In 1963, D.C.’s WOOK-TV Channel 14, a low-powered UHF station, launched “Teenarama,” the first Black dance program in America. The history of this landmark show, captured in the 2006 Emmy Award-winning documentary “Dance Party: The Teenarama Story,” can now be streamed as a feature musical video.
“Dancing on the Air: The Teenarama Story” was initially developed as a stage musical. Executive producer Beverly Lindsay-Johnson and playwright, director and composer Jiiko Ozimba collaborated on the stage and video production. Lindsay-Johnson, who produced the “Dance Party” documentary, put in many hours to find sponsors for the stage production, now the streaming video. She received support for “Dancing on the Air” from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, The Awesome Foundation-DC Chapter, the African American Music Association (AAMA), GoFundMe campaigns and individual donors.
“It is not an easy task to raise money for something we wanted to do,” said Lindsay-Johnson, who still looks forward to a stage production. “I have to thank the community because they donated what they could.”
Developing the Musical
In 2015, Lindsay-Johnson shared her vision with Ozimba who composed 11 ’60s-styled songs for the musical. The songs provide historical context to “Teenarama’s” black and white television production. The original songs also provide context for life in the District and America’s civil rights movement in the 60s.
“I was like, oh my God, why don’t I know about this,” Ozimba said. “We have to make sure this history is preserved.”
In addition to the documentary being a resource for Ozimba’s script, she interviewed some of the former dancers from “Teenarama,” a decision that proved providential in casting the young actors starring in “Dancing on the Air.” One of the young actors, Preston Jones, played Reginald “Lucky” Luckett, one of the original “Teenarama” dancers. After the two met, Luckett’s family revealed an incredible coincidence. Luckett and Jones were cousins, something neither of them knew before their initial meeting.
Former Dancers Relive Teen Years
Those former dancers attended D.C. Public High Schools and gained popularity as “regulars,” becoming celebrities at home, at school and in their neighborhoods. Some of the original regulars attended a screening of the streaming video held at Busboys and Poets Anacostia location. Dr. N. Saleem Hylton, president emeritus and acting chairman of the AAMA, attended Bell Vocational High School and danced on “Teenarama.”
“We’ve been involved in protecting, preserving and promoting African-American music since our inception,” Hylton said. “And me being a former “Teenaarama” dancer, I thought it was even more appropriate for me to be directly involved in presenting this to the public.”
Hylton’s former dance partner, Lita Graves, who attended McKinley Tech High School, also attended the screening.
“My mom would see me on TV and would say, ‘There she is. Sometimes, she would send my cousin to get me because I had not done my chores. I take my hat off to the talented young actors who are now acting as we were on the show,” Graves said.
To get the project done, Lindsay-Johnson and Ozimba became quick learners in producing a full-video production.
“We studied it, we inquired and we made the decision,” Lindsay-Johnson said. “I don’t know where we are going from here. I hope that at least in 2023, we will be back on stage.”
“Dancing on the Air: The Teenarama Story” will be available on Vimeo On Demand from Nov. 24 – Dec. 4. For more information visit https://dancingontheairmusical.com. The trailer for the musical can be viewed on YouTube, https://youtu.be/499Ja9ZYuJ4.
Twitter and Instagram: @washinformer
Brenda C. Siler
Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm
Busboys and Poets
Instagram: @ @busboysandpoets
Dancing on the Air: The Teenarama Story
African American Music Association (AAMA)