Dick Clark Says: “Don’t Sit On The Sidelines”
I think if I ever decided to sit down and write a book, I’d call it “Notes from a Professional Wallflower.” It’d be as good a title as any, don’t you agree? i m the guy who, on “American Bandstand” and at my record hops, has to sit and watch all the other guys have fun on the dance floor. But no tears now. I get a charge out of it. Honestly. And you want to know something? I’m beginning to believe there aren’t many of us wallflowers left. That makes me very happy—yes indeed.
But just to set the record straight, and so you don’t get the wrong idea—I wasn’t always a wallflower. Fact is, I—Richard Wagstaff Clark (my family was always big for middle names) made my first real hit with my own wife, Barbara, at a dance.
We were both in high school then—in Mount Vernon, N. Y. Barbara—her name was Barbara Mallery—had a date with a good buddy of mine and I didn’t have a date, but we were all invited to the same party, so we made it a three-way date. At the party my friend threw a few hints my way that he thought Barbara would like to date me. Since he didn’t want to stand in the way for either of us, he said, in the spirit of may-the-best-man-win: “Why don’t you ask her out?” And so I did. I invited Barbara to the annual Snowball Hop, the big winter high school dance of the season. And she accepted. I’d brushed up on a few of the latest steps, and we hit it off right away. It was really a great evening.
My second date with Barbara wasn’t quite so successful, though, I have to admit. It was an informal hop a few weeks later. After one or two trips to the refreshment stand, I suddenly realized I’d miscalculated and was fresh out of money. I checked all the guys I knew to see if there were any house parties or get-togethers going on after the dance that were free—the idea of taking your date home immediately afterward was strictly for squares. But nope, just my luck, there were no gatherings planned. Most of the gang was just going out for hamburgers and sodas afterwards. And there I was with no money to join them. Just out on a second date and wanting to clinch the impression, too. Great impression I’d make, I sulked. Well, she was a swell girl while she lasted. I’d have to make up some excuse for walking her home right after the dance, and it better be a lulu, too, ’cause Barbara knew all the other kids were going out for a snack.
Finally, in desperation, I invented a headache. “Gosh, I feel so terrible, Barbara,” I wailed, holding my head in my hands after about the second-to-last dance to begin to prepare her for the idea. “And after the final strains of ‘Good Night, Ladies,’ I asked, pretty sheepishly, if she’d mind if I took her right home. She agreed.
After Barbara was home and we’d said good night, I was walking home myself utterly mortified by the entire episode, and feeling sure I’d never see Barbara again, when I realized: Boy, I really did have a for-real headache!
Well, Barbara was a doll about it and I did see her lots more after that. Now I have her dated up for life and we still laugh about that unforgettable second date. So you see, a romance can be born on the dance floor. And it can happen to you.
More and more of you are going to dances. And dancing too. Sounds crazy? It isn’t. I can remember only a few years back when our crowd would head for a dance. Often the fellows would gather on one side of the punch bowl, the girls on the other. The fellows would talk to the fellows; girls would talk to girls and the poor guy spinning records would be talking to himself. All the while a nicely waxed dance floor would go unused except for a few brave stray characters who would venture forth for a record or two before scurrying back to the wall.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed all that is changing. The fellows seem to be breaking away from that tight circle over there and using that time-honored but always welcome intro: “I beg your pardon, but may I have this dance?” Sometimes it may come out as “Hey—y’wanna dance?” or “Dance, huh?” But I assure you the meaning is always the same.
I guess I’ve been to at least four dances a week for the past four years. Let’s see, that’s at least 800 dances right there. Multiply 800 by two hours each and that’s roughly 1600 hours I’ve spent at dances!—not to mention the before and after-hours. While I don’t get too much time for the fancy footwork—I’m usually hopping all over the place running the show and taking care of a million and one details—I do get a chance to pick up a few tips here and there.
How to act at a dance? I’m no expert, but if I were writing a dance book, this would be my first chapter heading: HAVE FUN. Relax, put on a bright smile, prepare yourself for a good time and, I’ll bet, ten to one you’ll have one. Nine times out of ten, fellows looking around for a partner will go for the girl who looks happy because they know she’s probably friendly. Perhaps, too, they’re a bit shy themselves, but a pleasant smile always breaks the ice. (Sometimes a girl has to take a little initiative here.)
T hat smile can also ease you through some otherwise embarrassing moments. For instance if you are asked to dance and would rather sit one out or wait for another partner, a simple, “Not right now, thank you,” said pleasantly, can soften this blow to a boy’s pride.
Just a note of warning, though. You might be a bit shy and hesitant about dancing, but for a lot of young fellows it’s a big step breaking away and asking a girl to dance. Fellows don’t like to show it, but they can be hurt, too. That’s why I’d suggest that if you are asked to dance, accept unless you really do have a darn good reason. And for fellows, I’d add, try to dance every dance. The fellow or the girl needn’t always be the best-looking, best-dressed or most popular. The important thing is to get out on the dance floor. That’s why you are there. You’ll have more fun, become a better dancer, meet more new friends, and find that the first step was the hardest.
Once out on that dance floor—relax! How? Catch the tempo of the music and concentrate on the beat. You’ll forget your hands are perspiring from nervousness. Everything won’t go smoothly all of the time, you can be sure. You’ll tread on his toes, and he’ll step on yours. That’s expected. When it happens, a simple “Excuse me” or “I beg your pardon” is all that is needed. (And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. You’ll both feel more relaxed.) Sometimes, too, that can be shortened to “Sorry” (just for variety on the fifth or sixth time), but “Excuse me” is much better.
But whatever you do, don’t follow the recent example of one boy at a record hop I was presiding at. Before the disc was put on, I heard him make this announcement to his partner: “Before we begin, I’d like to apologize for stepping on your toes.” During the number, I made sure to watch him, and sure enough, he did step on the poor girl quite a few times. But not a word out of him, come what may. He had made his apologies in advance, by gum, and he wasn’t going to utter another word!
If things really get out of hand—say, for instance, if he’s doing steps you’ve never seen or done—then it’s time to politely call a halt, explain the situation, and start all over again. One way to do this would be: “I’m sorry I can’t follow you, but the step you’re doing seems like fun. Would you teach it to me?” Presto—you’ve saved yourself, and also may I add, flattered his manly heart.
If you find that you are the better dancer, whatever you do don’t—no never—let him know it. A girl must try to follow the fellow no matter how bad he is. I’m sorry, girls, but that’s the rule, and if you’re a good dancer it isn’t too tough to follow. Besides, off the floor he may be a real hip guy, so why jump to conclusions?
And speaking of hip boys and girls, in my book, you kids are more mature than any preceding generation at your age. Don’t let anyone try to sell you otherwise. On the whole, you certainly know what’s what; you’re, well—more hip. (Hip, incidentally, means hep, but only people who aren’t hip say hep.)
But natch, all of us can slip once in a while, and a dance where you want to put your best foot forward, is no place to slip. Therefore, at mine, I’ve enforced a few simple rules of discipline and conduct: Girls must be in dresses, boys in coats and ties. No smoking, no gum-chewing, no toothpicks and, no dancing with hats and coats on. Dancing with hats and coats on seems to be a big craze with certain of you—don’t ask me why. But with me, it’s taboo.
Another thing. If the fellow you are dancing with is someone new to you, don’t worry about being nervous. He’s probably just as nervous as you are. If he’s the type who is quiet while dancing, go along with him. If he talks to you, then take your cue and reply. In other words, let the fellow take the lead here also.
