Eying the straight jeans tucked into the boots, the long sweaters, the dolman sleeves, the platform shoes and disco ball I recently saw in a store, I knew the sales woman, who looked 25, had no idea of what life was like here in New York City in the late 70’s and 80’s. A young taxi driver treated me like royalty because I told him I had seen “Queen” in concert, and I just couldn’t bring myself to rattle off all the rock concerts I had been to-or tell him that later, I had spent every Friday night dancing at the clubs: Studio 54, Xenon, Ice Palace. I have happy memories of my girlfriend and I prepping and primping for Friday night, THE night, OUR night. It took days to figure out what we would wear, to find the perfect belt, shoes, or to figure out what we were doing with our hair; we bought Paul Mitchell “SCHPRITZ” (which was really glue in a plastic pump pray bottle) by the gallon, so we could go dancing.
When I approach the step climber in the gym, my iPod is my master and Donna Summer ‘s ” Enough is Enough” is still enough to get the blood pumping through me… If you see me up there, swaying and rotating with moves that would defy the average person’s (of my age) balance… I promise I will not fall. I can dance, step, and read at the same time.
In the early 80’s I was an aerobics flunkie, and I am no runner– I am more like a pile driver when I do run…. I even tried pole dancing –but I was like Lucille Ball on pot when I approached the pole, gracefully reached up, hoisted myself onto it, and promptly fell, bruising my arm and leg on the way down. I am, to say the least bored by walking on a loop, so the treadmill is not for me. Forget spinning to nowhere… no can do. But when I am “stepping” that low center of gravity is, very useful. Some mornings I can be found in the gym, quite early, gyrating on the machine, reading glasses perched on my nose and a day’s worth of e-mail, trade papers and other stuff to pour through piled up on the floor next to me. Throwing the papers down from my lofty mount I make piles of the must keeps, and the disposable. Along with everything that floods my morning mind, it never occurs to me to care what anyone who sees this routine might think. I occasionally let loose the sounds of pieces of songs, and have provoked a few “SHUT UPS” from my fellow exercisers. But I don’t care. I am not embarrassed.
Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and think it is really pathetic or funny or maybe both, as I hope for one more year of my butt defying gravity and notice that my arms still look pretty good to me considering I am a Jewish woman of a certain age. I can’t afford to do what Demi Moore did –I am stuck with my elbows and knees for a lifetime.
The only images I have of myself dancing as a child were from my father’s 8 mm movie footage. There I was in ballet class, the whole class moving right, and I was going left, my finger up my nose. My sister became the ballerina, and I got piano lessons, guitar lessons, art lessons-anything to keep me from dancing –there was a reason for that-Recently at my company holiday party, as soon as the disco tunes started spinning, my young, and I mean very young dance partner whispered ” I don’t know how to dance like this, ” (Even though he did…) and I whispered back, ” I am the Dancing Queen, I won’t let you down…” Nine dances later, they were calling us John (Travolta) and Olivia (Newton John –) there is something to be said for that-considering I was absolutely born in a year when I could have been my partner’s mother. All the women I worked with thought I need a young guy, so I fulfilled their fantasy.
In 1977, I came to New York to attend NYU. It was an era that has never left me. The end of The Vietnam war in 1975 gave license to a generation of dreamers and schemers to do our own thing… The anger and fighting was over… The clothes, the make-up the hair, the music, the drugs the pre-AIDS promiscuity, Jane Fonda’s videos, all lent a certain allure and importance to the new found freedom of the era. The dancing sanctified it…When I arrived in New York I was really a hybrid, part aspiring Jewish American Princess, part activist, part hippie/bohemian artist, writer. It was here, through my love of clothes and make-up and my love of dancing that my true identity was born. I was at Bond’s, The Underground, The Limelight, Max’ Kansas City, and of course Studio and Xenon. If I am totally cool at all, I am totally cool for that. (Well maybe not totally cool) this information admittedly makes me old by lots of people’s standards. And yes Rent and Chorus Line were my favorite plays.
Those clubs created a platform for Madonna, Cher, Donna Summer, and a new kind of socializing that no matter where you went, it was all about how sexy you could look, and how many drugs you could do, and get yourself home at least by the next afternoon.. The man in the white suit was “the man…” no tie, lots of chest, chains and even tattoos. Unlike today’s techno, we had moves and the moves were everything. My girlfriend and I practiced all the best moves on each other, and our weekend attire– Gold lame, leopard skin, sequined bandeau tops, fat belts, stretch halter jumpsuits and lots of white and glimmer shimmer that glowed under the lights.
