Dick Clark, in the studio of his radio show in 1963.
And one more thing...
Dancing in my dreams with Dick Clark
I slow danced alone without guilt. And it wasn’t once either. It was a regular late afternoon ritual in the living room. The black and white console TV was tuned to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Dick Clark was my date. He was an icon and he was referred to as “the oldest teenager in America.”
Back in the 50s WFIL-TV in Philadelphia needed a replacement show for its movie time slot. A new concept in broadcasting emerged. A rotating group of area high schoolers were invited to dance on the show with a few regulars to the latest countdown of popular singles. Cameras panned in and out among the dancers. Clark would interview a special guest before the performer would lip-sync to his vinyl 45 spinning on the turntable.
Under Clark American Bandstand became the longest running variety show from 1957-1987. In fact, his show became the forerunner of the music video so familiar today.
Fast rock ‘n roll twists and turns spun me around cushioned by the green shag carpet. Slow strolls and dreamy love music glided me into a shadowy corner out of sight of my mother in the kitchen. I could do all the steps with the energy of a spirited girl free of a long day of high school classes. I was a natural, and I loved to dance.
Clark truly legitimized rock ‘n roll to adults making it a viable music art form. Up until then, it was a teenage craze that parents wished would go away.
Ike and Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and Simon and Garfunkel got their first exposure on American Bandstand. Their careers were launched and they went on to stardom.
By second period high school chemistry class, where I was a hopeless loser, my mind blotted out the equations and focused on racing home to Dick Clark. It was a fine balance. I hoped upon hope that nothing would deter me from making it through the backdoor in time for the opening of the show, the screaming teens on the floor waiting for the camera to roll and Dick Clark’s appearance.
Paul Anka was my fantasy heartthrob. What a voice! What looks! He had it made thanks to Dick Clark’s showcase for fledging talent. When Anka crooned, “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” I wrapped my crossed arms together over my chest and closed my eyes. I kissed my shoulder and dreamed of the boy who sat behind me in band. Would he ever ask me out?
Dick Clark had the first venue where African Americans and whites performed and danced on the same stage. He appeared to get it right with all people regardless of ethnicity.
A popular portion of the show was when Clark interviewed teens. He asked for their opinions on the hit songs. In the “Rate a Record” segment, teens would give the record a number. “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” Clark would average the marks before asking the audience to judge. Many a brand new song rose in popularity on the radio immediately after that afternoon session. It was a great marketing tool asking youth to endorse products.
I told all my secrets and wildest dreams to Dick Clark. He knew that I was making plans after high school to go to flight stewardess school in New York. I was one-half inch shorter than the minimum requirement, and I reasoned that stretching and dancing would help me grow. I would lie on the floor and my little sister would be called in to extend first my legs and then my arms as hard as she could pull. It never got me anywhere, but I tried for Dick Clark.
Certain afternoons my friends and I were together at one of our homes. Still we danced the fast dances alone, and kept to our separate corners for the slow dances. We talked for hours and we would copycat the hairstyles and outfits of the dancers to perfection. Our dream was to skip school on Long Island and hitchhike to Phillie to be on the show. Somehow that never materialized, and I suppose our parents never knew of our plan—or did they?
Throughout the decades Clark brought new years in for us to celebrate like clockwork. Generations knew him by his voice alone and his relaxed manner. Perhaps that is what kept him looking so youthful. He brought vibrancy and a joy of life through the post World War II era of prosperity and the confusing Vietnam period. We all suffered with him after his major stroke, and cheered for his slow deliberate recovery. Although Clark never quite made the mark again physically, he was a fighter.
Dick Clark put his seal of approval on my early growing up period. I was vocalizing my own melody, not quite in harmony with the adult world yet. Thanks, Dick Clark. This dance is for you: “You are my Destiny.”