NO MATTER WHAT,
KEEP ON DANCING!
For me, as
a teenage dancer, NO MATTER WHAT meant that, because I kept on dancing, I
was an outcast in my neighborhood. It meant no friends at school and
eating lunch by myself. It meant leaving St. Hubert Catholic High School
in Philadelphia and changing to Northeast High in my senior year because
of a death threat. The threat was waiting for me on my school desk. It
was my final warning. But nothing could keep me from dancing. Dancing
made me feel free inside.
The years were 1959 to 1962, and I was one of the original dancers on
American Bandstand. I was part of a group of kids called The Regulars and
we dared to dance on television to rock 'n' roll which was referred to,
back then, as the devil's music. Parents hated rock 'n' roll. They
thought it would turn us into juvenile delinquents. Churches condemned it
as evil and said it would give us impure thoughts.
What I felt as a kid was that it made me happy to dance. It made me feel
special inside. It made me feel the joy of life. It made me feel the joy
that I existed which was something I didn't feel at home with my parents.
My first dance partners were the living room banister and my refrigerator
door that I could swing in and out just like a real partner who
jitterbugged. After school, I'd put on American Bandstand and dance
along with my favorite Regulars, Kenny & Arlene. When the show was over,
I'd put on a stack of ten 45rpm records on my record player. After my
parents came home from work, I'd go up to my bedroom and create my own
world with my music. I'd dance with all my heroes. Elvis, Little
Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Bobby Darin,
Danny & the Juniors, The Dovells, Brenda Lee, Annette Funicello, Paul
Anka, Frankie Avalon and James Darren were part of my own personal
I didn't come into this world dancing. In 1946, my Mom, Betty Klein,
gave birth to me at the Margaret Hague Institute for Unwed Mothers at a
time when some women were put into mental institutions for having a child
out of wedlock. My Mom had to fight hard to keep the Judge from giving
her only child up for adoption.
When I was three years old, my Mother thought she found a solution to make
us legitimate and married Joe who adopted me. We all lived to regret that
decision. In Joe's eyes, I would always be another man's child. I felt
his hate and scorn everyday of my life and when my Mother wasn't around, I
felt his physical abuse. Family life at 511 Chestnut Street in Darby,
Pennsylvania was the Police coming to our house to stop my parent's weekly
At ten years old, I have two great memories. The first was when I
discovered Elvis, rock n roll and dancing. I was walking past this
little soda shop and I saw all these teenagers inside having fun. So, I
went in, stood by the counter, and tried to pretend that I was older and
mature so it would look like I belonged there. All the kids were talking
and laughing and having a good time when all of a sudden this music came
on from a jukebox. Everybody immediately stopped what they were doing and
starting dancing and jumping around. I'll never forget the electric
energy in that place. It was something that I had never felt before. It
was fantastic. After the song ended, I turned to the girl next to me and
asked Who was that? She looked at me as if I was from another planet and
said just one word, Elvissssssss. Elvis said When I hear music, I gotta
dance. I understood what he meant that day.
The second great memory was when I found my adoption papers and discovered
that Joe wasn't really my father. I finally saw hope that I could free my
Mom and me from Joe's abuse. Running to my Mom, I told her how happy I
was that Joe wasn't really my father, and, now that I knew, we could leave
him and be happy together. None of my pleas worked. It was 1956 and she
still felt I needed a father. She'd leave him when I got married. Shame
that I existed was a new burden I took on. It was my fault that my Mom
lived such a horrible life. This is what I believed. Dancing saved me
from those feelings of shame that I was illegitimate and no good. From
the first day I danced, a smile would come on my face and I had no
problems at home. In fact, I had no problems at all.
American Bandstand was all about dancing, it became a home to me and the
Regulars became my new family. Dancing on Bandstand became a shining
light to a child whose light had grown dim. When I look at pictures of
myself dancing during my Bandstand days, I see complete joy on my face.
My rise to fame as a teenage dancer came as quite a surprise to me. Being
in 16 Magazine in Popularity Contests with all my rock n roll
heroes, and having fan clubs listed alongside Elvis was a reality I had
never thought of as a possibility for this little girl from Darby.
And as an extra bonus, through dancing, through working together as a
dance team, Eddie Kelly (my Bandstand dance partner) and I forged a
friendship that we still enjoy today, forty-two years later. Hand in
hand, leading and following in our dance steps, the roots of our
friendship were sealed with The Jitterbug, The Stroll, The Bristol Stomp,
The Mashed Potatoes, and The Pony.
All of us have hurdles in our life that can take us down. I look at these
hurdles as life's challenges now. I look at them as tests. Dance through
your heartaches, dance through your dreams, dance, no matter what! For
when you do, you can feel your love inside. And, when you feel that love,
all things are possible.
Behind my smile when I danced was a young girl searching to belong
somewhere. Home was waiting for me. My real home was inside of me. I
danced until I found that door. Today, in my fifties, I still dance.
Sometimes you can find me at Venice Beach dancing in the drum circle still
with that smile on my face.