How to Make Your Family Reunion a “Thriller"
Jelling with “Old School Jam”
How would you like to have the Tempremes, Bootsey and the Dancing Dead perform at your family reunion? Now that would be the ticket -- better than parking at the picnic table, scoffing down hot dogs and potato salad while “chewing the fat” with folks you haven’t seen in a spell.
(Vote on "Thriller" and other "Old School Jam" videos below.)
Raising the Dead for The OSJ!
About a decade ago, when we initiated our reunion, we started to think of ways to make it nostalgic without being lethargic, with a limited amount of bench warming. We knew we could add “Cupid Shuffle” in the mix, but we wanted to “Boogie on Down” to some funky music from uptown to Motown. To achieve that, we developed a dance competition among kin -- to stir up a harmonious recipe that would bind together everyone from the baby-haireds to gray-haireds.
“No Parking on the Dance Floor”
My maternal grandparents, Rev. C.A. and Gertrude, had six children, whom we affectionately labeled “The Underwood Six Pack.” Why not call the family of each Six Pack a “tribe”, we thought, reminiscent of the TV show “Survivor”? For a tribe to reign victorious, each member would need to bring it!
Belting it Out!
The tribes would select an “Old School” tune to lip-sync and choreograph. “Old School” could mean a song that was originally recorded as a ‘45 back in the day … even in the last century (such as “1999”). We specified that the songs had to have clean lyrics and content. After all, “It’s Family Affair.”
“And the Hammy Goes To…”
The winner of the Underwood OSJ would take home not a Grammy, but a “Hammy”; an original trophy skillfully fashioned from a can of Underwood Deviled Ham. As the tribes became more competitive, we upgraded our trophy to a disco ball trophy, like the one used on “Dancing with the Stars.” In our efforts to make sure that everyone felt like a winner, we created medallions by printing logos on mini CDs. These were an instant hit and became a collector’s item for family members. Over the years, the medallions gave way to homemade ”backstage passes,” which were extremely popular with “Generation Z” (Learn how to make the medallions and backstage passes in an upcoming Hub.)
Dance Panel Tapped
As the competition began to heat up, we started to search for an impartial panel of judges. We tapped local politicians such as the mayor, school board and city council members to rate our performances and award the trophy. This helped link our reunion to the community in Chester -- the South Carolina town where the reunion is held each year. We created a ballot for the panel that graded us on appearance, performance and lip sync ability.
The Stage is Set!
In order to set the scene for our OSJ contest,we used disco backdrops, retro tablecloths and painted sheets to create be-dazzling backgrounds. Our reunion “stage” varied from a state park, to a local Victorian home to a community club house. When cousin D.J. John rolled out his bass-busting stereo, everyone knew that it was going to be a serious “throwdown.”
Getting Decked Out
Each tribe came up with a group name. One was called “Loose Change”, based on the first song that they performed, “Money, Money, Money.” There were the Tempremes (a combination of the Tempations and Supremes), Quaytones, Arthurdelics and BK4 (named after family cousins).
Salvation Army Chic
We all went salvaging for cool, psychedelic and vintage “rags” and “bling” from our relatives, thrift shops and party supply stores. We also used our own hand-crafted items to create throwback costumes and props for our performances.
During the early years when we performed at the state park, we put up canopies draped with sheets so that our OSJ VIPs would have their own “dressing rooms.”
Living In America
“Come Big or Stay Home”
The very first OSJ Day was a blast and a gas! Kinsfolk began to arrive from all over the country. And even though most of us had precious little opportunity to practice, we were ready for the showdown. Tribes began to talk smack to each other, saying “ come big or stay home!” Disco Fever was “Bustin’ Loose.”
Moovin' and Groovin'
During the day, anticipation for the OSJ challenge got hot and heavy. Some townsfolk would come just to see the OSJ. The party was “outta sight!” It helped unite families for a cause, ignited a healthy contest and created laugh out loud fun. It became so popular, it was eventually scheduled as the Family Fun Day finale. In retrospect, we can hardly believe we actually did some of the shtick that appears on the videos. But we like to think that the family that moves together grooves together!