Twistin' the night away

Baltimore Glimpses

July 30, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

IT WAS ALL the rage in New York (at the famous Peppermint Lounge) and L.A. It was OK., too, in Cambodia -- and in all the fashionable nightclubs in London. But it was banned in Lebanon and in Thailand; in Russia it was very definitely nyet! (Pravda called it the "limit of moral decay.") Britain's Princess Margaret did a mean one at a debutante ball at Blenheim Palace; but in Hollywood, the legendary dancer Ginger Rogers called it "obscene."

What they were all churned up about was a dance, of sorts, called the "twist" (termed by a prominent psychiatrist "a spinal spasm") which swept through the country in the early 1960s like one, long cacophonous riff. Baltimore was not spared.

In valley country clubs and in Highlandtown club basements, young and old were "twisting." But if you liked to do your twisting in public, there were quite a few places where you could be seen on the dance floor with the best of them. Sweeney's on Greenmount Avenue may have been the most popular, but there were many others, most of which advertised, "Twisting Contest Tonight": Surf Club (3315 Pulaski Highway), Celebrity Lounge (21 E. North Ave.), Cicero's, 508 Forest St., featuring "Ronnie Dove and the Original Twisters"), Gussie's Downbeat (4713 Eastern Ave.) -- twisting on their postage-stamp size dance floors put life and limb at risk.

No question, most everybody in Baltimore loved the twist.

One who clearly didn't was Baltimore Fire Prevention Chief Michael Horan.

On the night of Dec. 7, 1961, the chief walked into the Las Vegas Club in West Baltimore at 123 Warwick Ave. and quietly sat down; a few days later the club's liquor license was suspended -- on a charge that the club's owner (Joseph J. Morea) failed to cooperate with the Fire Department. Morea laid all his troubles to that dance."

Horan told the liquor board that when he visited the club he wasn't sure "what they were dancing" when he walked in but whatever it was "it was creating a lot of excitement." Horan apparently understated his case.

"When I came into the place," he said, "there were people dancing in the aisles and between the tables. They were blocking all the exits."

Horan said he told Morea to stop the dancing and keep it stopped until an adequate dance floor could be created "to contain whatever it was these people were dancing." They stopped it then, Horan said, "but something told me I ought to stop back in a few hours."

He did. "They were at it again."

Twistin', twistin',

Twistin' the night away . . .

Morea accepted his suspension and then shook his head sadly "How do you keep them under control when they're dancing that dance?"

Horan could not be everywhere in Baltimore that night. He could not shut down every club in town where people were twisting. Which is why most twisting Baltimoreans that night, out of the harsh view of Fire Prevention Chief Michael Horan, kept right on

Twistin', twistin',

Twistin' the night away . . .

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