Although it appears as this Corona virus is beginning to be winding down in many ways, Walt Disney World, abet opened is still in a “Phased Opening” mode. Our favorite place in the world is accessible, but there are many restrictions, i.e. you must obtain a “Reservation” even for Annual Passholders to get into the parks. Once in, many of our Disney favorites are on hiatus, parades, shows, meet and greets, and buffets and restaurants have limited menus. Hopefully, soon all will be as it was in the Happiest Place on Earth. Which causes me to yearn for the halcyon days of pre-corona. So, let’s take a look at one the most under-advertised and perhaps the best of Walt Disney’s idea of a typical turn-of the-century entertainment venue, the Barbershop Quartet, AKA the “Dapper Dans” …
For as long as I can remember going down Main St. in the Magic Kingdom, I would always encounter a group of four gentlemen performing a Barbershop Quartet routine in front of the Main St. Bakery. I could not help think how perfect they fit in, with this turn-of-the century setting that Walt Disney had envisioned. With period costumes, and a curious instrument they used (More on that later!), made complete what anyone would expect on a street in Americana, circa 1910. Walt’s Main St. is small town America, and the Atmosphere is complete with the Dapper Dans!
But I could never find any information on this group, they were not even mentioned in the Times Guide and Information pamphlet at the Kingdom. That’s when I decided that a little detective work was in order. I had to get the lowdown on this little unadvertised gem. So, a while back after enjoying another of the Dapper Dans performances, I walked up and asked if they would give me a little history on their group. These talented and personable gentlemen were gracious enough to sit down and give me their valuable time to tell me about the Dapper Dans.
So, before I go any further, let’s examine the History of the Dapper Dans and How it all got started. When Walt first dreamed of Disneyland and his “Main St”, which was to serve as a nostalgic getaway from real life, where guests could stroll in another era, unencumbered with real life’s problems and relax, Walt drew upon his memories of when he spent four years of his childhood in the farming community of Marceline, Missouri. Walt would recall later that he spent the happiest and most influential years of his childhood on that farm. It was those experiences that influenced many of Walt’s ideas and decisions, hence the idea of a “Main St.” for the Magic Kingdom.
The “Dans” were first started in Disneyland in Anaheim California in 1957 when Disneyland’s Tommy Walker contacted Park talent supervisor Chuck Carson and said that the park needed a Barbershop Quartet. Singers were than recruited and the quartet was formed. Bub Thomas, an old Vaudevillian from the 1940’s gave the group its name. More than a hundred singers participated in the group over the years. The Dapper Dans of Disneyland have a rich legacy that continues today.
The Dapper Dans of Walt Disney World also have a rich and storied past. They started on September 23rd, 1971 performing for cast members and their families a week before the grand opening of Walt Disney World. They are also are noted for the introduction of the Deagan Organ Chimes (That “curious” instrument), introduced in 1971. I had the good fortune to speak to Neel Tyree and the rest of the Dans who gave me some insight on the group here at WDW. At present there are eight main singers of the quartet and about 13 substitutes. The WDW Dans were responsible for bringing into the act, the Deagan Organ Chimes which look like small hand-held Organ pipes. This instrument was patented in 1900. They work by shaking it, which emits the sound. Neel explained that each Dan carries two chimes, times 4 men gives you the 8 notes of the “C” scale. The group performs in the harmonious style found in traditional Barbershop music. They do perform Barbershop, but with an intensity and fervor that captivates audiences. This talented group also tap dances, jokes with the crowd and uses their straw hats as props in humorous skits. The Dapper Dans are constantly interacting with the guests; they can sing to one child in the crowd, to a whole family, or the whole street! Few cast members are afforded this kind of contact with guests. That is why they are considered the “Ambassadors of Main St.”.
Not every singer can become a Dapper Dan. They must be well-rounded performers. They must move well, sing and harmonize well and a positive personality is a must. They must relate to people without any hesitation, and this type of singer with these qualifications is rare indeed. The eight performers are: Group number one with Dan, Ken, Neel and Arron and Group two with Drew, Steve, Chad and Kevin. Though their routine usually stays the same for both groups, they improvise with comedy and vaudeville-style humor. They usually practice (Both teams) about 3 hours on Wednesday, and it is on this day that both groups can be heard. Although small in size, the Dapper Dans are big on entertainment and even bigger in their “Disney Magic”. So, the next time you stroll down Main St, keep an eye and ear out for the Dapper Dans, they are a “Must See”.
In addition to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the Dans also performed at Hong Kong Disneyland in Lantau Island, Hong Kong (from 2005 to 2008). A group from England also performed at Disneyland Paris from the opening in 1992 until 1995 and were known as The Main Street Quartet.
So, Walt’s dream of “Main Street” Americana in Disneyland and Disneyworld are a reality! One just has to walk down Main St. in the Magic Kingdom, stroll past the Victorian storefronts, the gaslight lamps and the horse-drawn streetcars, and when you hear the sounds of the Dapper Dans, you are on Main St. in Marceline Missouri, circa 1910!