"We invite you to dance," says conductor Leo Mallek almost as soon as we sit down at a fold-up table off to the side of the wood floor. "1-2-3-4," an older lady on keyboards counts off as the big band—three clarinets, two tubas, a trumpet and drums—lurch into Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood." Couples stand up from their seats and amble to the floor where they spin each other around to the gently energetic sway of the 70-year-old tune that’s just slightly older than most of the audience.
It’s the "C’ville USO Show" at the Elks Lodge, which bills itself as "a 1950s era morale-boosting show in the ‘Bob Hope on the Carrier Midway’ mold," and I’m there with my great uncle Paul Whitehead, a 74-year-old Korean War vet. We’ve come to the white stucco-ish building at Darden Towe Park for the 2:30pm afternoon show.
As soon as "In the Mood" ends, Mallek—decked out in tuxedo, red bow tie and cummerbund—announces the show-dancers, three attractive teens dressed in short blue skirts and tops with military caps, all lined in gold sequins. Paul starts to tap his foot as the band starts up Louis Prima’s "Jump, Jive and Wail," and the girls let loose with a seductive shimmy that transports us back in time.
The seductive shimmy of the "C’ville USO Show" dance girls was sure to perk up Charlottesville troops.
As the show proceeds, we are treated to a panoply of old timey hits presented by the band and Mallek, all for the good of our local national guard and their respective spouses and families. Hence the tribute to the armed forces that is delivered with glee. "Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail," an ensemble sings, "and the Caissons go marching along." Indeed.
During the tribute, a female Marine saunters to the rear of the dance floor and snaps her outstretched fingers and sideways palm to her brow. As "The Halls of Montezuma" ends, she answers, "Hoo-rah!" That her red sweater bears the imprimatur of Frosty the Snowman diminishes it none.
"Thank you to all our active servicemen and veterans in the audience," Mallek says, taking a break from the raucous entertainment. "And we wish for a speedy and safe…" He pauses, a tremble in his throat and tears in his eyes. "…Return for all our troops this holiday. I’m sorry. I can’t say that without choking up."
Back to the show and the show-dancers who we are entreated to focus on. "Here, we bring Rosie the Riveter back to life," Mallek says. "See if you can spot the cigarette break," he says playfully and the music starts. "As soon as we cough a little bit, we’ll be ready," says an old lady behind us.
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