Hey everybody, remember this one?

No? Because if you don't, you are officially too young to read this blog. You make me feel ancient and I would appreciate your not rubbing it in anymore. Now, go play on the MyFace or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

It's not lost on me that Joanie's rival in this episode is Charlene Tilton... the actress who would later become Lucy Ewing on Dallas and who got to stand close enough to Patrick Duffy every week to give my twelve-year-old heart jealous pangs because I had watched him in The Man from Atlantis and had developed, shall we say... a bit of a crush. But that's another bit of pop culture trivia for another day.

The thing about this Happy Days episode that stood out for me in 1976, was the awesome Russian dance by Henry Winkler at the end (c'mon, who didn't love Fonzie?) and the fully satisfying triumph of sweet underdog, Joanie over Snotty Blond Girl With Attitude. Just another example of how television from the 80s programmed me to hate people with blond hair. Maybe Joanie was the snotty one. Maybe she put her fist through Charlene Tilton's locker one day and told her to stay away from her man Chachi. Maybe Charlene had a reason for hating Joanie, you even think of that, twelve-year-old-me? I didn't think so.

The thing about this episode that stands out for me now is the boredom of the extras, the band not being able to find a single song they haven't already played eight times, and the contest judges hoping against hope that it will all, for the love of everything good and holy in this world, Just. End. Soon.

I expected to see a lot of things on my resume by this point in my life and career, but I think I can easily say that "Judge and Official Photographer for a Dance Marathon Contest that Lasted Over Twelve hours" was not one of those things. However, that's indeed how I spent fourteen hours of my life last Friday and Saturday. I won't go into the details of how I came to be photographer and then final judge at a dance-a-thon, except to point out that I've written on this blog more than just a few times how varied my job responsibilities are and how I'm somewhat of a Jack-of-all-Trades and if you didn't believe me then, you really should now because I spent twelve hours of my life scrutinizing people's fancy footwork and determining an official ruling as to whether or not that swaying back and forth thing you're doing is considered "dancing." And other than a dance therapy class for one semester in college, I have basically no dance experience whatsoever.

It was a local business's brainstorm to have a dance-a-thon for charity as a community event and since my organization is based near that area, they chose us as the recipient of all the fun - and the matched donation at the end. But in order to hold the event they needed help and who better to ask for help from than the charity to whom you're going to give all that money? They can't just say, "no thanks, we really don't want to get involved, but 'preciate it and can we still have all the money?" In retrospect, maybe we should have; it was at least worth a try. My colleagues all chipped in and did not get paid overtime for the work, because how long can something like that go, right? We could all sacrifice a few hours in the name of charity... ours.

What I really wish I'd been doing was taking notes for my eventual masters thesis in psychology, because watching these people was fascinating. The dancing began at 6:00 pm at an outdoor venue. For the first several hours, people were exuberant. They were thrilled to be there. Children danced along with them. Adults held the children with smiles on their faces while they danced. Then as the night wore on, one by one, the smiles waned and the children dropped off. Teenagers were left who were fully convinced they were "going to win this thing... as long as I can be home by 9:30 so I don't get in trouble with my moms and dad." Around 11:00 pm, the teens started disappearing and only hard core adults remained dancing by midnight, smile-less (though inexplicably, many of the children were still there in the cheering section).

We fully expected everyone to be exhausted and done - or at least bored - by 2:00 am. My colleague was really the organizer of the whole thing on our end, but as others left to go home to bed, I promised myself I would not leave her there by herself in the middle of the night and so I was in it for the long haul. But as the hours wore on, the winner's pot grew bigger (the donating company increased the winning purse by $100 for each additional hour the dancers kept going) and that purse would be matched at the end in the form of a donation to our organization. So as I sat there watching seven people still plodding along and coming up on 3:00 in the morning, I started to wonder who the real whores for money were: the people who'd now been doing grueling physical activity for the last nine hours, or us, for sitting there watching these total strangers dance all night long, just so we can take home a grand or so that wasn't really ours.

The dancers could pretty much do what they wanted as long as they a) did not stop dancing and b) stayed inside the gated "Official Dancer Area." Local business provided food and drinks and every hour they got a ten minute rest/bathroom break. They could eat and drink anything they wanted, talk to anyone on the outside of the gated area -- one guy even talked on his cell phone for hours and later pulled out flash cards to study for a test -- but they had to keep dancing while doing it.

Finally, as I settled into my official judges' position (we rotated job responsibilities until the last volunteer went home) around 2:30 am until the end of the contest, it was pretty much me and the two other judges (event organizer people). We suddenly realized that we'd advertised that this could go twenty-four hours and none of us wanted THAT. We needing to start making the rules a little more stringent.

