‘Footloose’ was filmed at this Utah high school 40 years ago. Now it’s being torn down.

Students at Payson High are planning one last prom where the 1984 movie was filmed — and they want Kevin Bacon to come back.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Liriel Keller, Ryland Baker, Sophie Savage and Jennie Staheli stand next to Kevin Bacon's locker from the movie "Footloose" at Payson High School on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

Payson • The halls of Payson High School haven’t changed a lot in 40 years, from when its most famous alumnus, Ren McCormick, went there.

The exposed bricks and cafeteria look much the same. The lockers, then orange, are now painted green. And there are photos and other memorabilia on display from the days when Ren was there, urging his classmates to dance.

Ren, of course, is fictional — the defiant, dance-loving teen played by Kevin Bacon in the movie “Footloose,” which was released nationwide on Feb. 17, 1984. The movie, which marks its 40th anniversary this week, was filmed at Payson High and other Utah County locations.

With the old school building scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt in spring 2025, Payson High students have launched a campaign — called “BacontoPayson” — to get the actor to return to the school this April, for prom.

The campaign started last year with the school’s student council, said Sophie Savage, a junior. With the idea to bring Bacon to town, the movie’s anniversary and the school’s imminent demolition, “everything just came together,” she said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kevin Bacon's locker below movie images from the same location.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Bacon to Payson poster at Payson High School.

Jenny Staheli, a history and English teacher and the council’s faculty advisor, said, “if you talk about a really key piece of Payson’s identity, this is it. People really just are so proud about this tie to the larger pop culture. ‘Footloose’ is just one of those things that never lost its punch and people everywhere know this movie. … It’s really been something special for this community for a long time.”

Plus, she added, who wouldn’t want Kevin Bacon at their prom?

Utah doubles for Texas

(Paramount Pictures) Lori Singer, left, and Kevin Bacon in the prom scene from the 1984 movie "Footloose," which was filmed in Utah County.

“Footloose” is set in Bomont, Texas, where Ren, a transplant from Chicago, discovers there is a town ordinance that bans public dancing and rock ‘n’ roll music within city limits. Ren leads a teen campaign against the ban, challenging the evangelical minister (John Lithgow) who lobbied for it — while starting a romance with the minister’s rebellious daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer).

Many of the movie’s iconic scenes were filmed across Utah County. The Maven Cinemas in American Fork recently compiled a list: Community Presbyterian Church in American Fork, a library courtyard at Springville High School, the former Atchafalaya nightclub in Provo (now the site of the Utah Valley Convention Center) and Lehi Roller Mills.

Payson High School, built in 1967, was where many of the movie’s school scenes were shot. Bacon and Chris Penn practiced moves in the hallways. A book-burning scene was shot in the school’s atrium.

The entire Payson High School campus is being torn down, Staheli said, because of dated infrastructure. The school has 1,600 students, in a building originally designed for 900.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The book burning scene in "Footloose" was filmed in the atrium at Payson High School.

All school year, the student council has been hosting events to mark the anniversary. They’ve held a “Footloose” movie night in the new stadium, a skate night in Spanish Fork, and renamed the annual Mr. Payson pageant “Mr. Bacon” — and the boys reenacted scenes from the movie.

Other parts of the school joined in the frenzy. The drama club staged the musical version of “Footloose” in November. A photography class has had “Footloose Friday” themes. TV production students recreated parts of the movie. A sewing class put together a Kevin Bacon letter jacket, which hangs in a hallway display.

“One of our English teachers, she was doing argument writing, and their assignment was they had to write a letter to Kevin Bacon convincing him to come to Payson High,” Staheli said. “Everybody has been on board with this.”

The locker Ren used in the film now features a memorial plaque, a pair of sunglasses and an honorary diploma for Bacon. The walls above the lockers, and around the corner where Bacon and Penn had their dance training scene, are plastered with photos from the movie.

Launching an acting career

Payson High is where Brian Wimmer got his first chance to appear in a movie.

Wimmer had met “Footloose’s” executive producer, Daniel Melnick, at Sundance resort, where Wimmer worked as a ranch hand. Wimmer asked if he could work on the set, and Melnick got him a job scouting locations, because as he puts it: as a local he knew where all the barns were.

“They paid me $3.85 an hour,” Wimmer said, “By the time I was done, I worked in every department, and then they put me in front of the camera.”

