Dancemania: The Best TV Dance Shows of All Time

To dance is to move gleefully in rhythmic delight. Whether it’s done alone or with others, dancing is something that we all love. Join me in this trip down memory lane as I revisit the five most influential dance shows of our time. Strap on those dancing shoes folks!

American Bandsatnd photo credit: classicvintageretro dvds.com

American Bandsatnd
Image Source: classicvintageretrodvds.com

American Bandstand

Hosted by the New York born, Richard Augustus Wagstaff “Dick” Clark Jr., The show featured teenagers dancing to Top 40 music and live performances by popular musical acts.

American Bandstand went through numerous hosts before being permanently replaced by the incomparable Dick Clark. Clark decided to pitch the show to the president of ABC. After some badgering, the show was picked up nationally, becoming American Bandstand on August 5, 1957. He also served as the show’s producer.

The show’s popularity helped Dick Clark become a media mogul and inspired similar long-running music programs, such as Top of the Pops. Clark eventually assumed ownership of the program through his Dick Clark Productions company.

On American Bandstand, Clark would often interview the teenagers about their opinions of the songs being played, through the “Rate-a-Record” segment. During “Rate a Record”, two audience members each ranked two records on a scale of 35 to 98. Clark then asked the audience members to justify their scores, before averaging the two opinions. The segment gave rise, to the phrase “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Then hosted by Bob Horn, It premiered locally in late September 1952 as Bandstand on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV’s Channel 6, currently known as WPVI-TV. Bandstand mainly featured short musical films with occasional studio guests. This incarnation was an early predecessor of most of the music video shows that became popular in the 1980s.

Toward the end of the 1986–87 season, ABC wanted to cut Bandstand from a full hour to 30 minutes. Clark refused, and at the end of the season, Bandstand moved to first-run syndication. Clark continued as host of the series.

The following week, Bandstand moved to USA Network, with comedian David Hirsch taking over hosting duties. Clark remained executive producer. The show ended on October 7, 1989.

In 2002, Dick Clark hosted a special 50th anniversary edition. Michael Jackson, a frequent Bandstand guest, performed his hit single “Dangerous”

Sadly, on April 18, 2012, at the age of 82, Dick Clark succumbed to a heart attack. He introduced decades of viewers to the eclectic music of our times. As an entrepreneur and innovative producer, he reshaped the television landscape forever. We will never forget you Mr. Clark! (Military salute)

Fun Fact:

  • Throughout the late `50s and most of the `60s, Clark’s on-camera sidekick was announcer Charlie O’Donnell, who later went on to announce Wheel of Fortune (before Pat Sajak came along), and other programs hosted or produced by Clark, such as the $100,000 Pyramid.

Soul Train

Soul Train Photo credit: sluniverse.com

All aboard the hippest trip in America!

Created by the Chicago born Donald Cortez “Don” Cornelius, Soul Train was longest-running nationally syndicated program in television program in history. Everything from its memorable Gamble and Huff composed theme song, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), to the flashy dancers, and of course the smooth voiced Mr. Cornelius, made everyone want to ride the Soul Train. With over 1,100 episodes produced from the show’s debut in 1971 through the last season in 2006, the show proved its longevity. Despite the production hiatus, Soul Train will continue to hold this honor until at least 2016.

During the late 1960s, there were no television venues in the United States for soul music. After noticing this, Cornelius, who the show’s first host and executive producer, introduced many African-American musicians to a larger audience because of their appearances on Soul Train.

A former news/sports reporter and disc jockey, Cornelius promoted and emceed a touring series of concerts featuring local talent at Chicago-area high schools. He called his traveling caravan, “The Soul Train.” WCIU-TV, his employer at the time, took notice of Cornelius’s outside work and in 1970, and allowed him the opportunity to bring his road show to television.

With that being said, on August 17, 1970, Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV as a live show airing weekday afternoons.

In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, funk, disco and soul artists. Eventually hip-hop, jazz, and gospel artists also appeared.

Soul Train featured a plethora of iconic performers. Among these musical pioneers were Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Barry White and Al Green to name a few. The show also included hip-hop royalty such as Run DMC, Whodini and Public Enemy.

Each guest usually performed twice on each program; after their first number, they were joined by Mr. Cornelius host onstage for a brief interview.

In addition to interviews, Soul Train didn’t only feature camera shots of dancing youngsters. Within the structure of the show, two elements stood out among others.

The “Soul Train Scramble Board,” was where two dancers are given 60 seconds to unscramble a set of letters that form the name of that show’s performer or a notable person in African American history. The dancers were given the answers before hand.

The “Soul Train Line,” developed when all the dancers formed two lines with a space in the middle for dancers to dance in consecutive order. Originally, this consisted of a couple—with men on one side and women on the other. In later years, men and women had their own individual lineups. Sometimes, new dance styles or moves were featured or introduced by particular dancers.

There were two elements that were omitted in later years. One was showing music videos, which were introduced by Mr. Cornelius. The other was crowd participation during the interview, which allowed the dancers to ask the guests questions, along with Mr. Cornelius.

By the end of the first season, Soul Train was on in the other seventeen markets.