After the record has finished and you’ve thanked him for the dance, if he doesn’t try to continue the conversation you lead the way off the dance floor. If you don’t want to have the next dance with him, then after thanking him you return to your girl friends or crowd. In that way no feelings are hurt, and you needn’t say anything that might embarrass yourself or the fellow. And you needn’t get stuck with one guy all night.
for dancing cheek to cheek—or really jumpin’—try:
“A CERTAIN SMILE”
Perry Como-RCA Victor
“THE KING CREOLE ALBUM”
Elvis Presley-RCA Victor
“DREAMS COME TRUE”
“ONE SUMMER NIGHT”
“THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER”
“POOR LITTLE FOOL”
The Kalin Twins-Decca
Perez Prado-RCA Victor
“AFTER THE SENIOR PROM”
There’s another case when you might find yourself in a ticklish situation. That’s in a dance where “cut-ins” are permitted. When your first partner has stepped aside, just smile and welcome your new one with a pleasant “Hello,” and start dancing again. These “cut-ins” can be fun and liven up the dance, so take them in fun.
And don’t be angry if your favorite partner then cuts in on some other girl. That’s all part of the game. If you don’t particularly want to dance with the fellow who cuts in, be patient and do the best you can. Most records are short.
Besides, by even hinting at refusing a new partner you can put yourself in the center of a scene that would be painful for you, your embarrassed first partner, and the equally distraught “cut-in” partner. Who knows, someone else may cut in real soon. Then too, boys talk, you know, and in future “cut-in” dances you might find yourself very lonesome, and your partner will get the idea you’re not very popular.
BE A BELLE HAVE A BALL
DICK CLARK CHOOSES
TOP AT HOPS
Of course if it’s just a regular dance and someone asks your partner if he can cut in, your partner should look to you. You answer with a smiling “yes” or “no.” That’s all that’s required—and in this case no feelings should be hurt either way.
Whatever you do, don’t let happen what happened at one of my dances recently. It seems a girl and guy were dancing and another boy cut in. The first boy refused to let him and the girl, not wanting to hurt any feelings, played coy and wouldn’t respond either way. Finally, the two fellows got into a real row and decided to leave the dance. Then it became a question of who would take the girl home. They both wanted to. Finally, I had to step in and arbitrate. Solution? I called over another girl and sent them all home—as a foursome, with no pairing off allowed. Point: the girl has more control over these situations right from the start than either she or the boy realize. Exercise this prerogative and you’ll avoid possible unpleasant situations.
At most informal dances or record hops, I’ve noticed, girls do dance with girls from time to time. Sometimes there aren’t enough fellows to go around. But from my personal observation, I would say that only in jitterbug numbers should a girl do this. I suppose, thinking about it, the reason there seems to be more girls than fellows at the dances is that girls can now go unescorted to these informal get-togethers, and let’s face it, girls seem to be interested in dancing before boys are.
For dancing at informal hops—my spies report—“flatties” or flat shoes are the best for moving around smoothly. When dress-up occasions arise most of the girls find shoes with small heels are the best. You have to feel comfortable when you’re dancing. And personally, I like girls in full skirts. And comfort holds true even in how you hold your partner. He’ll hold your right hand where it’s most comfortable for him. Your left hand is your problem, and I’d suggest you hold it high, up near his shoulders—and not too tight.
He might think you’re trying to capture him. And just use enough pressure to help you follow his movements. That is a big help in improving your dancing.
During breaks in the dance, if you find yourself with a strange partner and you are both willing to continue being together, there are many conversational ideas you can use. For one thing you might start with the last record that played. or the recording artist you like best, then to schools or your own school friends, and even friends you might have in common, or the dance itself. Look around for a mutual interest.
As a flip suggestion, try out my latest vocabulary on him. Have you heard it?
Cube—a square in three-D
Squeep—a cross between a square and a creep
Hot biscuits—good records
Chicks and daddybirds—ladies and gentlemen
Big bug—popular guy
Pound out flippers—let’s applaud
Are your flappers plugged?—Can’t you hear me?
You’re pretty ape—You look good
Death on the drumsticks—Hard on the legs
Murder on the ground-grabbers—Hard on the shoes.
If you are invited by him to have some refreshments, then of course he pays. If, however, you happen to meet him while you are buying some refreshments, then you should pay. I know from experience if the fellow has the change, he’ll invite you. If not, never suggest it. Wait until you are by yourself and get your own.
While you are chatting with the boy, and he should pay you a compliment, all you need to do is smile and reply with a polite “Thank you.” You don’t know how it pleases the tender hearts of us men.
There can be a problem when the music’s stopped, the band’s packing up to go home and you’re getting ready to leave, can’t it? For instance, some fellow wants to take you home after you’ve been dancing with him for a good part of the evening. If you know the fellow very well, and if you have come with a crowd of girls, then it’s OK to leave with him alone. If you’ve just come with one girl friend, and she hasn’t been so lucky, then you should go home with her. That’s best even if you do know the boy very well. If you don’t know the boy well, then tell him you’ve made a pact with your girl friends and you feel you should stick to it and go home with them. He’ll understand (honest) and may even want to join the party. If he does, don’t be shy. Invite him. If not, suggest he call you at home. If he’s really interested he will, and if he’s sort of bashful, give him a hand: suggest that you’ll see him at the dance the following week.
(One other note: Even though you girls do outnumber the fellows at many dances, it’s up to him to ask you to dance. You may only do the honors if it’s a “lady’s choice” or if he is a verrrrrry good pal!)
Sometimes at dances some girls don’t get asked to dance right away. The name “wallflower” is often used for them, and believe me, most of them aren’t “wallflowers” long. It just seems that way when you’re standing there all alone while the others are on the dance floor. Remember not to worry; boys are people.
As a kid, I thought I was peculiar looking and generally odd. I had been president of my junior high class and when I entered high school, I was awed by the mammoth surroundings. So Mom and I had several long talks about my inferiority complex. Time and time again she explained that it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside. It was what you were on the inside that mattered, anywhere you were—at a dance, in school, at home, throughout life. And, looking back, I learned that a personality is more than a skin-deep affair. This is one lesson I’ll never forget.
So above all, getting back to my very first tip, have fun. Don’t look bored, nervous or unhappy. Gloom just keeps everybody away. A smile comes in handy. Put it on and enjoy yourself talking to the other girls around you. Then too, you could move to different sections of the dance floor from time to time. You’ll see more people, more fellows will notice you, and before you know it you’ll be on the dance floor, too. Another thing to remember—don’t travel in crowds or giggle too loud. It scares us guys. We also don’t like it when girls lose things. So . . .
When it’s time to leave the dance, look around to make sure you have all your belongings. We at the “Bandstand” have accumulated some lost ’n’ found pile. My wife’s the one girl I know who doesn’t have to worry when she goes through my pockets and finds bobby pins, safety pins. glasses, rubber bands, combs, barrettes, bracelets, earrings, etc. The reason? Two reasons. One, these are some of the things I find after the kids have gone home from dances. Two, these are the items I’ve learned to bring with me to telecasts and dances because girls forever dash up to me with this type of comment: “Dick, would you, by any chance, have a bobby pin? My hair’s flying all over the place!” or “Dick, have you an extra comb? I left mine in the ladies’ room.” One girl came over to me and frantically clutching at her waist, whispered, “Would you have a safety pin? I’m desperate. I think my crinoline has come loose.” Moral: Take along—don’t borrow—your extra artillery, girls. I won’t always be handy to provide it.
But I can provide this advice. I know most girls can become good dancers, either jitterbug or straight. I think if you practice listening to the music, pay attention to the tempo, you’ll have half the battle of the dance floor won. The other half is in the steps themselves. Where do you learn them? A lot of girls I’ve met learned the basic steps at home, from an older sister, brother or along with girlfriends. (And Photoplay has given you diagrams on page 65 for some fun steps.) Dance studios can supply the polish, if you need it. In no time at all your answer to May I Have this dance?” will be a happy, confident “I’d love to.”
Meanwhile, just put a record on—and start doing what comes naturally! That s all for this month.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1958