Class of 1979
Jeffersonville "Jeff" High School, Jeffersonville Indiana. The date was January 12th, 1979. It was a Friday. It was the first week back to school after the Christmas break. The unique "modular scheduling" that governed class periods at Jeff often presented students with an extended lunch period. After eating there was usually time for roaming the halls, hanging out with friends, shooting baskets in the gym, or actually going to a study hall. This day was no different. And like most lunch periods at Jeff in those days, an impromptu dance party would happen on the balcony landing in the gymnasium. A student would plug-in his or her "boom box" and a DJ would proceed to play the latest pop and disco singles on eight-track, or the new cassette tapes. Dancing would last throughout the lunchtime period.
Jeff was, and is, a large school. During the 1978-1979 school year the student population was more than two-thousand. The lunchtime dance party was always popular with the black students, but occasionally a few white students could be found there dancing too. In all, there were usually dozens to nearly one-hundred students taking part.
But the innocent and unsuspecting actions that day by a couple of students would have a significant and lasting affect on dance culture.
Senior Dan Force (JHS class of â€™79) had just finished eating his lunch. Upon leaving the cafeteria he strolled through the halls looking for his good friend and teammate Steve Hensley (JHS class of â€™79). He wanted to discuss social activities for later that evening and plan which parties would be attended. Dan and Steve had spent their years at Jeff as
members of the cross-country team and distance runners on the track team. They had become good friends and often spent time away from the track together as well.
After looking for, but unable to find Steve at all the usual hangout areas in the halls, Dan decided to check in the gym. Sure enough Steve was there. He was engaged in a pickup game of basketball.
Dan had entered the gym through the doors onto the landing where the dance party was taking place. It was a crowded day for the dance and Dan had to work his way through the dancers over to the balcony railing where he could look down 25 or 30 feet onto the basketball court where Steve was playing.
During a break in the action on the basketball court, Dan attempted to get Steve's attention but was unsuccessful. The dance party's boom box was too loud, blaring out a new hit single by the Village People called Y.M.C.A. The song had just recently started getting significant air time on the radio and from the cheers of the dancers when it began playing, this was probably its first time being heard there at the lunchtime dance.
So, since Steve couldn't hear Dan yelling over the music, Dan began to wave his arms over his head to try to get Steve's attention. Finally, Steve noticed Dan waiving his arms and pointed to himself to question if Dan was trying to get his attention. Of course Dan was and in turn pointed to himself, with both hands still over his head, in response to Steve. Now, with Steve's attention, and again using both hands, Dan gestured toward their usual hangout area in the hallway...it was to Dan's left. And just then Steve threw the basketball up to Dan at which point Dan caught the ball over his head.
By now the song Y.M.C.A. was finishing on the boom box. One of the regular dancers, Craig Miles (JHS class of â€™79) ...a sprinter on the track team...approached Dan and asked
a question that puzzled Dan: "Did you just make up that dance or did you see it somewhere else?" Dan said he had no idea what Craig was talking about and told him that he was only trying to get Steve's attention down on the basketball court. Craig said "But all those moves...they were in perfect rhythm to the song. The Y, the M, the C, the A." As Dan had gestured to Steve, and caught the basketball, he unknowingly spelled out Y-M-C-A with his arms. Still puzzled, Dan replied "What moves are you talking about?" Craig explained that as the lyrics to the song said "Y-M-C-A," Dan was forming the letters Y-M-C-A with his arms. Dan told Craig that any dance moves he executed were completely inadvertent. Nevertheless Craig was fascinated with Dan's moves and asked if he could use them. "They're all yours buddy." Dan said.
The dance craze was an instant sensation. At some of the parties over the weekend kids were already gyrating to the music and waving their arms to the new song spelling out Y-M-C-A. The following Monday at school, during the lunchtime dance party every other song played was the Y.M.C.A.
Over the years, ageless teenager and pop music critic Dick Clark tried to take credit for the Y.M.C.A. chorography. He claimed that a week earlier on his January 6th American Bandstand show that featured The Village People, the teenage dancers were using the moves after he had suggested to them during a TV commercial break. But the only footage that could be produced showed only a shadowy figure on the fringes of the American Bandstand TV set waiving his arms in an unrecognizable sequence. It was later discovered that this individual was a dancing extra arguing with the show's producer because he was not being allowed to return to the dance floor after a TV commercial break.
Today, more than 30 years later, the Y.M.C.A. remains extremely popular and is played and choreographed regularly where dancing enthusiast gather. But it was the inadvertent acts of two Indiana teenagers in 1979 that set the dance craze in motion.
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