Don Cornelius ended his run as host at the end of the show’s 22nd season on June 26, 1993, though he remained the show’s main creative force from behind the scenes. The following fall, Soul Train began using various guest hosts weekly until comedian Mystro Clark. Clark began a two-year stint as permanent host in 1997. Clark was replaced by actor Shemar Moore in 1999. In 2003, actor Dorian Gregory, who hosted through 2006, succeeded Moore.

Sadly, on February 1, 2012, Don Cornelius, who grew depressed due to his failing health succumbed from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 75.

Mr. Cornelius will always be known as the musical and media pioneer who transcended cultural barriers while exposing African American lifestyle and history.

Fun facts:

  • Two former dancers, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniels, enjoyed years of success as members of the R&B group Shalamar. Watley would later enjoy success as a solo artist after leaving Shalamar.
  • Choreographer Rosie Perez, Actress Vivica A. Fox, Actress Carmen Electra, choreographer Laurieann Gibson, and actor/comedian Nick Cannon, were among many who were once Soul Train dancers.

The legacy of Soul Train will forever be filled with love, peace, and sooooooooul! We miss you always Don!

Club MTV

Club MTV photo credit: vimeo.com

Club MTV
Image Source: vimeo.com

Hosted by England’s own Downtown Julie Brown at The Palladium, in New York City, Club MTV was MTV’s first half hour dance show. Molded after American Bandstand, Club MTV aired on MTV between 1985 and 1992. The popular dance show was part of MTV’s second generation of programming. Aside from her flashy clothes, boisterous personality, and intriguing British accent, Club MTV also showcased Brown’s famous catchphrase, “Wubba Wubba Wubba.”Unlike American Bandstand, the show had a more of a nightclub look. The women especially, dressed in provocative club wear such as skin-tight dresses and spandex pants. The show was eventually known for its sexual allure.

The show cut back and forth between teenagers and young adults dancing to hit dance songs and their accompanying videos. In later shows, they would dance exclusively to freestyle music. Often there were musical guests who performed their current or newest singles. Guests included Paula Abdul, Debbie Harry, Vanessa Williams, MC Hammer, to name a few.

The rise of Freestyle music caused Club MTV to begin using the music exclusively, in addition to featuring some house and hip-hop songs. In 1989, MTV introduced a companion show for Friday nights called Street Party that aired the complete videos of songs used on Club MTV.

Late in 1989, MTV launched their first Club MTV Tour featuring Was (Not Was), Information Society, Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli and Tone Loc. But the tour was marred with troubles.

One night a track began to skip midway through Milli Vanilli‘s song “Girl You Know It’s True” while the show was being taped for broadcast. Later that year it was revealed that Milli Vanilli did perform on their album. Instead the vocals had been recorded by studio singers. Tour promoters countered that lip-syncing was a common practice because of the exhausting dance routines artists did while performing.

During the 1992 tour, several acts dropped out midway through their bookings, forcing MTV to book new acts at the last minute. With most of the Freestyle acts no longer interested in the tour, MTV wound up booking hip-hop and rap acts to replace them.

In 1992, MTV suddenly canceled both Street Party and Club MTV with no explanation. MTV executives made some subtle hints that it was in response to the many dance acts dropping out of the Club MTV tour.

On March 20, 2005, VH1 Classic aired a marathon of old Club MTV episodes with a promise that the show would return in the future.

These days Ms. Brown is a happily married mother of one. If Club MTV does return, we would only watch if she returned with it. We’re waiting for you Jules!

The Party Machine with Nia Peeples

After a long week, you just want to unwind. Going out is usually the option, but where to? With a set that featured live music venues, multi-level dance floors, conversation pits, a VIP room, a non-alcoholic bar and a resident DJ, who needed going to a nightclub? Back in 1991, tuning into The Party Machine with Nia Peeples, was the perfect remedy.

The Party Machine with Nia Peeples photo credit: wikipedia.com

The Party Machine with Nia Peeples
Image Source: wikipedia.com

Aired weeknights on 150 stations, The Party Machine was hosted by actress/singer/dancer/choreographer Nia Peeples, who had also previously hosted MTV’s Friday night Street Party . While music videos and talent were introduced by Peeples, the show was executive produced by actor/comedian Arsenio Hall, who created it as a televised after party to his own popular late night talk show The Arsenio Hall Show.

The Party Machine aimed to be a showcase for established and breaking urban dance acts. Performers on the show were acts that were popular at the time including Tevin Campbell, Taylor Dayne, En Vogue, and MC Hammer The show also featured comedians and actors such as Sinbad.

In the beginning, ratings for Party Machine were solid and on several occasions led in Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Miami and Washington. Soon viewer ship declined, and in June, the show was cancelled. The final episode aired on September 15, 1991.

These days, Ms. Peeples remains active in her prosperous acting career. Check her out in her recurring role, as Pam Fields, in ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

Whether we’re young or old, these were the shows that made us dance. They made us smile when we were sad, and brought out the good, when we felt like being bad. No matter how vintage they are, watching them always feels like the first time. These shows, as well as their hosts, are irreplaceable and will live in our hearts forever.

Ashly is a freelance writer and poet from Baltimore, MD.
Ashly Smith
Ashly Smith
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