A Toast to "The Alligator"

 This page is dedicated to the propagation of "The Alligator," the most riotously remembered of the Sixties' 1,000 dances.  Even today I vividly recall my first sighting of a gator pile at a small college dance in Institute, WV.  I knew only two other folks there,  yet count it as one of the most memorable occasions over the last 60+ years. 
While the Gator heyday may have been the 60's & 70's it dates to at least the 1950's. It was so totally different than any previous dance mid-century adults viewed it with concern if not alarm.  American Bandstand producers banned it along with "The Dog" - the only two dances ever so honored.  As late as 1966 it was judged obscene enough to get a practitioner arrested or a club shut down.

Pittsburgh Press 1966 
With such reputation it's no wonder so few action images exist from the early years.  Those we do have are from school paper/yearbook photographers and party-pic guys working colleges during that transformative time.  Lewis Grizzard and Pat Conroy, disparate Southern writers, were pre-Vietnam students who did and have attempted to describe the dance.  And, as more boomers take up blogging and on-line reminiscing the written descriptions often surpass photos as memory igniters.  

One theory, advanced by some democrats, holds that George W. Bush and similarly advantaged scions brought Gatoring to the Ivy League from the South and Southwest before 1965.  By the early 70's this was an established preppy tradition culminating in a National Lampoon screenplay written around the highlights of higher education.

In the earliest years a hazing/punishment exercise called The Dying Cockroach or Dead Bug scuttled out of various military schools and bases.  Whether born separately from the dance or one an off-shoot of the other remains clouded. 

Similarly, in the mid-60's some New York students knew the dance as The Turtle, but by 1978 the term Gator applied to all horizontal music moves as the Deltas forever etched into the public conscience.   "Animal House"  introduced the Alligator to far more folks than had fraternity basements or The Chinese Disco.  An Eighties resurgence followed that included identification with some new tunes, most notably "Rock Lobster." 

Also in the 70's a relatively tame Gator variant line dance grew out of  "Takin' Care of Business" along the Third Coast/Canadian border.  While the record shows that gatoring in its more traditional form was practiced in the Saginaw Valley before the song, there is no denying that the newer version has achieved great popularity.
Post 20th century opinions of the dance have moderated, and today many wedding planners deem The Alligator preferable to some of the more modern expressions of pop culture.  Of course, the reality always has been in the checkbook.  There is no stopping a father of the bride or groom and his friends from creating a spectacle that puts smiles on the crowd.
It's hard to square the old prejudices with the sheer joy experienced, witnessed and chronicled on the the following pages.  To paraphrase, I may not be able to define obscenity, but I know what it is not.  The fact that "The Alligator" and "fun" always are used synonymously explains why it has persevered.  Stan Welch provides this explanation for the dance's enduring popularity -  ... the dying cockroach (Gator) is a dance that truly levels the playing field. There is no better dance for stripping the (false) dignity from each and every dancer who performs it.   
Contrary to the belief of some, it thrives today at weddings, reunions, Southern charity balls, Cactus Jack's, grade school gym classes and anywhere else the self-confident, young-at-heart, unrepentant and uninhibited gather.  Other than The Twist, can one think of any other of the Thousand Dances that is performed as often and with such gusto?  The simple fact is as Tom Condon wrote in a syndicated piece, "It still feels good, and frequently surprises my date."

To the everlasting embarrassment of their children, folks still get down and kiss the floor doin' the best feel-good dance of that or any era. 
What other cultural phenomena in the last 50 years elicits the same universal good humor, smiles and recollections?  With what will our children embarrass their children, "The Y.M.C.A."?  Teach the grandchildren to Gator now, so they, if not their parents, can honor you in 2040.

As with many families featured on the following pages, gatoring has become a tradition at our family functions.  The 60's something brothers begin the floor cleaning followed by the sons/nephews, great nephews, sons-in-law and incredulous guests.  Why?   Marlyn Dittoe's reflection sums it nicely: 
Staying immature is easy, but staying young at heart requires a little more effort.

Having said that, it appears that there currently is a "dance" purporting to be the Gator  that borders on the obscene being wallowed in a few country bars.  With "The Dog" reprised as "the Harlem Shake" it is explainable, but, please, not at my funeral.
Internet research has taught that history is no longer written by winners.  Instead, we have entered the time of the techie, most of whom know nothing of things that once seemed important.  It is, therefore, incumbent on us all to preserve through actions and writing that which we hold dear especially if that lies outside of current conventional concepts.
On the following pages one will find photos, videos and remembrances, old and new, of laughing folks doin' the Gator.  If there are examples with frowns, they have yet to surface.  And, while "Crocodile Rock" * is not in the class of "Louie, Louie", "Shout", "But It's Alright", "Rocky Top",  "Takin' Care of Business" or, later, "Rock Lobster" for gettin' down, it does sum up the dance and era. 
If you've a memory or photo to contribute, please feel free to contact us at HIRR@Juno.com