Summer Playground Dances
All Neighborhood Elementary Schools

Jean Atkinson of Warsaw, VA
(John Marshall High - '65) - age 13

Carol Buckley ('65) - almost 13

The Summer Dances!!!  They were held every Friday night at all the Newport News
elementary schools all summer long – and apparently in Hampton as well.

   One year – probably just before I turned 14 – which would have been the summer of ’61 –
I won the limbo contest - 12” above the ground, with NO cheating, turning or twisting. 
People today think this is patently impossible, but I did it. 
When I tell them I had an 18” waist and 36” hips in the seventh grade,
they think that’s impossible too, but it too is true. 

Here’s a shot of my cousin, Jean, and me heading to the dance
at Magruder in July of 1960. 

- Carol Buckley Harty ('65) of NC - 05/27/04
Oh how I wish I could remember all the good times we had at the Magruder dances.....
I do remember that EVERYONE (from little ones to old) came to those dances....what good fun we had.....
I do remember seeing my brother dance "with a girl"...for the first time....just wish I could remember WHO it was!!!!!! 
Wasn't it neat that we could WALK to those dances....and not have to worry about any harm coming to us????? 
I wonder WHY the dances stopped?????  I can't remember????????!!!!!!!!!!
- Janice McCain Rose ('65) of VA - 06/12/04

I remember those crowds, with everybody you knew being there.
Thanks, Janice!
When I think of Bob Calvert - I think of him DJ'ing at Willis.  Does anybody remember the dances at Willis? 
That is where we all heard the very best songs - very old and also new. The Eisley Brothers, Wilson Pickett -
records like Sea of Love, Angel Baby, Toss'n and Turning, Rockin' Robin, A Thousand Stars. 
He knew how to pick them and could play the really great ones that he
couldn't play on
WGH because they weren't big commercial successes.
- Jo Ann Stewart ('64) of TX - 12/17/04

WOW!  I had forgotten there even WAS a Willis!  I can't wait to hear from more of y'all on this thread!
Thanks, Jo Ann!
Hmmmmm .. .the Willis dances!  Never went to one, but I do remember them. John M. Willis
Elementary School was on Victoria Boulevard next to Charles Taylor Library, one block over from Thorpe.
I do remember the sock hops at Thorpe in 67-68 ... but once we integrated in September '68 that all stopped.
Security became a big concern, something that sadly has not corrected itself over the past 36 years.
 - Tom Norris (HHS - '73) of VA - 12/17/04

I have a vague fragment of a memory returning about the Willis dances.  It's funny - I can remember the summer dances
at Magruder so clearly, but I still can't quite recall those at Willis.  Perhaps in another six months or so, it'll all come back to me....
Ah, well, thanks, Tom!
Carol, Corky Norris (HHS - '73) wrote about the dances at John M. Willis Elementary School.  Back in the day, it was
called Willis, Syms, Eaton Elementary School.  There were enough children to need Armstrong and WSE and Union
(before integration).  Once the Baby Boomers started coming, the city needed more schools.  Eventually, Thomas Eaton and 
Benjamin Syms had schools named for them and the old elementary was called John M. Willis.  It was demolished after population
shifts caused the attendance to drop there and increase in other areas.  Messers Willis, Syms and Eaton were responsible
for starting the first public school system in Virginia.  They traveled by coach (most importantly with their wives) and
collected bond money to finance the venture.  Before returning to the peninsula, the wives tucked the money up into the
framework of their clothes - I think they were called panniers like saddle bags on bikes are called.  Anyway, though they
were stopped and robbed of other possessions by highway men, the bond money was safe!
Carol, maybe you don't remember Willis dances because of the ones at Magruder!  Willis began as an elementary school
dance for the kids in grades 5 and 6 at Willis.  When I was in 6th grade, I had a friend (Tally Mims) who was dance
committee chairman.  Every Friday morning, she and I would go to the cafeteria and write the song titles/artists/dance type
on both sides of a moveable chalk board.  We had slow dances, fast dances, cha-cha, the stroll and who knows what else! 
Parents were asked to sell Cokes and chaperone.  Over time, the dances changed and teens began to go to Willis.  Eventually
teens from all over the peninsula went to Willis.  My Mom had a '2 nights per weekend' rule so I'd go to our football game
on Friday and EYC at church on Sunday and that used up my 2 nights!      
One year, maybe summer between 11th and 12th grades, I went to Stuart Gardens on a Friday or Saturday night.  I was allowed
to drive.  I met up with Joan Faulkner ('63) and some other girls I can't name now because I'm having a senior moment.  We walked
from the
Stuart Gardens Apartments toward Magruder and I believe it was a block party rather than a Magruder dance. 
I think that Magruder dances were mostly for NN teens.
- Kathy Pilgrim Clark ('63) of VA - 12/21/04

 "Corky"?!? Just remember, Babe - she said it; I didn't! WILD GIGGLES!
(For those of you who forgot, Kathy and Tom were raised in the same Hampton neighborhood,
though there's a ten-year gap in their ages.)