The door-screening policies of the era added that last element of excitement– to be rejected at the door would be the total failure of a whole week’s work. Better be model pretty and dressed right. Disco wear was never EVER acceptable for day wear, but for night it was the only possible way to be part of the action, and the more baudy and crazy and bosomy and glittery, the better. A man’s white satin jacket and a medallion resting on a tanned chest with an open neck shirt and the collar turned up, now vile and de rigueur, was considered hot.
In those days “Starbuck” was still just a figment of Charles Dickens imagination, an ATM was probably a sex toy, the concept of an “internet” probably lived in the bowels of some government, underground cavern. An “i-pod” would have been the definition of something botanical, “Twitter” would certainly be something describing post orgasm movements, “Facebook” would have been a magazine and research was still done in a library. (I had to learn the Dewey Decimal System-THE WHAT?) If we wanted to “hook up” we had to call our friends on a land line, and even wait for the phone not to be “busy”. Pay phones were actually a major convenience and not the obsolete relics they are today.
Barnes and Noble had one store in Greeenwich Village. Crazy Eddie on Greenwhich Ave. was the best place to buy a TV in New York City. And the idea of a superstore like Circuit City, or Best Buy or Comp USA (two of which are now failed) were all conveniences of the malls; if you had asked any of us, we would have bet money you never would have seen one of those in New York City. The subways were filthy and slow, their windows cracked, walls covered with graffiti and filled with the stench of homeless people (come to think of it, where did all those homeless people go?)
For we who grew up loving the Monkees and Mike Connor in Mannix and thought Isaac Hayes had the sexiest voice on the planet, we had our long hair cut into layers and were blowing it into carefully pulled coifs with that perfect back flip twist to give it the Farah Fawcett look. Charlie’s Angels were hot, Brooke Sheilds made her gorgeous entry as nothing came between her and her “Calvins”. Cher was still the “foxiest” thing around (when was the last time you heard that word?) in her Bob Macky dresses, Washington Square park (where I lived) was the center of the drug world and the whole world as far as I was concerned. Soho was cool and where the artsist’s hung out and where we would go to look in the shops and eat in the chic restaurants.
Sam Shepard was the new, edgy hot young playwright. Stephen Sondheim was doing his thing….Star Wars, The Deer Hunter, Annie Hall and Sophie’s Choice were the Oscar contenders and a young actress named Meryl Streep was being discovered. We didn’t have seven screens in a household, we had one, and even if our TV’s were big and bulky and black and white, we all knew where we were when President Kennedy was shot…and we all made sure we had a TV the day MTV launched. The first Cable systems were transmitted by large antennas – there were no satellites and no satellite radio.. A walkie Talkie was about as close to a cell phone as any of us would get and those were reserved for skiers or children. Had someone been sitting next to me in bar in the mid seventies and described my life tethered to a Blackberry, I would have asked that person what drugs they had in their drink, how could a fruit have given me instant connectivity over every aspect of my life? By the time I graduated college, Jennifer Beals was the hottest woman on the planet in Flashdance, with those cut shouldered sweatshirts, and her legwarmers…and then, she was an all grown up lesbian in the L word… go figure… guys…
I remember my first Sushi date, and my friend talking me through tasting the Wasabi -a journey that would change my life….
Blondie was the hot entry into the Punk scene with ex Max’s Kansas city waitress Debra Harry considered one of the sexiest women on the music scene. Debra Harry is 64 years old now. Betsy Johnson is 68 and about a mainstream as it gets and Patricia Feld dressed the girls in Sex in The City.
Even if I was drinking and drugging, and sexing it up… I got to work every day and I still have a decent work ethic. I can still see how the Jane Fonda burn contributed to my higher good, like it did in those classic workout videos. And so, when Dancing Queen here, steps up on those machines, the disco ball might have crashed down a long time ago, but I know, despite the fact that I obsess and fantasize about all the bodily changes that could make any plastic surgeon rich, my generation is the wealthiest, healthiest and most capable of changing the world… we gave over 100 billion dollars to charities last year, and that even with all the “threatening” and anxiety provoking things going on in the world, I am a part of all the goodness. I have NO complaints, and even if I look ridiculous in the gym, I love my i-pod, I love life and my neighbors who can see me through their windows will tell you-I am still dancing.