Bringing back the old rhythms

'Buddy Deane' dancers gather for block party

June 23, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

For three years, John Sankonis and Concetta Comi danced together on camera as teen "committee" members on The Buddy Deane Show.

They didn't realize then that years later, they would marry and settle in Cockeysville - and then decades after that, do the same dance moves together in the streets of Baltimore.

About 100 people attended the "Oldies Block Party and Buddy Deane Reunion," hosted by Monumental Life Insurance Co. For the event, Biddle Street was blocked off at Chase Street to allow the reunioners - and former local teen celebrities - to do the Madison, the jitterbug and multiplication dance in the street to the sounds of the Temptations, the Clovers and Little Eva.

The Buddy Deane Show, which aired during the late 1950s and early 1960s, featured Baltimore teen dancers and musical celebrities. The "committee" was a group of regular teen dancers who appeared on the show, which aired six days a week for 2 1/2 hours a day, showcasing popular dances of the time.

The event yesterday was one of four free Baltimore-themed musical events that Monumental Life plans to hold in celebration of its 150-year anniversary. The other events include an African-American dance performance by the Coppin State Dance Ensemble and barbershop tunes sung by the Chorus of the Chesapeake.

At yesterday's event, several couples who had met on the show and later married attended.

"It's so great to have everybody together," said Concetta Sankonis. Her husband, a retired Monumental Life Insurance agent, organized the reunion.

Gene and Linda Snyder met on The Buddy Deane Show as committee members in 1959 and have been married for 46 years. Snyder said she choreographed the Madison, a popular line dance of the time, for John Waters' movie Hairspray.

The Snyders married while they were still performers on the show.

"Back in those days, that's all you did for fun - dance," Linda Snyder said. "That's one great thing about the show: You meet lifelong friends."

Linda Snyder said her favorite celebrity to appear on the show was Ray Charles. She remembers how the blind performer could sense the teens' anxiety and talked down their nerves.

"He's telling us not to be nervous, and he can't even see us," she said. "He was great."

The committee members, about 20 of whom attended the reunion, reminisced as they lined up to do the Locomotion and coaxed onlookers to try the Stroll. In their early 60s, they were trim and energetic.

"I love to dance, and the friendships that you made - it was like family," said Susan Costello, who grew up in Pimlico and now lives in Bel Air.

"You didn't feel like you were on television. We just loved to dance. I think a lot of people learned to dance from The Buddy Deane Show."

Many of the committee members said that they are lifelong Baltimoreans and enjoyed having an impact on teen culture in the area.

"I think the greatest thrill we get is it's a part of the history of Baltimore," said Frani Hahn. She met her husband, Wayne, on the show in 1966, and the couple married four years later.

"I love being a has-been. I think it's funny," said Hahn, as she enjoyed another Baltimore tradition: an egg custard-flavored snowball with marshmallow topping.

The members also noted the lifelong friendships they made through the show.

The Snyders take a trip to Italy with Charlie Lopresto, also a former committee member, every other year.

"We have stayed together," Lopresto said.

The committee members, who said they meet up about once a month to stay in touch, held a tribute to Deane at the state fairgrounds in Timonium when he died in 2003.

Noncommittee members also enjoyed the event. Gloria Patton, 58, said that she was raised in South Carolina, but enjoyed the same music as the Buddy Deaners.

"I was young, so I remember some of the songs we danced to back in the day," Patton said. "Back then, the songs ... had a story, they had an outline to it."

Mary Grace Box, 10, wore a beehive up-do, poodle skirt and black-and-white saddle shoes. She came with her grandmother.

"I dressed up to show what it was really like then," Mary Grace said. "It's kind of fun to see what other people do."

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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