First we introduced the "if you are swaying from side to side, you are not dancing" rule and decreed that contestants must be picking feet up off the ground. If any footfall lasted longer than three seconds they would be disqualified. That wasn't enough to thin out the crowd so we introduced the "if you are just walking around in a circle, you are not dancing" rule. Also, the "you must vary your dance steps" rule. These totally-not-invented-because-the-judges-are-tired and so-was-in-the-contest-rulebook-UH-HUH! rules did serve to wear people out a bit more, but no one quit. Dammit. What they did do, was make the judging that much harder and we now had to sit there staring at people's feet and counting one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc. the rest of the morning. Backfire.

Then the DJ tried to trip everyone up by letting one song end and walking off the stage without starting another. We watched expectantly for people to stop dancing, bewildered and disoriented. No one took the bait and they all just kept dancing with no music at all.

We tried varying the tempos... playing several really slow songs and then a whole string of upbeat fast tempos. Then vice versa. No dice.

We tried playing to songs with
conflicting-beats over top of each other to confuse them. Still nothing.

We shortened the ten minute hourly breaks to five minutes.

We started throwing in "two hour stretches" where the now-five-minute hourly break was eliminated every other hour.

By 4:00 am, we still had seven contestants. Two of them were grandparents and in their 60s. This, for me, had become an experiment in human endurance more than anything else. My boss and one remaining colleague generously offered many times to let me go home. (Bosslady wasn't worried because she had declared that if it went past 7:00 am, my colleague would be fired for getting us into this in the first place. I think she was only partly joking.) By this time, I simply was too curious to see how it would all play out to leave. And dammit, if a sixty-nine year old woman could be there dancing for eleven hours, I certainly could sit in a chair and taunt her for that long. Right? Right??? Right?

In a stroke of brilliance at 4 am, we introduced the No Shuffling rule. In other words, "if you are just shuffling side-to-side - even if you are picking up your feet - you are not dancing." Dancing, we decreed, must be a whole body experience. Ah, sweet, wonderful power. This eventually weeded the coterie down the from seven competitors to three. It was, in my opinion, kind of a crappy thing to do, because some of the people we disqualified on this basis had been doing exactly the same thing for the last ten hours. Just because you're not a good dancer, doesn't mean you're not dancing. In our defense, however, there were clearly people who were putting more of an aerobic workout into their efforts and that had to be acknowledged. For the most part, people were upset but good-natured about it when they were eliminated. They were all in it together.

Aside: OK, I get the dancing all night to win $1200 thing. I get the I came up with this idea so I gotta stay and run the event thing and I even get the I'm a part of the charity that benefits from this so I gotta stay too thing. What I simply do not get is the random people with no connections to the dancers who stayed until the sun came up to watch thing. WHAT is up with that?

Once it got down to three contest
ants, everything changed. There was clearly one of the three who was younger, stronger, a better dancer and either was an endurance runner in her spare time or was taking speed in the bathroom on the breaks. She never slowed down; she never looked tired; she never dropped a step. It became pretty obvious that she would clearly win this thing; it was just a matter of how long it would go. She also worked in the bar right across the square and when her workmates all got off work at 2:00 am, she had a giant cheering section that stayed all night. The other two women started to resent her. They criticized her dancing (which I still maintain was far superior to the other two - she had a whole body thing going on that was way harder to maintain than what they were doing). They hated that she had a cheering section. At one point, one of her workmates from the bar yelled that if she stayed in the contest, he would match whatever she won and discouraged her from taking a deal. Oh how the other two hated her for that, because they were trying to get everyone to agree to stop at the same time and split the prize money. The other two started plotting against her in the corner, Survivor-style, casually walking over to us judges and mentioning, "Oh it's ON!" It became the most hilarious thing I've seen in ages. Everyone wanted to stop, but no one could do it because they'd now been dancing for twelve hours and no one could admit defeat and go home with nothing after investing all that time.

Personally, I believe that she had a plan. She had to work that morning. So she was going to let the dancing go as long as she could afford and still make her shift, then she'd agree to quit with the others and they'd all split the money. We, The Judges had decreed that they could work out whatever deal they wanted to split the total pot, but it had to be a unanimous decision. But she was smart enough not to let the other two in on her master plan, lest they give up and she get even more money.

In the end, the other two couldn't wait that long. So they worked out a scheme where one would drop out and get second prize (theater tickets), then the two remaining would quit at the same time and split the now $1200 purse. The number two person then made a side agreement with the number three person who would quit first to give her half of her $600 and the person who quit would give number two person half of the tickets. And so, at ten minutes to seven, after twelve and a half hours of dancing, the whole thing ended the way it started, with two people and an empty street.

I'm not sure exactly how to wrap this all up. I guess this post's ending is as anti-climactic as the contest's. Everyone went home exhausted, as I'm sure you will be if you've continued reading this far. At best, it makes for a good story.

Hey, remember that time I judged a dance contest?