His first scene was in the Payson High parking lot. “They made me run across [the lot],” Wimmer said.

(Richard Shotwell | Invision/AP) Actor and Utah County native Brian Wimmer, seen here in 2013 at an event marking the 25th anniversary of "China Beach," made his movie debut in "Footloose" in 1984.

Wimmer showed up elsewhere in the movie — passing sacks of flour in the mill, or appearing in the final dance sequence in a gray suit and doing what he called a “karate chop” move while approaching the camera. “People still try to get me to do it,” he said.

Another move of his, he said, was one that Bacon and Penn loved, and ended up being repeated throughout the film.

“We’d come running up [to] our buddies and we would jump up in the air and bounce off each other’s chests. It was the funniest, dumbest thing you’ve ever seen,” Wimmer said. “It kind of became that ‘Footloose’ dance.”

The final dance scene, the Bomont prom at the roller mills, was where Wimmer — and his ’80s Utah County moves — really shine.

“All of those kids in the final dance sequence are all my friends,” Wimmer said. “We thought we knew how to dance.”

Wimmer said he took director Herbert Ross and the producers to the Star Palace, a Provo disco. “This was before MTV, before everybody knew what was going on,” he said. “We kind of made up our own dances. … [The filmmakers] said, ‘That’s it. That’s what we need.’”

Wimmer said he didn’t know at the time that the story required kids who had never danced before.

“I thought they hired us because we were such good dancers. It was exactly the opposite. In fact, they ended up letting go of a lot of the professional dancers because they just all had that ‘jazz hands’ thing going on,” Wimmer said. “They just had me bring all my friends and do exactly what we did at the Star Palace.”

(Paramount Pictures) Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer, center, in the prom scene from the 1984 movie "Footloose."

Payson, Wimmer said, “was the perfect place to shoot a film like this. … Those fresh, young faces from Utah County, they just had that kind of innocence that they were looking for in that small-town feel.”

Utah County’s similarities to Bomont stopped, he said, at the idea of a town that would outlaw dancing.

“Being raised in Utah County and in the LDS Church, there’s all kinds of church dances. So we did a lot of dancing as kids, but it was our version of it,” he said. “That local discotheque was our favorite thing in the world.”

“Footloose” launched Wimmer’s three-decade career in film and TV. His biggest role was as Cpl. Boonie Lanier on the acclaimed Vietnam War series “China Beach,” from 1988 to 1991. His last acting role was in “Haunt,” a 2013 horror movie filmed in Utah. Wimmer, now 64, returned to Sundance resort, where he runs a fly-fishing operation, guiding anglers on the Provo River.

Even today, people send Wimmer videos of him dancing in “Footloose,” he said. What sticks with him most is the movie’s music — the energy it provided and how it drove the film.

“The stars aligned for that film,” Wimmer said. “I really didn’t realize how big it was, and it just kept going.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kevin Bacon's honorary diploma at Payson High School.

‘You want to be who you are’

So far, there is no indication that Bacon will attend Payson High’s prom in April. But “Footloose” hasn’t been far from the actor’s mind. In December, he told Entertainment Weekly that the movie “changed his life.” A month before that, he celebrated the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike by recreating some of his iconic moves to Kenny Loggins’ famous theme song.

The student council has one last big push in their campaign to lure Bacon to prom, senior Ryland Baker said.

On the day of prom, he said, Payson students are partnering with Bacon’s nonprofit charity, sixdegrees.org — which is marking the movie’s 40th anniversary by creating and distributing 40,000 resource kits.

Staheli said the goal is for Payson students to create 5,000 kits at the high school.

Liriel Keller, a sophomore at Payson High, said her mother grew up watching the classic movies of the 1980s — and, as a result, so did she. Keller said she’s sad that the old Payson High building is being torn down, but she and her classmates agree the movie’s message is timeless.

“It’s really good to be an individual,” Keller said.

Savage added, “if everybody’s the same, that’s pretty boring.”

The message of “Footloose,” Staheli said, is one of the reasons the movie “just resonates with people still. … You want to be who you are, and you want to have the freedom to be who you are.”

(Paramount Pictures) Kevin Bacon dances in an iconic scene from the 1984 movie "Footloose."

The Salt Lake Film Society, as part of its celebration of 100 years of Utah filmmaking, is screening “Footloose” Friday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 17, at 4 p.m., at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City. Tickets are $12, available at slfs.org.