Tuesdays once a time to dance

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    By ADAM DUNFORD

    Tuesdays mean Devotionals and school for most BYU students. But 50 years ago, Tuesdays were for dancing.

    “At 4:00 every Tuesday afternoon, everybody headed to the Joseph Smith Building for the mat dance,” Maurine Lyons, 71, of Orem, recalled.

    The mat (short for “matinee”) dances were the places to meet boys and girls for Lyons, who attended BYU from 1945 to 1949.

    Besides taking place on a weekday and in the afternoon, mat dances differed from today’s dances in other ways.

    Chaperones wove in and out of the dancing, keeping a stern eye on the young couples, motioning them to move apart if they were too close and firmly reprimanding anyone who was dancing “cheek-to-cheek.”

    “And everyone went stag to mat dances,” Lyons’ husband Gene said.

    Gene went to BYU from 1950 to 1953 and remembered the dances well, with the small student body packed into the auditorium of the old Joseph Smith Building.

    But Tuesdays weren’t the only days for dancing, according to the Lyons, who met and married after leaving BYU. The stakes would rotate holding dances every Saturday night, and the end of a football or basketball match-up always meant a dance afterward.

    “After the games, we’d go and have a sock hop in the Smith Fieldhouse,” Gene said, “and those were stag, too.”

    “It’s too bad (BYU doesn’t) have those dances anymore,” Maurine said, but then admitted, “I didn’t go lots of times. I didn’t like people looking at me and deciding whether to dance with me or not.”

    Luckily, mat dances and sock hops weren’t the only shaking going on at BYU.

    The formal dances included the Senior Prom and the Preference Ball, as well as others the social units and service clubs would organize. Live bands and nationally known artists performed, including Duke Ellington, who played at Gene’s Air Force ROTC Governor’s Ball.

    Of course, there were differences between the dances then and the dances now.

    To ask out a guy for Preference, for instance, a girl first had to submit a list of her top three choices. A school committee would collect the preference cards and selected which boy would go with which girl, as well as announce the campus’s “most-preferred male.” Only after the committee made its decision was the girl notified, and only then could she ask him to the dance.

    And then, as now, not everyone in Utah Valley would stick around on the weekends.

    “It was a big deal to go to Salt Lake,” Gene remembered. “The Hotel Utah always had live music and dancing and there was always Coconut Grove, too.”

    But the most happening spot, “where all the ‘in’ kids from the U and the Y went,” Maurine added, was the Rainbow Rendezvous.

    Old dance clubs have all but disappeared today.

    Nowadays, dance clubs like the Vortex and DV8, with their somewhat-notorious reputations, lure the young and the restless rug-rippers.

    But dancing in the ’50s wasn’t always as innocent and harmless as students are sometimes led to believe.

    Maurine remembered a Preference dance when she and her girlfriend chose two “really nice” boys they had met at Pop Martin’s burger joint (where the Brick Oven restaurant now stands).

    Much to their horror, they later found out that one of their preferences had been in jail and the other was married. The girls went to the dance with other men.

    Gene had a realization of his own, but long after graduating. When asked how it felt to have a girl ask him out on date, he scratched his head and chuckled.

    “You know, now that I think about it, I don’t remember any of the girls who asked me to Preference paying for the evening.”

    And when asked what students did after school dances, the Lyons had a slight difference of opinion.

    Maurine remembered the path around Maeser Hill being referred to as “Lover’s Lane.”

    When Gene didn’t seem to recall such a place, Maurine replied with a grin, “We traveled in different circles, I guess.”

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