Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – Let ‘em Dance
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
Thirty-five years before infamous film with Kevin Bacon and the iconic lyrics of Kenny Logins “You're playing so cool / Obeying every rule / Dig way down in your heart / You're burning, yearning for some / Somebody to tell you / That life ain't passing you by / I'm trying to tell you / It will if you don't even try…I’m turning it loose, footloose / Kick off your Sunday shoes…” Sapulpa had a decision to make: oppose school dances or allow them.
The film Footloose came out in 1984. It is “loosely based on a town” in Oklahoma. Elmore City. “The town had banned dancing since its founding in 1898 in an attempt to decrease the amount of heavy drinking.” A Reverend from a neighboring town had said, “‘No good has ever come from a dance…’” The beginning of the ‘80s era changed the town around. “In February 1980, the junior class of Elmore City’s high school made national news when they requested permission to hold a junior prom, and it was granted.” The overturn vote on the ban ended with a tie of 2-2 from the School Board. The School Board president was the tiebreaker, and he said, “‘let ‘em dance.’”
Sapulpa’s situation was not as extreme as Elmore City or the Footloose film. However, it was still a conflict and a controversy of its time. In 1949, dancing on school grounds came down to a vote.
February 1949: The School Board voted not to allow dancing on school property.
Unless, the decision went to the town in an election. “It was the decision of the board that to fairly determine whether or not Sapulpa voters are in accord with the dancing question that an election possibly should be held. This can be done by the petitions now being circulated, being filed with the board. It will then be added to the ballot at the regular school levy election in May.”
“The question has been brought to the consideration of the board previously at which time it was stated that ‘It is the opinion of the board that the broad purposes, the long-time program and the general welfare of the schools will be served best by refusing to grant the request for dancing in the school buildings.’”
March 1949: The School Board voted to have an election for the purposes of allowing dancing in school buildings.
The special election will be held on April 5th, instead of May. The petition was labeled as being submitted by Wesley A. Whittlesey. The School Board was not objecting to having a recreational center for the youth but would not get involved in the school dancing controversy. Several churches in town were adamantly opposed to having dances on public property.
The petition called for a youth center. It stated that the center would be open at least two evenings a week: “one of which will be Saturday night, and on other nights as shall be in harmony with general school programs.” It was proposed for Junior-Senior prom, Hi-Y prom, special holiday parties, etc. It will also have available “social dancing, both square and ball room, dart games, table tennis, badminton, intramural basketball, a piano, turntable, a soft drink and sandwich counter, which shall be under the auspices of the Student Council.”
April 1949: this week in Sapulpa history, on April 5, 1949, the election to allow dancing had a large turnout.
Students held a parade the night before the election, for the endorsement of the dance hall.
The decision came down to 1,617 to 1,430 votes; a difference of less than 200 votes*. The tallies were in and the people of Sapulpa decided to allow the dances and have a youth center.
*Note: In May 1949, the election for the School Bond issue to add four classrooms to Washington school passed by 301 to 37. This had been the heaviest School Bond issue in several years. Note that the bond issue had just over 300 voters, while the dance vote had over 3,000 votes.
“‘The election is history now,’” Mrs. Paul East, an opponent to the dance hall, proclaimed.
The election had become very heated at times with most of the ministers in town opposed to dancing. There was even a cross burning at a home Mrs. Paul East’s home*.
*Note: it is unknown if she was on the School Board.
The proposed youth center would be held at the “old Euchee gymnasium.” By May, the “new youth center” would be painted, decorated by high school students, and refurbished. All the work was being done by the students of the town.
The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.