In East Texas in the mid-90s, only a few radio stations came in clearly. One was country and one was pop. We were pretty happy with that until we discovered the “alternative rock” station out of Nacogdoches, the college town a few miles away. It was a student-run radio station and it played the best music – The Smiths, New Order, 10000 Maniacs…it was all new to us and we loved every note.
Needless to say, no one played this type of music at the dances we went to (and were quickly becoming too cool for.) So, we made our own fun, and we called it “Dance Party USA”. My older friends had cars and those cars had radios, so we would drive to a kind of small pasture that’s now a park behind our town’s DPS, turn on the radio, and dance to the music we liked.
In retrospect, I guess we are lucky that we didn’t run down the battery in those cars, or get interrupted by people who might hurt us. At that time, what we were doing was one of the safest things that teenage girls could do on a Saturday night, even in the dark in a place where none of our parents knew. Every now and then some guys would join us, but just as often, it was just we three or four, and that was totally fine.
When I think of how the world has changed and how even our hometown has changed, I think back on nights like this and realize they’re probably not possible anymore. It was definitely “of a time.” Even the way that music is consumed is different – who needs to spin the dials searching for a college radio station when you have a whole jukebox on your phone in your pocket, and who needs to cruise around looking for fun when you can make a whole night’s worth of plans without even speaking out loud.
We had one particular friend whose dancing was pure, un-self-conscious joy. When I think of her I often think of Dance Party USA and how I wish we could have all been more like her then, and stayed that way.