Throwback Thursday is a weekly series in which we look back on pop culture oddities worth revisiting.
The recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? looks back on the life of Fred Rogers and the hopefully TV neighborhood he created and has garnered rave reviews. I haven’t seen it yet, because the trailer alone made me teary eyed and I’m not sure I’m mentally ready to spend 90 minutes crying in a public place.
Now, there’s a clip in the trailer where Mr. Rogers appears to be doing a classic breakdancing wave and I had to find out what that was all about. Did Mr. Rogers really breakdance? Well, sorta. The breakdancing clip comes from a 1985 episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which America’s favorite neighbor is sitting on his porch and spots his young friend Jermaine heading off to breakdancing practice. Mr. Rogers stops the boy and asks if he wouldn’t mind showing his “TV neighbor” a bit of breakdancing. Mr. Rogers even gets in on the action, mildly, when he practices waving and even does an impressive beginner’s moonwalk.
While Mr. Rogers is content to watch Jermaine breakdance, this clip shows one of the things that made the late TV great so wonderful. He was the rarest of things, a cool square; always down to meet new people and learn new things despite his buttoned up appearance and teetotaler lifestyle. The then 56 year old Rogers wants to know more about breakdancing and is absolutely fascinated by the moves Jermaine busts out. I’m not suggesting that Mr. Rogers started listening to the Fat Boys after taping this episode, but he’s definitely enjoying this brush with hip-hop culture. That’s not something you could say about most older white folks in 1985, or now.