Dancing Jack Perry is interviewed by MyBayCity.com's Columnist Dave Rogers.
Dancing Jack Perry, Here from Oregon
Recalls Youth Performers of 1950s
Onetime Central High Drum Major Reminisces About Washington Theater Days
Jack Perry (Gruszczynski) once strutted at the head of the Central High School Marching Band.
Now, he teaches ballroom dancing and other fancy steps in a remote area of Oregon, near "the big trees."
But Perry, 68, loves to return to Bay City occasionally to visit his mother and to gather with friends from the Class of 1957 and others.
~~~ MyBayCity's Dave Rogers Chats With "Dancing Jack" Perry ~~~
He recalls getting inspiration to become a band drum major from Bev Schlatter, Bill Cole, Don Majeske and others. But band director Wally Cramer wouldn't let Perry do Majeske's favorite trick: tossing the baton over the goalpost as the band countermarched in the end zone.
"Apparently the myth grew up that if the drum major dropped the baton while doing that routine, the football team would lose the game -- and nobody wanted to take the chance that might happen."
Of course, those were the glory days of Central High football under legendary coaches Elmer Engel, Ken Loop, Ray Duch and Art Nixon. The Wolves won five state championships and many Valley titles from 1950 to 1972, and the band and drum majors like Perry were a big part of the halftime show in the stadium.
Perry was one of a traveling troupe headed by Nello DeRemer that operated out of an old train station on Saginaw Street in downtown Bay City in the 1940s and 1950s.
Many of the performers, mainly dancers but some singers, also performed regularly in "Spotlight on Youth" at the Washington Theater.
The Bay City Theatrical Arts Guild had its headquarters on Washington Avenue above what is now Allan's shoes, and Perry and his fellow performers got some their initial training there.
DeRemer's traveling troupe had a mini kiddie Vaudeville circuit up north, with stops in West Branch, Topinabee, Petoskey, Traverse City and, the biggest venue of all -- the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
These performances all were outdoors, on wooden stages erected just for the summer crowds.
On the island the group performed for former Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams and other celebrities and politicians.
The kids weren't paid but got their room and board. After six or eight weeks, the group wandered back to Bay City, having shown off their talents to thousands of appreciative resort fans.
Perry remembers the main warning the kids received: If you get a fly in your mouth hold it, don't spit it out until you are offstage. That was the toughest part of the job, he laughed.
During several years of Army service, Perry served in the intelligence division in Germany and picked up a world view.
Then, it was on to Hollywood to try for the big time. Jack found Tinseltown a little too big, but he did meet one of his idols, Ray Bolger, during an audition.
After attending Bay City Junior College and Central Michigan University, he earned a bachelor's of fine arts and master's degree from the University of Michigan.
He taught high school in Oregon and conducted dancing classes on the side. He is now artist in residence of the Eastern Oregon Arts Council, Legrande, Oregon.
Perry would love to return to Bay City occasionally to teach dancing, if he could find a sponsor. He is also interested in developing a center for the Polish heritage of the area. Interested groups can contact him at email@example.com
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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