IT COULD HAVE been a scene from any of the past six decades: Contemporary, beat-heavy music blares over a sound system while dozens of Delaware Valley young people shimmy and shake, their movements captured by cameras for a TV audience.
This tableau, which unfolded on an early spring morning in the Play 2 Video Arcade at Chickie's & Pete's near the South Philly sports complex, was part of the taping of an episode of "Party Rockers Tween Scene." The dance party airs at 11 a.m. Saturdays on NBC Philadelphia Nonstop (Comcast 248, Verizon Fios 460, over-the-air 10.2). Despite its venerable format — youngsters dancing to current pop hits — it is unlike anything that preceded it because the dancers are just 7 to 12 years old.
"It's so much fun; it's such a great experience," Devon D'Andrea, the 12-year-old Williamstown, N.J., resident who co-hosts "Tween Scene" with 13-year-old Rocky Ciminera, said during a recent taping. "It's good seeing all these kids having fun."
"Party Rockers Tween Scene" — like its companion program "Party Rockers Dance Reality Show," which is aimed at the 13-19 set and airs on Nonstop Saturdays at midnight — was created by Kerri Gallagher-Salamone. An operating-room nurse by trade, Gallagher-Salamone, 45, is no stranger to the world of the televised record hop. Thirty years ago, she was a regular on "Dancin' On Air," which has just been revived by PHL17. It airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays.
"It was the time of my life. It was life-changing. It brought me out of my shell," recalled Gallagher-Salamone, a Medford, N.J., resident originally from Juniata Park.
Though Gallagher-Salamone created the series and serves as its executive producer, she never intended to be a TV executive. Early last fall, "Dancin' On Air" creator Michael Nise contacted her about helping him with an idea he had for a dance show aimed at 19- to 22-year-olds. That show hasn't been produced, but auditions were held at a cheerleading school. Inspiration struck Gallagher-Salamone when some of the youngsters attending cheerleading classes began dancing to the audition music. "All the little 'tweens' were beautiful and adorable," she recalled. "I thought, 'This might work,' and we decided to go with it."
Nise is not involved in "Tween Scene."
Although it might seem more difficult to stage a TV show with such a callow cast, Gallagher-Salamone has found the opposite to be true since the show started airing in February. "They are so uninhibited, so willing and able," she offered. "And they pay attention more than the big kids."
A serious side, too
The demographic for "Tween Scene" isn't the only thing that separates it from its many predecessors, dating to the original Philly-based "Bandstand" in 1952. Such programs have emphasized fun and fashion, but "Tween" has a more serious side on the show and especially on the blogs written by four cast regulars at partyrockersreality.com/the-tween-scene. "Party Rockers Tween Scene" emphasizes social responsibility and appropriate modes of behavior.
"We talk about social issues," said Gallagher-Salamone. "We want kids to be philanthropists. We talk about the environment. And we're trying to keep them healthy through movement."
Gallagher-Salamone and her co-producer, Frank Punzo, dream of following in other local shows' dance steps and taking theirs national, but "Tween Scene" remains a modestly budgeted, D.I.Y. affair. It's filmed on handheld digital video units, not full-size TV cameras. The only lighting comes from the arcade.
But this new twist on a classic format has earned a stamp of approval from someone who knows a thing or two about TV dance parties.
"That's fabulous! That's gonna attract [viewers]," said local broadcasting icon Jerry Blavat when he learned of "Tween Scene." Besides spending more than 50 years spinning rock, soul and pop records on the radio, the "Geator With the Heater" had a five-year run (1965-'70) as host of the daily "Discophonic Scene" program on channels 10 and 6. He suggested that Gallagher-Salamone and Punzo may have hit on something.
The "yon preteens" the show targets, to borrow a Geatorism, will enjoy watching their peers, he said. "Very young kids will identify with this."
To Blavat, the dance-party concept is pretty much a no-lose proposition. "People can relate to dance shows, because everybody dances at one time or another — at weddings, bar mitzvahs … people will dance."
Given the ages of the participants, it's not surprising that most of the show's dancers are female. While most were dressed casually at a recent taping, a few were dolled up in sparkly, sophisticated skirts and tops. (One youngster navigated the choreography on mid-height heels.) Though appearing on TV might encourage their kids to want to look and act older than they are, several dancers' parents had nothing but praise and support for "Party Rockers Tween Scene."
"It's awesome. The kids are having a blast," said Kathy Migliarse, whose 10-year-old daughter, Rebecca Deeney, is a show regular. "They all love the music and they all love to play dress-up. So this is perfect for them, to come to the show, where they get the opportunity to express themselves." Rebecca's self-esteem has gotten a boost from her appearances on the program, her mom added.
Stephanie Lazer, mother of 12-year-old Malorie, said "Tween Scene" has been a blessing for her child's psychological development too. Lazer, another "Dancin' On Air" alum, noted her daughter is "a lot more mature now."
Social activism and positive -behavior reinforcement are fine. But for the kids who are the show's raison d'être, there are far more important elements.
"It feels really good to know I'm actually on TV and that one day I could become a star if I stick to it," said Rebecca Deeney, a fourth-grader at St. Nicholas of Tolentine in South Philadelphia.
Proclaimed Blythe Salamone. an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Taunton Forge Elementary School in Medford, "There are so many experiences I've never had before. I got to interview Dexter Darden [who acted in the locally produced kids movie musical, 'Standing Ovation']." Blythe Gallagher-Salamone's daughter and author of "Blythe's Blog," a popular feature of the show's website.
"It's so exciting," enthused Malorie Lazer, a sixth-grader at St. Richard's in South Philly. "I love being with my friends, and I've met a lot of great people here. It's just fun to be with all these amazing people." n