All Shook Up – The Modern Dance

Navy boys 1945 EN (2)

The spots have not dropped from the leopard.  From Babylon, 300 years before Christ, until this good year 1919, we find these same obscene, vulgar, sensual dances paralyzing society and sending to hell virtuous women and promising men. – the Alabama Baptist, May 19, 1921

During World War II, Howard College became one of a hundred or more schools to house the U.S. Navy’s V-12 program.  This wartime initiative was exactly what Howard needed as it struggled to emerge from the Great Depression.  The college limped through the 1930s with significant pre-existing debt and limited denomination support.  Without the increased enrollment and federal funds provided by the program, Howard could not have recovered financially.  Beginning in July 1943 the Navy took the campus by storm, displacing students from their dorms and altering Howard’s culture.  In previous years, the Alabama Baptist boasted of Howard’s strict rules, “No drinking, gambling, girls smoking, or dancing is allowed.”

While it is true that the Howard boys attended soirees at the Judson complete with piano, harp, and vocal performances during the early years on the Marion campus, Howard administration effectively banned dancing on the East Lake campus in the 1920s.  Throughout the state church leaders often warned against the sins of modern dance, leaving most Baptist college coeds bereft of dance instruction.   One graduate, Frances Williamson ’47, recalled how the V-12 boys taught the girls how to dance and play bridge.  According to one Crimson writer, the Navy knew how to throw a party:

FRIDAY NIGHT HOP

Last Friday night, January 19, 1945, to be exact, a dance was held in the gymnasium, following Howard’s decisive victory over a strong Acipco team.  Such an occasion as this may not ordinarily have called for any comment on my part but from what I observed at the shindig, I believe commendations are due to everyone who had any part in sponsoring it.  And the orchestra, with Maestro Hank Beebe at the baton was one of the biggest surprises of the evening . . . not that we didn’t expect great things from this talented group of swingsters, but they more than lived up to anything we had hoped for.  In the form of refreshments, we had the firm of Messrs. Gregg and Nuremberger, Inc., cooking up a concoction known as “Punchy Punch,” which they gladly served to anyone thirsty or foolish enough to try it.  All joking aside, thought, I really hope that this dance may be the beginning of great things to come; that it may establish a precedent here at Howard.  Although it was sponsored by the Navy, everyone was welcome – girls, civilians, girls, sailors, and more girls. Such a dance as this provides fine wholesome entertainment for everyone; good music, pleasant companionship, plenty of exercise (especially for the jitterbug) and an all around atmosphere of friendliness.  My suggestion would be to make such a dance a bi-weekly affair here.  Coming at the end of the week, it would not only provide a good place to relax and have some fun after five days of work and study, but would also greatly enhance Howard’s standing in the social register of colleges.  When we first arrived here, we were told of the friendliness of the institution which we were entering – we have found this to be very true.  I believe, however, that by instituting a bi-weekly dance Howard might be able to change its well deserved name from “The Friendly College” to the even better title of “the Friendlier College.”

So, fellow bulldogs, all that remains is to lace up your dancing shoes and keep this Samford tradition alive.  Save a dance for us!

Adapted from Howard Crimson, January 26, 1945, Howard College Magazine, Volume 1:4 Jan, 1859, conversation with Frances Williamson, Birmingham, AL, October 2012, and The Major, Harwell G. Davis: Alabama Statesman and Baptist Leader by Susan Ingram Hunt Ray

dance 1945 EN (2)

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2 thoughts on “All Shook Up – The Modern Dance

  1. Julie Williams

    Love it! I’ve heard that President and Mrs. Corts finally took down the taboo against dancing by actually dancing at some event. I wonder if that’s true?

  2. Candia Cole

    My parents attend Howard in 1947, Girod Hayes Cole and Jane Garrison Cole. After graduating my father attend Seminary at Louisville. My mother taught dancing at Arthur Murray to help pay dad’s tuition. Ecclesiastes 3:4…”There is a right time for everything: …A time to dance”

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