Oldies Dance continues to entertain, support worthy causes
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
As it approaches its 30th anniversary, the popular, district-wide Fifth-Grade Oldies Dance continues its tradition of offering a rousing, rocking benefit.
This year’s event, held on Friday night at Hillendale Elementary and envied by school fund-raisers throughout the region, raised $1,000 for the Kennett Food Cupboard; $1,215 for the family of Israel “Izzy” Rivera, who works in the school district’s buildings and grounds department – the family lost its home and possessions in a January fire; and $200 to the American Cancer Society in memory of John Clendenin, the late husband of Mary Clendenin, a bus driver and longtime dance volunteer, said Patrick Ricci, a fifth-grade teacher at Hillendale Elementary and key organizer.
“It was one of the best ever,” said Dave Lichter, a Pocopson Elementary fifth-grade teacher, citing the entertaining, family atmosphere and students’ talent.
The dance involves all the fifth-graders throughout the Unionville-Chadds Ford district, who form their own lip-sync and dance teams, design costumes, and choreograph routines. Ricci explained that only fifth-graders and their parents could attend. “We do this so that the fifth-graders can enjoy time with their parents – parents participate in the dance contests and really enjoy watching their kids in another element,” said Ricci. “We figure that older siblings have had their Oldies Dance, and younger siblings will get theirs some day. This aspect makes it extra special, I think.”
Of course, exceptions occasionally occur – for sound reason. This year the high-school cast of “Grease,” which is being presented this weekend, asked if they could perform a song for the fifth-graders, Ricci said. They ended up teaching the hand-jive to the younger students and helping to judge the jitterbug contest. “It was a great success, especially since many of the ‘Grease’ cast attended the Oldies Dance in fifth grade,” said Ricci. “They were there for only a half-hour, but that memory will forever be in those kids’ minds – both fifth-graders and high-schoolers.”
In addition to the lip-sync face-off, the dance features door prizes and contests for young and old, showcasing the twist and the jitterbug. Participants also demonstrate impressive moves during the limbo and hokey-pokey. “We give out trophies, but it’s more for fun than competition,” Ricci explained.
With the exception of the American Cancer Society donation in tribute to Clendenin – a tradition established eight or nine years at the suggestion of longtime employee and dance volunteer Ginger Madonna – proceeds from the dance go to local charities, Ricci said. Past beneficiaries have included His Mission in Kennett Square and the victims of the arson scourge in Coatesville that left many residents homeless between 2008 and 2010.
The dance, made possible by a host of volunteers, originated in the cafeteria of Unionville Elementary to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, said Don Silknitter, a retired teacher and one of the first organizers. He said the following year, his colleague Ray McKay took the lead in setting it up. He said longtime disc jockey Del Biddle joined the effort, and the dance continued to grow.
In recent years, Ricci said point people at each building assist in the organization. “But the night of the dance is a combination of all teachers putting forth great effort to make things run smoothly,” he said.
Silknitter, who was also instrumental in setting up the annual Veterans’ Day celebration, said he is not surprised by the dance’s longevity. “These are two traditions that I hope will continue for years to come,” he said.