'Footloose' Town Celebrates 30 Years of Proms

Teens in Elmore City, Okla., held town's first prom 30 years ago this weekend.

April 18, 2010— -- In the spring of 1980, high school students in Elmore City, Okla., successfully lobbied for the first prom in a community that banned dancing.

The groundbreaking school dance became the stuff of legend, and it inspired the hit 1984 film "Footloose," starring Kevin Bacon. This weekend marks 30 years since the original event, and the kids behind it reunited for one more dance.

The small community marked the occasion with a public prom, a parade and tractor races, although not the dangerous games of chicken played on tractors in the movie.

Leonard Coffee and a friend, both junior class officers, convinced local church leaders and the school board to give them a shot at hosting a prom for the high school's upperclassman. A local law dating from 1898 had prohibited public dancing.

"When we had the first prom, it was understood you've got a one-shot deal here. If it goes well, great. We'll look at it next year," Coffee said. Bacon's character in the film was based on Coffee.

His high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Temple-Lee, helped to sway the decision in the teens' favor. Her father was the school board president, and each year she saw students ask her father's permission for a prom only to be denied. When it was her turn, she was careful to work with the dance's critics.

"As class officers, we wanted to make sure we were very respectful, we were very organized. We wanted to make sure everyone was very comfortable with it," Temple-Lee said of working with church leaders who had moral objections to dancing.

Temple-Lee's father agreed to a supervised prom was a better alternative to underage drinking as entertainment for the teens. Her father cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the dance, and the students held the prom in the cafeteria. Refreshments and games were provided in the adjoining gym by the very church leaders who had initially opposed the dance.

Teens Needed Nudge to Dance, Dance, Dance at First Prom in 1980

Coffee remembers the dance got off to an awkward start, but everyone had fun by the end.

"The first song played was 'Stairway to Heaven,' the Led Zeppelin song, which is a little difficult to dance to," he said. "But nobody knew what they were doing, so it was all good," added Temple-Lee.

Temple-Lee said the student body needed a little nudge to cut loose on the dance floor.

"A lot of kids didn't know how to dance, so to get things started, we all got together in a line just to break the ice. And once we did the 'bunny hop,' everyone else just started jumping in," she remembers.

The community received national attention over the historic event and the release of the Hollywood movie, and the teens became local celebrities.

But for the students who started it all, they're most pleased that their own children were able to attend the prom this year. Coffee's daughter attended her senior prom Friday night, and Temple-Lee's sophomore daughter attended as a date.

"It's wonderful," Coffee said. "I am just happy 30 years later they are still having the prom. That's what I am most proud of."