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MARY L. PALERMO

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 4/15/2017 |



Sometimes I think back to all that I have seen and experienced over my lifetime. So many changes of fashion, trends and music over the last sixty years. Kind of a tapestry where the many variations are interwoven over the decades. Music and dance would shift and change in what was popular. These forms of creative expression allowed us to say what we were going through as a nation and culture. Times of war, and times of peace each left their mark. The newest generation would try to distance themselves from their parents.  I remember to some degree the innocence of the sixties hearing Ricky Nelson and Connie Francis who sang “Where The Boys Are.” That song always seemed to be floating on the airways as I clicked off my lamp to dream.  Music was a big part of my life back then because I was taking piano and clarinet lessons. So it only seemed natural that dance would soon follow. Looking back, I now see how I actually had two avenues where dance fulfilled the need inside myself for self-expression. Social dancing like the twist, to an art form of dance like ballet.

In 1962, I began taking dancing lessons at the local dance studio run by Mr. Johnny Dannon. I was so excited wearing my pink tights and blue leotard. My soft pink ballet slippers were laced around my ankles with matching pink ribbons. In my lap, a box held my silver tap shoes for the following class. Modern jazz, which I also took was the on the following night. That first day holds fond memories for me. We were all lined up eager and shy. We soon became good friend and comrades. Taking ballet gave me a deep appreciation for classical music I might otherwise not have had. It was hard work as we lined the barre intently having the five basic dance positions drilled into us. We faced a full length mirror so we could see our image. This helped us to make sure we were positioned just right. Mr. Dannon had this long, poolside pointer he used as he went down the rows. Correcting to perfection our stance, be it the balls of our feet, to if we did a grand plie’ correctly. Ballet taught me discipline, and how you must work hard to obtain a goal. That the grace of a prima ballerina was something that took talent and deep commitment.         

Tap on the other hand, was pure fun. To me it held the magic of Rita Hayworth, and Ginger Rogers. In that class of course, we learned the steps and the different combinations. So I shuffled and ball changed all over my parent’s new den floor. I would integrate some of the moves I had learned in modern jazz applying them to tap. I’m really surprised my mother didn’t throw a fit. I think it was because tap crossed the era gap between me and my father. At times he would try to join in with me in some routine I was practicing. Me and him would often watch older movies from the forties together. Those were filled with elaborate dance scenes. My dad really admired Fred Astaire thinking him one ‘Dapper Dan.’ Tap really allowed me to experience the listening end of music. How that just changing the tempo of playing a song on the piano, could end out with a totally different means of dance. I learned the importance of music and how dancing allowed you to physically ‘feel’ the music. How the rhythm, and melody could let you physically express what mere words couldn’t say. It was a more entertaining form of dance even if it was viewed as an art form.

I took lessons for many years. At the end of every year a recital was held. To be awarded one of the main positions in the recital was done through tryouts. One year we had a recital that I really wanted to play the part of Bella, a forest princess. I practiced very hard making it through the tryouts. Finally, the day came and my name was announced. I was so proud tears just rolled down my face. My fellow classmates crowded around to congratulate me. It was a flurry of fittings for the beautiful costume. The tutu was a green net with velvet, oval ‘leaves.’  My hair was pulled back and I wore a tiara. The costume was not the reason for me wanting the part. It was the tale behind the play. I felt very connected with the character, and loved the interpretation. When I got closer to my teens my eyes began to open to social aspect of dance. Shows like American Bandstand, with host Dick Clark introduced me to an outside world where week after week I heard new music.

So many historical events happened between the sixties and seventies. The innocence of the fifties exploded as integration spread new forms of dance. The rock and roll era of the sixties where Chuck Berry was the rave, gave way to more tragic years. The Viet Nam war ensued and the nation was divided. The youth gathered together at Woodstock rebelling against the war and promoting peace. I remember distinctly those hippie days where freedom greatly affected music and dance. By the eighties, dance once again changed as disco became popular. Me and my husband even took disco dancing lessons and went to some of the area clubs. It was a fun, and provided a needed way to get away from the everyday hassles of life.

As the years passed, over and over the trends changed. From break dancing to rap, there was a need for the next generation to stake out their own individuality. Dance had so many purposes beyond just expression. It could also be used to become fit and healthy. I did many a Jane Fonda workout, as I danced to music. I think one of the most beautiful form of dance I ever saw was at an Indian Reservation in Utah. Two young Navaho girls were all decked out in their native costumes and did the Basket dance. It is one of many dances passed on from generation to generation that are part of sacred ceremonies. They are full of symbolism representing the web of life. So dance along with music can be used to hand down stories and customs.

This topic is especially close to me now that I’m a songwriter. I have such a deep appreciation for it. I always try to write lyrics that in some way will go beyond my audience just sitting and listening. I want it to reach further to where it reaches out and moves you. Since I live in Texas, the music I write is mainly country where swing and doing the two-step are popular. It’s a simple life here and it is greatly reflected in the music. Sometimes I will play on YouTube one of the old songs from my past to my granddaughter. She has just now reached her teens and knows how to do the twist. She will often look at old pictures of me and say “Gosh grandma, you dress just like we do now.” So sometimes fashions and music styles repeat over the years. I just feel blessed to have seen the many different trends as each made their mark.


[MARY L. PALERMO]

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