The Stage that Walt Built

Written by MiceChat Staff. Posted in Disney, Disney History

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Published on May 19, 2013 at 2:00 am with 12 Comments

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:

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12 Comments

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  1. This is fantastic! Very well done. Great tribute to the stage and the people who made Disneyland swing dancing a community activity.

    I’m sure there is much happiness that swing will return to the stage this summer!

  2. Very cool, I must admit I always thought that was a misused space and thought the princess idea was a good one for what it provided especially during daytime hours.Now seeing this I kinda had a change of heart, kinda…. I do think its a great that Disney is bringing back the swing and will look at it completely differently from now on . Its nice that there is this documentary to let us that were so jaded to open our eyes and see what was really there, a lot of history. I do believe that its still the same floor and is still a place were Walt danced.So let the Swing continue.

  3. Thanks for posting this!!! Great job!

  4. One of the first comments I posted on MiceChat was a stupid one showing my ignorance, about how I didn’t get what swing dancing had to do with Disney or Disneyland. Being a kid in the 60′s, what adults did was pretty much off my radar. And somehow the idea of Walt dancing still doesn’t fit with my memories of him from TV. Disneyland means so much to so many, and all of it is precious, so glad to see what’s important to guests preserved…even if some of us never quite understood.

  5. I love this area when its used for swing dancing and the big band sound. I instantly fell in love with it one Summer a few years back. I hope to take my wife back so I can take her out there and do a little dancing.

  6. I do hope they saved the Carnation Plaza Gardens lighted sign and maybe can work it back into the dance stage (maybe with a curtain over it for non dance daytimes) area to show they are serious about bringing Swing Dancing back for us Arthur Murray Graduates and Carnation Addicted to Dance Swingers like Walt was.

  7. I worked a bunch of Guest Control shifts at Carnation Plaza Gardens for swing dancing in the late 1990′s/early 2000′s. I had some of my most difficult Guest concerns and situations to resolve during those shifts; they look like fun and friendly folks from 20 feet away, but several of the “regulars” had a very distinct opinion that Carnation Plaza Gardens was their personal property and a little lowly CM wasn’t to tell them what they could or couldn’t do, where they could or couldn’t sit, where a crowd control rope was supposed to go and at what time it was supposed to be put up, etc., etc.

    Just wanted to mention that for many CM’s who worked Guest Control shifts there when swing dancing was super-popular about 10 years ago, it wasn’t all sweetness and light and Walt-infused. I think if Walt had seen the attitudes on display, heard the comments from a few of the regulars, and seen how they treated the CM’s assigned to that location, he would have pulled the plug on the scene around 1999. It mellowed out after the swing dance craze ran its course in the last decade, but it’s a group that have very definite opinions about their place in park society.

    • You must really hate the Gardens. From the swing dancing to the children groups that performed there, you don’t have many good things to say about it.

  8. I was about to give up my passes…until this. The return of swing dancing at Disneyland means to me that there is heart still left in the park. As things have sometimes strayed and/or become homogenized and (tis true, unreasonably) expensive I didn’t see the point or feel a reason for going to the park anymore-faintly disillusioned and more than broken hearted. I felt, “done”.

    But the pulse of the park is back!

    Thank you to the folks at Disneyland that made this happen~we truly appreciate the gesture and hope that you continue to see the value in having history arm in arm with reinvention…

    Also, grab your dancing shoes and go for a spin~you might see what all the fuss was about :)

  9. This was fantastic. Thanks for sharing!!

  10. This was a delightful tribute to watch. Thank you!

  11. I too am really happy that Swing Dancing is back at Disneyland. I hope that it continues as a regular Friday and Saturday night tradition, heck, even add Sunday night too. I really love the idea of putting the Carnation Plaza Gardens Sign on Stage, perhaps behind the band, during the evenings. It’s also good to note, Disneyland built the Princess Fantasy Fair Village around the original Plaza Gardens Stage and dancefloor, it’s still there, even the original floor, under the carpet and benches used during the day for the Royal Theatre Stage Shows. It seems that Disneyland has intended on continuing this tradition, lets hope that they follow through. I know I’ll be there this Summer!