One of my favorite youth group events at our church was the annual family sock hop. The sock hop was in our recreational building, which we affectionately referred to as “The Tin Tent”. It had concrete floors and got really hot in the Summers and really cold during the Winters.
The sock hop was always the last Friday in August before school started for our district. During the sock hop, we would go back and forth between dancing in the building and going outside to drink our sodas and get fresh air. There was usually a refreshing breeze to help us get our second wind. Remember when that was a thing? Going to a party and going outside a few times throughout the evening for fresh air?
Some events at our church were for the adults, there were others for the teens, and some were for the little kids. The most popular ones were the ones the entire family could attend and enjoy.
The D.J.’s who worked our dances were both parishioners, so they both knew what would be considered appropriate to play in a family friendly setting. We would get one or the other of these D.J’s and there was a clear preference.
We were always a little disappointed when it was DJ Mike. DJ Mike was okay, but he just played old songs and slightly newer pop songs. He stuck to what was safe to play on the radio, but he didn’t talk much and while I have a visual image in my head of what he looked like (think a short Judd Apatow crossed with Jimmy Kimmel). I’ve been trying to think of a memory attached to any of the events I attended when DJ Mike was on duty, but nothing specific stands out.
On the other hand, if DJ Dano was hosting the event it was comfortably familiar, but still fun with plenty of room for surprises. He had a boisterous personality and distinctive look with a modernized version of a blond pompadour and cowboy boots.
There were certain songs Dano always played and he played them in a specific order, which (in addition to his personality) is what makes the events he hosted so memorable.
“Shout” (Parts 1 and 2) by the Isley Brothers
Dano would play this fairly early in the evening as one of the first fast songs after most of the crowd arrived. There were always moms and kids out on the floor for this one with everyone going down to the floor for the “little bit quieter now” part and then gradually coming up from the floor and increasing volume at the “little bit louder now”.
Dano usually played this about forty-five minutes into an event. Line dances aren’t usually my favorite part of a big party because I’m not usually quick enough for the ones with the really complicated steps. Fortunately, the sock hop was a family event so most of us were wearing tennis shoes or at the very least, knock off Keds.
I don’t do the Electric (or Cha-Cha or any other slide) where there is alcohol and/or open-toed shoes because I do not want to (accidentally) step on someone’s foot and cause them pain. I also don’t want other people stepping on my feet and causing me pain.
“Achy Breaky Heart” Billy Ray Cyrus
I’ve never been what anyone would consider a country music fan. There are a handful of songs that I like, (most are probably what other people would consider “Southern Rock”) but when “Achy Breaky Heart” played, it was time for me to go outside for the aforementioned fresh air and/or hydration break.
“The Chicken Dance”
This I could do surprisingly well. Most of the action in this polka style tune was above the waist. Come to think of it, my German and Polish ancestry probably helped with this one.
Even the part where we held hands and went first clockwise in a circle and then counter-clockwise was easy enough for me. Then there was an invisible hand puppet followed by “Chicken Tonight” commercial wing flap, finally a quick hip wiggle before going in a circle clockwise and then counter clockwise again. Then a repeat of invisible hand puppet, Chicken Tonight, and hip wiggle before another round of clockwise and counterclockwise circles. I think each sequence repeated about three times.
“Love Shack” B-52’s
Knowing what I do now about the song (especially what the “Tin Roof, Rusted” line actually means) it’s kind of weird that this one was considered appropriate to play at a family church event. For most of the years I attended the sock hop, it was held in a building we affectionately called the “Tin Tent”. There were no glitter covered mattresses in our tin building though. We did also have our Sunday school classes in that building. I even remember when we went to Mass in that building when we first joined the parish based on the fact that at the time it was the closest church (of our denomination) to our house.
“Footloose” Kenny Loggins and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
Dano didn’t play these songs back to back or anything. I just listed them together because they’re songs Dano played at some point during the night that are both from movies with plots centered around young people dancing.
“The Mickey Mouse Club Theme” (Reprise)
This was always the second to last song Dano played whether he was emcee for the sock hop, another parish dance, wedding reception, or corporate party. To this day, when I hear the opening notes and the “Now it’s time to say goodbye…”, I reach for a tissue. I’m already tearing up now, so I’d better get to wrapping this part up.
This was the very last song Dano would play at the event as the teens were having our last big group hug. It was the farewell to the college bound graduates until everyone came home for Christmas break. Others were preparing for a family move. The end and beginning of school usually saw a lot of relocations.
In the middle of the event however, we either sat and watched or participated in the Youth Group Skit. Some of the teens who participated in the skits were also in their school’s show choir and/or drama club. We attended different schools and usually only saw each other once or twice over a weekend.
Each year had a theme and the year I participated in the skit, our theme was classic television shows including: The Mickey Mouse Club, The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island (I was Mary Ann), The Brady Bunch, and Happy Days (I still have the teal blue felt poodle skirt my mom made for this skit).
The skits that year didn’t really require much acting. Dano would play the classic theme song and we snapped along (for Addams Family), held up pieces of paper with our names on the (for Mickey Mouse Club) appeared in a cardboard frame (for Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island) and danced in costumes depicting the era (for Happy Days).
Unfortunately, the skits moved too quickly for anyone to get pictures of us in the sketches and apparently no one thought to bring a camcorder. On the other hand, we were better about living in the moment back then.
The middle schoolers and parents watched the skits and laughed. The younger kids looked forward to their turn to perform in the skits, just like my class did when we were middle schoolers. We were a pretty tight-knit group with plenty of inside jokes that we worked into the skits in one way or another. One of the most memorable skits from a previous class was when one of the boys (who was known for his goofy sense of humor) wore a yellow bikini for a skit set to “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.
We all remember watching movies like Footloose and Dirty Dancing or episodes of shows like Saved By the Bell and 90210. The movie or season would end with a big party. One character would always say they all made memories that would “last forever”. Nothing was ever exactly the way it was on our favorite shows, but the memories were special too.