- It was the halcyon days in America between two wars, a time of peace. It was a time of great hope, the “American Dream” and family values. It was an Ozzie and Harriet kind of world-- “the best of times” for those of us lucky enough to grow up during this remarkable age.
CAMDEN In 1957, a phenomenon erupted in the state of Arkansas. A teen-age dance party began broadcasting out of Little Rock each weekday afternoon. Not only did it have a great impact on the metro area, but on small towns and rural areas, as well. The name was Steve’s Show and it was hosted by an energetic young man not much older than ourselves, Steve Stephens.
At the appointed time, teenagers tuned in to the familiar theme song, “Hi-Ho Steve-O,” and settled back in front of black and white sets to be entertained as they’d never been before on local television. Regular dancers on the show were dubbed “Stevereno’s” and the audience digested every detail about these “special ones” whose daily lives meshed with theirs for an hour each afternoon.
You see, this cast of personalities were changing our mundane lives. Small town viewers became privy to “big school” life in the city with opportunities never presented before. We became faithful followers...and we learned from these urban kids. We felt we knew them personally. We began to send them fan-mail!
Steve’s Show couples taught us to dance. They introduced a new step called ‘the Arkansas push’ which was performed to fast songs like “Mr. Lee” by the Bobbettes, Roy Hamilton’s “Don’t Let Go,” and Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”
When the Diamonds’ “The Stroll” became such a big hit, we watched while the dancers formed two parallel lines and a lead couple ‘strolled’ down the center. Line dancing had become a favorite with its other variations and fancy turns. We easily mastered “The Walk” introduced by Jimmy McCracklin.
A favorite novelty was the “Freeze Dance” and it became popular at all our parties, too. When the music was stopped, dancers froze in place.
Waltzing was OUT. Slow-dancing was IN. Partners were held in various embraces as the couples glided around the turntable to “Silhouettes” by the Rays, “Since I Don’t Have You” by The Skyliners and “Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis. This was ultimate romance in our eyes...
Besides the dances, we also copied their styles. Mickie Cole’s petticoats were wider than our’s so we ordered 72” ones from Lana Lobel. We bought blouses with Peter Pan collars to pair with straight skirts. We became very aware of labels such as Ship N’ Shore and Jonathan Logan modeled on the show from Tommy’s Dress Shop.
The boys thought Bob Lawrence had the perfect crewcut, but others fellas opted for hair slicked back on the sides with sideburns favored by David Sontag and James Cole. Both sexes wanted to rush out and join the new “Bermuda shorts” fad when these first made their appearance during an outside broadcast from Channel 11’s parking lot.
We girls later bought white blouses with cuffs above the elbow after Clarita Martin began wearing hers. We also tried to replicate her perfectly up-turned ‘duck-tail’ cut with a flat bow placed just above its peak. I had never even considered ‘streaking’ my hair ( frosting was not yet ‘in’) until I saw Mary Ann Briscoe’s streak leading down to her long pony tail. Many girls wore shorter versions of the style which were shaped like upside down question marks and were held by gold clasps.
In late fall, one of the girls sported a mouton jacket and I determined to ask for one for Christmas! I and every other teen-aged girl on the planet! Some of the boys at school began to wear colored pants with tiny belts in back because popular boys on the show were sporting them for date-dress that year.
Steve was expert at his off-the-cuff chatter with the dancers between songs. This enabled us to know them even better, their phrases, their hang-outs, their school activities.
We incorporated their popular lingo into our own conversation: “He’s THE MOST!”
“Daddy-O” “COOL!” “Fantabulous” “Way Out!” “Later, Alligator!” We wanted to dance at the pavilion at Lake Nixon...we wanted to cruise Snappy’s, too. We wanted to see the movie “Blue Denim.” We wanted to experience “Homecoming” and “Proms.” In other words, we wished to be them after being allowed inside their city world for an hour each day.
These “regulars” were able to see current teen sensations who visited the set. No space here to mention all their names but Brenda Lee and Fabian were a couple of them.
Thankfully, some of the faithful have kept these fond memories alive. Among them, Gene Bowman has organized many reunions of the old Steverinos including a cruise several years ago with Steve as host and “The Last Dance” in October, 2014, in the old Rosewood Optimist Building where many dances were held. Sandy Hubbard has produced a wonderful documentary on the show that can be purchased from her website. Steve provided me with a gracious interview and put me in touch with Barbara Holcomb Penney who supplied more details. I’m sorry column length doesn’t allow space for more remembrances.
Early dusk. A dreary, wintry evening. Headlights stream down Asher Ave. until they turn into a parking lot beside a nondescript building. Teenagers rush from the cars and hurry inside, their noisy chatter silenced by the closing doors. Minutes later, the building takes on life. It breathes excitement. Its walls begin to pulsate with the rock ‘n roll beat coming from inside where kids dance around the familiar turntable awaiting their moment before the camera. A smiling Steve introduces the show. The song playing is “Little Darlin’”
It is 1957 once more. And we remember...
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She responds to mail sent to [email protected]