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.
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