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Is Footloose Really Based On A True Story?

Since its release in 1984, "Footloose" has endured as one of the defining blockbusters of the '80s. While its critical reception was decidedly mixed, director Herbert Ross' kinetic blitz of superbly choreographed dance sequences, paired with a hit-packed soundtrack from artists like Kenny Loggins and Deniece Williams, netted over $80 million at the box office. The film also launched Kevin Bacon to stardom, after he initially gained recognition for hit films like "Friday the 13th" and "Diner" earlier in the decade.

Part of the appeal of "Footloose" is the entertaining kitschiness of its premise, in which a dance-crazed kid from Chicago named Ren (Bacon) moves to a rural town, only to find out that dancing is outlawed by the strict Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). Given how famously implausible its plot is, many might assume that "Footloose" is entirely a work of fiction. But in fact, the movie's story actually bears resemblance to real-life incidents that occurred not long before its release.

A small Oklahoma town provided the inspiration

As it turns out, "Footloose" was partially based on a true story of Elmore City, Oklahoma that occurred in 1979, only five years before the film's release. From its very founding in 1898, the town outlawed dancing in order to mitigate alcohol consumption and lively activity (via BBC). 

In 1979, senior students at Elmore High School challenged the ordinance in order to have a prom. Their demand was met with indignation by the city council members, headed by a local minister who considered dancing a Satanic practice. The issue was resolved a year later by the city's school board, with a tiebreaking vote cast by a rancher who concisely proclaimed: "Let 'em dance." In a denouement that reads more like a movie plot than real life, the town is now recognized for its dance tradition over four decades later (via 405 Magazine). 

Elmore City wasn't the only small town with such an ordinance. Just two years later in 1981, Lynden, WA passed one that banned dancing at any event or place where alcohol would be served (via UPI). The issue received national attention, and many residents believed "Footloose" was also inspired by it.