Disco Mania!

“…You say your prayers though you don’t care
You dance and shake the hurt” — Boogie Wonderland (Jonathan G. Lind/Allee Willis)

Summer 1979

The backlash against disco had begun in a Chicago ballpark and was slowly spreading across the nation. Chicago. The Windy City. An architectural wonderland with a fascinating history — not to mention deep dish pizza. But was it necessary to blow up inanimate records while chanting “Death to Disco?” Must have been a hell of a clean up job. And vinyl wasn’t the only victim. Passions, inflamed by alcohol, had been stoked a little too far. The damage was extreme, and the owners of the wretched ballpark ended up with a rather large repair bill.

Alas, 1979 had even more, terrible tragedies ahead. But that’s a matter for the history books.

That same year, there was a second British Invasion, and its impact was not as keenly felt as the first one. The twin newcomers, Punk and New Wave (which was more appropriately an American thing), began to seep into the airwaves this side of the pond. And yet, in the urban areas on both coasts, disco was still with us, still evolving, yet still the same.

Meanwhile, the City of Palo Alto began offering disco dancing lessons. Who saw that coming? But there it was in the curriculum. And there, in a dance studio, you could find my best friend, Liz, and my baby sister, Carrie, taking it all in and loving every moment. Carrie would come home and regale me about a new dance she had learned. She would teach it to me while we danced to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever on her record player. I loved dancing, having attended all school dances except one when I had the flu. Before long, we were creating our very own dance moves.

And soon enough, we would have a chance to put them to good use. But never soon enough for the destination all children want to hear.

We were going to Disneyland! DISNEYLAND! This was music to our ears, and we danced a dance of joy, if only in our hearts. We had to get started on our packing lists right away. What to wear, what to leave (and what to lose, never to be seen again). The excitement was apparently too much for me. In the middle of night, weeks before the magic journey, I surprised Carrie by loudly opening her door and staring at her. It was loud, quick, and rude. I was sleepwalking. Sleepwalking. My poor sister instinctively ducked under the covers, not knowing what would come next. A moment later, I left, just as noisily as I had entered. When she broke the news, I refused to believe it. My reasoning: if I didn’t remember it, it didn’t happen. She assured me that it did happen, and it scared the daylights out of her.

The next few weeks were a blur, but then came the blessed day. We packed ourselves and our accouterments into the large, family sized camper and headed south.

It was a long drive, and we needed to head out early to avoid traffic. Carrie and I were in the back of the camper where the main dining area was located. We played games to pass the time. These were the kind of silly games that only siblings understand. Suddenly, we were knocked out of our seats and began rolling helplessly towards the front of the vehicle. Dad had slammed on the brakes. The camper came to a dead stop on the side of the freeway, and when we had sufficiently recovered, the terrible truth revealed itself. A stray dog had ventured, unwisely, out into the middle of traffic. The side of the camper had made contact, ripping the side of the poor animal open. Dad quickly headed towards the dog, while Carrie and I watched from the back window. There were precious few moments of life left for this creature, and Dad could do nothing but provide comfort and momentary companionship.

The rest of the drive went without incident; Dad apparently shook by the experience. It took a lot to get any visible reaction out of him. He had been raised by parents of formidable, stoic Nebraskan stock. Extreme displays of emotion were shunned. Nevertheless, the incident had been one of disquietude. It was never mentioned again during that fateful trip.

As we approached Orange County, the top of the Matterhorn became visible. This elicited great excitement from Carrie and I. We pulled into a KOA campground, found our spot, parked, and finally got out to stretch our tired legs. This was followed by a quick meal and specific instructions as to the route my sister and I would follow to arrive safely at the park. We were told to wait for our parents by the monorail station — the very mode of transportation Carrie and I took, eyes wide open and hearts racing in anticipation.

Sis and I descended the long, sloping ramp of the monorail station into the most magnificent land of the magic kingdom: Tomorrowland. Futuristic architecture blended perfectly with kinetic energy supplied by the Peoplemover, the Skyway, Autopia, and the Submarine Voyage. Here was a land on the move, dynamic and engrossing. We rode the Peoplemover, weaving in and out of various buildings and landscapes. When we passed through Space Mountain, now into its third year, we noticed that the lights were on and could see everything with perfect detail. Down for maintenance. Bummer. Just as we were about to leave the cavernous building, the lights went out. It was pitch dark. We looked at each other and came to a decision, with little forethought or discussion. Space Mountain would be next on our itinerary.

We exited the Peoplemover as fast as our little legs would take us and noticed, with some disappointment, that a substantial line had already formed. No matter. We were going to be zooming through space at hyper speed. We gaped like monkeys, scarcely believing that we were here. Too soon, it was over, and as we passed through the complex, we took note of an amphitheater out in front called the Space Stage. This consisted of a stage, dance floor, and tiered seating. And you could hardly miss the advertisement at the entrance. Earth, Wind and Fire would be performing here the following evening. This would be our chance to get up and boogie!

The following day we entered Disneyland through the main entrance, brilliantly designed by Walt Disney himself. The weather was warm and was getting warmer by the hour. Nevertheless, we relished the diversions of that magical place. Plans for the evening had been drawn up, and shortly before dusk, we retired to the campground to rest, have dinner, and change into our glamorous evening clothes. For me, this included black dress shoes, black slacks, and a polychromatic, geometrically patterned, polyester disco shirt.

We took the monorail from the Disneyland Hotel into Tomorrowland, which looked even more beautiful at night. The four of us proceeded directly to the Space Stage, where the music had already started. There never was a more glamorous quartet to grace that particular corner of the park. After briefly settling down into our seats, sis and I decided we couldn’t wait another minute and made a beeline towards the dance floor. Earth, Wind and Fire, assisted by a formidable stage band, was on grooving on stage, replete with the most outlandish costumes imaginable. A sizable dance crowd, dressed to the nines, was swept along by the music. Some of them took note of the unexpected appearance of two very well-dressed children, but most were too engrossed in the dance to notice. That changed when Carrie and I began our well-rehearsed moves.

We danced together with such precision and energy that the air seemed to vibrate. Every move, every dance step took us further into a state of bliss. It was only when we broke away from the sanctioned moves that the adults began to regard us, first with amazement, and then in awe. A dance so perfect in its execution, so utterly right for that time and place must be honored. And honor was paid in the highest form of flattery possible — imitation. As the now-familiar strains of “Boogie Wonderland” drifted over the dance floor, the adults nearest us copied our moves, step by step, completely without guile or irony. My God! These kids can certainly cut it up! They smiled at us; we smiled back. It was a perfect moment in time.

Meanwhile, up in the bleachers, our parents were taking it all in, beaming with pride. Finally, Mom broke down and started crying like a baby. Dad, keeping his emotions in check, noticed that were being watched, intently, by other bleacher-bound individuals.

“Are those your children?”

“They certainly are.”

You must be very proud of them!”

“We are, indeed!”

Sis and I finally made a reluctant departure from the dance floor, exhausted but happy. Mission accomplished. Mom regained her composure and time resumed its normal flow. We made our way back to the camper and collapsed in quiet satisfaction.

Our long vacation would take us to other destinations, but that particular night would go down in our history as a nonpareil event, a singular experience of particular note. In a way, we were all dancing and shaking the hurt during the final halcyon moments of the Late Disco Age.


  1. I remember buying the leotard and wrap-around skirt I think at Sears. You got a snazzy shirt. We were cool.

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