Dancing in the Dark

It was socially acceptable in the 1970s for two women to dance together. They danced together in nightclubs, street fairs, and on telecasts of the popular American Bandstand show.

The same was not true for men dancing together. It was so taboo that when I lived in Memphis in the 70s, it was illegal for two men to dance together. I don’t know if it was a city law or a state law, but it was one that was enforced in Memphis. Arrests did take place. Four male couples were arrested for dancing together at a bar, the Closet, and the arrests were reported in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper.

My partner Dick and I enjoyed dancing. On weekends we went to a bar called the Psych-Out on North Cleveland in Memphis. The bar closed at midnight on Saturday. However, no one left the bar at closing time.  The tables were cleared from the center of the floor, doors were locked, and we would have a “private dance party.” The cops were aware of what was happening inside the bar and would periodically show up.

The bar owner kept a lookout on duty and if the cops pulled into the bar’s parking lot, lights inside the bar would flicker on and off. Everyone would quit dancing. By the time the cops were let in, we were all seated. After the cops left,  everyone once again danced.

The popular ‘70s song, “Miss American Pie,” was a favorite of the bar patrons. When that song played, everyone would stand together, place arms over shoulders, and form a huge circle. The circle, with up to 40 guys in the formation, would then go round and round in the bar. We whirled around the room for the entire length of the eight minute song, locked together, having a great time. We were young and reckless, and enjoying an activity that was perhaps made more exciting because it was illegal. We were brothers, arm in arm, sharing a secret that involved more than dancing.

We would dance all night long. At dawn, we left the bar, and several of us would go to the Ohman Inn, a diner on Union Ave, where we ate breakfast and made plans to do it all again the following weekend.

“While the sergeants played a marching tune, We all got up to dance,” American Pie.

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About the Author

Zeek Taylor is a recipient of the Arkansas Governor's Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement. Best known for his stylized watercolors, he is also a storyteller, and author of two books. He has appeared twice on the NPR Tales from the South. A StoryCorps interview with Taylor aired on NPR’s Morning Edition show. He is the author of two memoirs, Out of the Delta and Out of the Delta II. The memoirs were combined into one volume and published under the title “Out of the Delta, the Anthology” by Sandy Springs Press. Taylor lives and works in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

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