It was the longest, continuous running swing dancing venue in the United States and possibly the world. Louis Armstrong played there. Walt Disney danced there. It was located in California’s most iconic location, Disneyland. It was the Carnation Plaza Gardens. While the stage was forever altered with the addition of Fantasy Faire Village, the memories and history of Carnation Plaza stage has been captured forever in a remarkable little documentary that we are delighted to share with you today.

In April of 2012, just before the final night of swing was held at the historic venue, plans were set into motion to produce a non-profit documentary, which would forever document the history, stories, and memories of the people who brought this location to life.

This film would be given the title, ‘The Stage Walt Built’ and celebrated its premiere Friday night at the Atomic Ballroom in Irvine, among swing enthusiasts and Carnation regulars.

To make this film, the producers sat down with nine long-time patrons of the Carnation Plaza Gardens selected by Cheryl Gilbert, who runs a several pages on Facebook to keep swinger’s up to date on Disney dancing events. Throughout the process, over six hours of footage were captured. All of these stories, moments, and memories had never before been shared online. The youngest interviewed was Rachel McEuen, who was introduced to swing dancing for medical reasons. One of the oldest couples share a name known to all regulars: Phyl and Bill.

Those interviewed shared personal and touching stories about how the Carnation Plaza Gardens changed their lives for the better:

Phyllis: The thing that keeps coming back to me is when, in the early days of TV, Arthur Murray the dancing teacher had a show. Never thought I’d ever be dancing. But Arthur’s wife Katherine would always end the show with, put a little fun in your life try dancing, and I thought, oh I wish I could. And then our move to CA made it so possible, so much fun, so convenient, we can go in shorts if we want to if it’s hot.

 

Denise: When My daughter Rachel was in fifth grade, she caught a very rare blood disorder for her age,… it was really hard, she didn’t want her peers at school knowing what was going on, but talking to administrators and everyone cautiously watching her, and getting transfusions and blood tests taken for a year, she couldn’t play sports, and when she got better her friend said, there’s this thing called swing dancing, just take her there, so I did and she got hooked.
Alex: I think that it goes beyond the shoes and the floor and the sounds, what you take away from dancing, especially swing dancing in this case at Disneyland, it’s something that affects your life in general, it makes you feel better, I can’t tell you how many times I had a bad day or a bad week and I would go swing dancing and when I got out of there tired and sweaty having just danced for hours, I felt absolutely elated, and the people obviously without us there is nothing, so having your best friends there being able to talk and converse and then not only just having a conversation but saying would you like to dance, there’s just something about that that you’re never going to be able to have in another form.
Marina: I remember meeting sons who all came to Disneyland for their mom’s birthday, and they all lived all over the country, a couple lived in Canada, and they all came, they heard that Carnation was closing and they were really sad, so we said come back next year and we will dance. So you get to meet all walks of people who can impact your life.

Walt Disney once said that as long as he was alive, swing dancing would never leave Disneyland. On Friday, May 17, Disneyland announced the ‘limited time’ return of it’s Saturday night swing parties to the Carnation Plaza, now dubbed the Royal Theatre.

Cast Members even took the time to call up vocal members of the Disney Dance Community to share the good news. Even so, there is still the question of what this ‘limited run’ means. Hopefully, it will become permanent once again.

Now it’s your turn to experience the most complete archive of the history, legacy, and heritage that began when Walt Disney introduced swing dancing to his beloved park in 1956.  We are delighted to share the entire documentary with you here: