Those were the days — the decade of love, disco, equality, environmental awareness. Those of us who came of age in Wheeling in the 1970s remember that era well. One of the teenage rites of passage here in the Friendly City was the Wednesday night Park Dance.
Leisurely, warm afternoons were spent sunning ourselves at the local pools, buttered in baby oil, listening to 1400 WKWK radio where DJs nicknamed the “Good Guys” let us know when to “turn so you don’t burn.”
On Wednesdays, though, the “endless summer” vibe continued into the night. Once the sun went down, we would shower, primp and trade our bikinis for our favorite halter tops, elephant ear bell bottoms and Dr. Scholl’s sandals, then hitch a ride with someone to the White Palace. Until somebody in your circle was old enough to get behind the wheel, you had to con someone’s parents into driving you to and from the park — not always an easy feat for this country girl who lived miles outside of town. But I usually managed to find a ride, as did most of my friends. Just before 7 p.m., wood-paneled station wagons could be seen circling the parking lot, dropping eager teens off for a few hours of minimally supervised fun and freedom.
Once you or one of your BFFs were of driving age, though, the fun really began. The first stop of the evening was Gilmar’s drive-through on Edgington Lane, where anyone old enough to be out of diapers could usually score some beer. Pony bottles of Miller High Life securely in hand, we’d cruise in endless loops around the park, quickly consuming our contraband before an over-zealous park ranger had a chance to spoil our fun. We were free to come and go from the dance itself, so we would disco to Donna Summer for a bit before retiring to the darkness of the golf course for a little canoodling with our high school heartthrob. But we always wanted to be back inside the venue for a slow dance when “Colour My World” played. That was always the final song of the evening, signaling the end to another Wednesday night of teenage summer shenanigans.
Park Dances were one of the best means of meeting kids from schools other than our own. They broadened our horizons just a little and gave us a glimpse into the world outside our individual, self-absorbed teenage comfort zones. Those dances in the summer, plus the skating rink in the winter, were the only “social network” we knew back in the day of the Carter Administration. I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg would be shocked to know it served us just as well or better than Facebook does today.
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If you, too, share similar fond memories of bygone Park Dances, you are invited to relive the disco era by attending the Wheeling Park Teen Dance Revisited — ’70s, ’80s and ’90s Reunion on Friday, July 6.
Maybe I’ll see you there. And though the steady march of time has made halter tops an unwise fashion choice for this menopausal flower child, I do still fit into my Dr. Scholl’s from 1978! I’ll meet you in the parking lot — do they still make pony bottles?
Teen Dance Revisited is set for 7-11 p.m. Friday, July 6, at Wheeling Park’s Memorial Ice Rink. Guests will take a step back in time and revisit the beloved Teen Dances of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Johnny O from Kool 105.5 will be spinning hits from the decades. Guests must be 21+ to attend. The cost is $15 per person, and tickets are available at the Wheeling Park White Palace main office. For information, call 304-243-4185. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Oglebay Foundation’s Access to the Parks project. This project allows local underprivileged children to enjoy their favorite recreational activities at Oglebay and Wheeling Park.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.