I enjoyed your history of Willis, Syms, Eaton School, Kathy. I'd not heard that story before; it's quite impressive.

I am having a partial memory returning of the Willis dances; I'm sure I attended a least a couple. But, yes, my memories
of the Magruder dances are far sharper. And they were a block party sort of thing - people came from all around, whether they
were one or 91. That's what made them so wonderful! Literally, everybody and his brother were there!
So when you and Joan and the girls were walking towards Magruder on that summer night of '62,
you were going to one and the same. And no doubt, I saw you there.
Thanks, Kathy!
Ah yes,  the Willis dances!  Max Bartholomew ('65) and I used to go every week in the summer. 
We met some very nice girls from Hampton High there.  "Cookie" and "Stephanie" were two that I remember. 
We never missed the Willis sock hops.  A lot of NNHS guys went.  I can't remember their names but the Stuart Gardens
surfer guy that bleached his hair white in the summer always went to Willis. A couple of Warwick High guys usually went too. 
Mostly Crabbers, though.  A few fights.  But not many.  Great memories at Willis.  We had a ton of fun there.
Everybody remembers the Twist, but does anybody remember the Mashed Potato?  Anybody remember the winner
of the Magruder Mashed Potato contest in 1962?  Of course not.  The only one in the universe that would retain such
an idiotic memory is the idiot who won!  Me!  (You never forget your first dance contest victory!)  Anybody ever hear
from my Magruder dance partner, Lois Moore ('65)?  (This is probably giving somebody a bad Vietnam-style flashback!)
- Craig Miller ('63) of FL - 12/21/04

Uh-huh! Y'all keep talking, and all my memories will come flooding back yet. Thanks, Craig!

You're right about dance contests. I'm shocked to say that I do not remember your winning that Mashed Potato
contest, but I do remember watching you dance, and I must concur with the judges! I myself won a limbo contest
there one year - no cheating, no twisting or tilting, and I cleared the limbo pole at 12" from the ground. I'm not sure
to this day how I did that. Do you suppose my then-tiny size (depending on which summer that was,
my waist ran from between 18" to 22") may have been a contributing factor???

I'm also shocked that I don't recognize the Stuart Gardens surfer guy you mentioned. Someone will, though,
from your description.  And I'm sorry to say that I have not heard from Lois.

By the way, Craig is still an excellent dancer!

Thanks again, Craig!

I'm a Hampton girl, so in addition to attending Thorpe's sockhops, I went to the Willis dances......thanks for the
history of Willis Syms Eaton, which now is the site of the Hampton Library.  They weren't sock hops, though.......
can you imagine trying to find your shoes after one of those dances??  And I loved to dance!! 
Yes, Craig Miller ('63 - of FL), I did the mash potato......practiced and practiced in front of the mirror
until I had it down, then the fad dance the watusi??  But I can still do the mash potato plus the
jitterbug and cha-cha. 
- Gloria Woolard Price (Hampton HS - '65) of FL - 01/25/05

- Thanks, Gloria!


Mashed Potato Time

- Dee Dee Sharp

It's the latest, it's the greatest,
Mashed Potato, ya, ya ,ya

A Mashed Potato started long time ago
With a guy named Sloppy Joe,
You'll find this dance is so cool to do,
Come on baby, gonna teach it to you.

Mashed Potato, feel it in your feet now,
Mashed Potato, come on get the beat now,
Baby, come on honey, come on baby.

And then they dance it through and through,
They look for records they can do it to,
They got a dance was outta sight,
Doin' the lion sleeps tonight.

Mashed Potato, Ya a weem o wep a weem o wep,
Mashed Potato, ya, ya, ya, ya,
It's the latest, aw baby,
It's the greatest, come on honey,
Ya, ya ya, ya,

Now everybody is doin' fine,
They dance alone or in a big boss line,
And they discovered it's the most, man,
The day they did it to Please Mr. Postman.

Mashed Potato, wait a minute, wait a minute,
Mashed Potato, deliver de letter,
It's the latest, come on baby,
It's the greatest, oh honey,
Ya, ya, ya, ya.

Well they got with more and more,
Ya ought to see 'em around the floor,
The Mashed Potato ??????????
They even do it to Dear Lady Twist.

Mashed Potato, ya, ya, ya, ya,
It's the latest, come on baby,
It's the greatest, oh honey,

(This page added - finally - on 12/29/04)

"So .... Craig Miller ('63) won the Mashed Potato contest.
Well, in honor of that, you can temporarily switch the Summer Dance MIDI (from 'At the Hop') to 'Mashed Potato Time'
Source: - 12/29/04
Lyrics: - 12/29/04
BTW, you probably have already recognized that the tune to 'Monster Mash' is the same as 'Mashed Potato Time'".

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 12/29/04
Thanks, Dave!  You're the best!

 Jitterbugging Dancers clip art courtesy of - 06/09/04

Dancin' the Night Away clip art courtesy of - 06/09/04

Animated Silhouetted Jitterbuggers courtesy of - 09/17/04

Return to NNHS Class of 1965