Monday, January 30, 2006

The Room

The Prom Ballroom was a landmark in St. Paul Minnesota for almost 50 years. It was where the BIG BANDS used to play, Ellington, Basie, Dorsey, and all the rest. The Glenn Miller Band opened it in 1941. In the fifties Buddy Holly and other rockers filled its vast floor. In its later years, the bands got smaller but louder, although the occasional "ghost" band would still come around. When the group I was working with got a chance to play there it was for a private Christmas party, the crowd being mostly in their late teens and early twenties- and we were pumping out R&B and Soul, not Jazz and Swing.

Those ghosts still haunted the room, however, and we could sense them. We had a hot singer who could work the crowd and by the time we hit our peak the place was jumping. There is some primitive aspect to the experience of a big dance floor full of writhing, ecstatic people, all of them into the music, all of them abandoning their masks and poses and coming together in a symbolic climax, then hovering in the afterglow, and finally escaping out into the night to private parties for two.

That room is gone, except in the fading memories of past revelers. There are still dances, still ballrooms with live music being played, but the era of big bands has been replaced by newer, more relevant sounds for the modern era. Yet,there still exists those moments of collective passion and release, for this ritual is primal, and not to be denied.

By Professor Batty


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