Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stax or Motown?

I went to highschool from 1966 to 1970. I was lucky that I lived so close to Detroit and CKLW, across the water in Ontario, which blasted out the hits of the day in a very wide radius. But at night, because of the AM radio frequencies, we had to pick up other stations, like WLS in Chicago or WBZ in Boston. They were exotic, but not as good as CKLW because CKLW broadcast a steady string of hits from Motown and Stax records in Memphis. And there was no better music to dance to. I had a full length mirror in my bedroom and in addition to using it to roll my hair at night before I went to bed (yes I slept on all those rollers throughout the night--it's amazing what you can do for beauty's sake), I used it to practice my dancing. And man did I practice, because every Saturday and Friday night there was a dance at the Skylark club, and sometimes, you could go to two dances in a night if there was a dance at the high school after the football game.

My parents let me pick one night a week to go out, so it was hard to select. If I went Friday, I would have nothing to do Saturday but if I went Saturday, I had to get up for church on Sunday with the family. It usually was Saturday, however, because that's the night most of my peers were there. Once in a blue moon there would be a group playing, but mostly we danced to records. And when they were Motown or Stax hits we poured out onto the dance floor.

Well, at least half of us did. The guys.....? Let's just say the only dances they were interested in were the slow dances where they could grab onto you for dear life and shuffle lugubriously around the dance floor under the turning mirrored ball. No talent was required then. But most of my friends wanted to dance fast dances and none of the guys were brave enough to do it. So we girls improvised. What we did is form giant circles where we could dance to our heart's content. You didn't have a partner whose steps you needed to match, so you could try just about anything. There were even dances like the pony, the mashed potato, or the monkey that had actual moves to them (the twist was passe by then). But the one I could never do was the skate. You take a couple shift steps to the side, then you raise your following foot and bring it around in a circle behind your other leg. It's hard to explain, and it was even harder for me to do at the time, but man was I jealous of the girls that could do the skate. They made it look so easy.

Around the end of sophomore, start of junior year, the circle started changing. Boys got braver. Or maybe they started drinking and coming to the dances and their inhibitions were relaxed. But whatever it was, when we girls formed our circles for the fast dances, some boys would break through the circle to the middle, wave their arms like they were flying birds and careen about for a few seconds before dashing out of the circle again. They'd get their bravery up to do it every other song or so, and thinking back, it must have looked a bit like an avian mating ritual. But it got them off the hook for looking good while dancing and it gave the fast dances a bit of a frisson of anticipation. Slow songs just did not cut it for 'getting your jams out.' In the end I think Stax beat out Motown because it had a darker edge to it that was more appealing to me.

And if you watch the Sam and Dave "Soul Man" video that is appended to the title of this piece, you can see that the dancer on the left does a modified skate step from time to time.

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