(From the soon-to-be published novel Copyright 2010 Donald Riggio)
...Since its inception, Rock and roll music always had a massive impact on the dance culture. Many youngsters, especially males, preferred slow dancing to ballads and love songs. These dances were called the fish and the grind where boys were said to shine their belt buckles by pressing against the bodies of their female partners.
But the most popular dance of the day was by far the Lindy Hop, a dance comprised of intricate moves, turns and flips with names like the whip, hijack and the windmill. The dance derived its name from the famous aviator, Charles A. Lindbergh, nicknamed Lindy who made his historical solo flight, or hop, across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927. The dance itself had undergone several name changes over the years eventually known as, the jump, jive, boogie-woogie, and the bop.
New dances started cropping up all over the country. Cameo-Parkway Records in Philadelphia signed a new artist named Ernest Evans. A chance meeting at a recording session saw Evans introduced to Dick Clark and his wife, Barbara. On learning that his boss at a local produce market had given Evans the nickname Chubby, Barbara Clark suggested a new stage name for the singer. She reasoned, if there could be a Fats Domino why not a Chubby Checker? The big break in his singing career came when the record company gave him a Hank Ballard tune to record called the Twist.
The tune was catchy, Checker’s performance exuberant, and the dance easy to learn. One simply mimicked the action of putting out a cigarette with the balls of your feet, at the same time, swinging your arms and hips from side to side in a twisting motion as though drying your backside with a bath towel. Soon everyone was twisting the night away in malt shops, sock hops, and even posh nightclubs.
Follow-up songs and variations soon populated the record charts as companies created a new batch of dance moves and singers generating millions of dollars in revenue.
Ironically, Leo Klein came up the idea for the dance that would represent Chanticleer Record’s entry into the dance craze mania.
“We can call it the Caterpillar.” He pitched the idea at a meeting of executives one morning as they were discussing possibilities. Leo rarely ever made a suggestion with regard to creative content, so his idea caught everyone off guard. His younger partner wondered if he should take the suggestion seriously.
“And just how do you do this – Caterpillar?” Joseph wanted to know.
Overcome with embarrassment that he must demonstrate his idea to the others, Leo timidly rose from his chair. He fumbled through movements clearly making them up as he went along.
“Well, you can just sort of stand in the middle of the dance floor with your arms out, bent at the elbow like the legs of a caterpillar…”
“Maybe snap your fingers a little?” Mickey jokingly interrupted.
“Yes, certainly,” Leo took it as a serious suggestion “snapping your fingers is fine. Then you would just kind of wiggle your ass back and forth sort of in a slinky motion.”
“Do you get to move your feet at all? It is a dance, remember?” Curtis commented stifling a grin. Leo knew all the others were ribbing him.
“Of course! You can do some turns, slink around the floor…whatever a caterpillar does for Chrissake!” Leo shouted.
“You think we could get away with something like that?” Joseph asked Curtis.
“Maybe with some refinements here and there.”
“Of course it needs some refinements.” Leo chimed in, happy to sit down again.
“Who do we give it to?” Curtis asked.
“A girl group.” Mickey offered after Leo’s demonstration.
“Definitely.” Again, Leo whole-heartedly agreed.
“The Pixies?” Curtis opted. “It could be just what they need to put them over the top.”
“I agree. I’ll work up some lyrics and charts and have it all ready for you by tomorrow morning.” Joseph told him.
“Another all-nighter?” Leo asked with some concern.
“Looks like it,” he replied.
“Do you really think it was such a good idea?” Leo asked.
“The best idea we’ve had around here since…coonskin caps.” Joseph smiled.
Two days later Joseph ran through a rough arrangement of the perky little tune for the Pixies in one of the rehearsal halls.
“Is that the best you can offer us, Joseph…‘the Caterpillar’?” Evie wasn’t impressed.
“I didn’t come up with it. Leo did.” Joseph smiled.
“Mr. Klein? Mr. Klein wrote this song?”
“No, I wrote the song. Leo invented the dance.”
“I don’t like it,” Evie pouted.
“Oh, come on…” Her sister Althea challenged, as their cousin Roberta shook her head. “…Why do you have to be so danged contrary to everything? Can’t you at least think about it? What’s wrong with you, girl?”
“Yeah, Evie. The tune is real catchy. I’ll bet we could work up some real good dance movements to go with it, couldn’t we Mr. Rabin?” Roberta asked.
“Absolutely! The steps, the choreography…I’ll leave all that up to you girls. I want you to have fun with it.”
Evie wavered but she had conditions.
“Would it be too much to ask for a nice, slow ballad for the b-side?”
“Did you have something specific in mind?”
“There’s a song from Janet’s catalog, ‘Seven Ways to Sunday’?” Evie said without hesitation.
Janet wrote the song for Teddy but he didn’t live to record it. Evie asked for it once before when things between she and her boss were different. He refused her then and he thought badly of her to ask again now.
“Okay. It’s yours,” then he stressed, “on the B-side.”
“Okay, girls,” Evie preened, “let’s go find us a full length mirror and see if we can learn to shake our asses like caterpillars.”
Rock and Roll quote of the day: "Has high blood pressure got a hold on me, or is this the way love's supposed to be." From, "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas.