, and hyped periodic dance contests, in which viewers cast ballots for their favorite dancers.

Dancing was a major feature of Bandstand. The kids who showed up every day (the show aired every weekday afternoon for the first six years) knew all the popular steps: The Slop; The Hand Jive; The Bop; and the Jitterbug — performed with considerable virtuosity and gymnastics. They even invented a few: the Stroll; the Circle; and the Chalypso.

For decades, American Bandstand and other team music and dance TV shows proved that rock-and-roll was here to stay. After all, they had a great beat, and they were easy to dance to.