ELMORE CITY — Mary Ann Temple-Lee helped her daughter get ready for prom last weekend — a rite of passage she almost missed out on as a teenager.
Growing up in Elmore City, Temple-Lee, 48, attended a Methodist church and developed a love for dancing at an early age. At the time, she said most of the city residents were strongly opposed to dancing and proms.
Elmore City Clerk Lisa Rollings, 47, said the city had an ordinance that banned public dancing. She said most of the opposition stemmed from strict religious beliefs.
In 1980, Temple-Lee joined several other classmates in a push for a junior-senior prom. Their efforts inspired the 1984 Hollywood film “Footloose,” starring Kevin Bacon, and brought national attention to Elmore City.
“I don't think it really ever dawned on everybody,” Rollings said. “You mean we can't dance? It had never occurred before that we couldn't.”
Temple-Lee said her father, Raymond Temple, was the president of the school board at the time and vowed to help her and her classmates.
“Dad taught us the most important thing is to respect your neighbors and opinions,” she said. “After the prom they're still going to be your neighbors. 30 years from now they're still going to be your neighbors.”
Raymond Temple made good on his promise to help when one of Temple-Lee's classmates and high school sweetheart, Leonard Coffee, 49, began asking about holding a dance that spring.
“I was the one to strike the match,” Coffee said. “I didn't realize that Elmore City didn't have a prom.”
He and other students were respectful of religious beliefs and opposing views, he said. Their actions weren't as rebellious as the characters portrayed in the film.
“We tried to win folks over with respect, not defiance,” Coffee said.
In March 1980, the school board voted 3-2 to allow the students to hold a prom. Raymond Temple was the deciding vote.
“Thirty years ago (it) was to provide a safe environment for our children. Today it's the same way,” Temple-Lee said.
Since 1980, Elmore City has had a prom every year, Rollings said. She even organized the second one when she was a junior.
“It was just a piece of cake for us to step in and do it,” she said. “They set a very good example.”
After the prom, the law banning public dancing remained on the books, but eventually disappeared, Rollings said.
Even though the prom involved dancing, Coffee said they were able to work around the public dancing ban because it was a private school function.
To celebrate the city's history, people from all over are invited Saturday to attend the annual Footloose Festival and show off some of their moves in streets.
“You never want to forget where you came from,” Coffee said. “This is one way of remembering.”
Rollings said the first festival was held in 2010 on the 30th anniversary of the first prom. City residents then decided to make it an annual event.
The festival will kick off about 8 a.m. Saturday with a pancake breakfast. Throughout the day there will be a variety of activities, including a disco cake decorating contest, musical performances and dance contests at 104 S Main St.
Rollings said the cast of the Hennessey High School production of “Footloose” will present an encore presentation at 8 p.m. The cast recently filmed a YouTube video of a dance performance to Kenny Loggins song “Footloose” that went viral online.
Looking back, Rollings said the prom and experience was something she'll never forget.
“What if we had not got that accomplished? Would they still not be dancing here in this town?” Rollings said. “Sometimes I think there's just youth that have an appointment with destiny.”