By Tim Parks
America’s current love affair with dancing can be viewed on a number of televised competition shows, and on video gaming consoles where there is a “Dance Dance Revolution” occurring.
But, these modern-day dance crazes transport me back to my formative years, where dancing reigned supreme on TV shows, like “Solid Gold” and “Dance Fever,” in a bounty of dance-floor flicks, and when the soundtrack to our lives was being provided by the likes of KC & The Sunshine Band, ABBA and high-pitched intonations of The Bee Gees – seriously, did those boys have severe wedgies to attain those notes?
The gateway to heaven lay behind a velvet rope, if you were lucky enough to get into the ultimate hot spot, Studio 54. Unfortunately, only being ten at the time of its height, I wasn’t able to dance the night away with Liza Minnelli or Michael Jackson – although he would have enjoyed that.
Shaking one’s booty also reminds me of the ’80s, when I moved to a small town, where dancing was verboten! Still, I took it upon myself to teach the kids in the town to defy that law, even going so far as to educate one strapping lad one-on-one about the fine art of dance, to the tune “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” Oh wait…that happened in Footloose.
Anyhoo, here’s a homo-age to the TV shows and movies that made had us feel mighty real; back in the day when men could be either regular turkeys or of the jive variety, and the ladies were stone-cold foxy.
Tough Guys Do Dance?
During the 1970’s, lines to get into the free clinic must have been around the block! No, it’s not because there was a major gonorrhea outbreak! Ok, maybe that had a little to do with it, but more than likely it was because mid-decade, the country was in the grips of boogie fever!
And, that fever began on a Saturday night, with John Travolta donning a white suit and strutting his stuff in Saturday Night Fever in 1977, duh.
This celluloid phenomenon not only ushered in the disco craze, it added another interesting dynamic to films; the tough guy with something to prove…by dancing (which would also be featured in Footloose and Dirty Dancing– more on those later)! Um, that seems pretty gay, if you ask me!
Travolta repeated this formula again, this time including singing to his tough guy repartee, as “bad boy” Danny Zuko in Grease – geez, Stockard Channing as Rizzo was butcher than he was.
And then there was his turn in the sequel to Fever, Staying Alive, where rather than wearing his traditional Tony Manero suit; Travolta had a matching loincloth and headband ensemble, which went along nicely with his very tight body, which was oiled to a high gloss. Yeah, you don’t want to mess with him, he’ll choreograph you within an inch of your life! It’s safe to say these three films are the root of where his being on our team rumors began.
I’m Comin’ Out…Into Your Living Room!
Travolta-lite, “TV Personality” (don’t you have to have a personality to be considered one?) Deney Terrio did the hosting duties on “Dance Fever” in 1979, until he was replaced by Adrian Zmed, circa 1985 – ouch, low blow!
No, not for Terrio, for the show itself, which upon its premiere, had couples competing to be the greatest dancers. Usually, these “couples” were a gay guy and his gal pal, and I’ll bet there were jabs like this said underneath their breath – “Pick up the pace, Jenny, you’re holding me back!” To which Jenny would respond, “Shut up, Terry! Are those my leotards you’re wearing?”
Speaking of what they were wearing…rather than sporting Halston, Gucci or even Fiorucci, some of the contestants donned plastic clothing – and wouldn’t that just be a lose/lose situation, whereas chafing is concerned?
Costumes and signature dance moves (so dramatic!) were just a part of the charm of “Solid Gold,” which began as a special in 1979, as well, before coming into our homes each week from 1980 through 1988, with hosts such as Dionne Warwick, Marilyn McCoo, and even Andy Gibb.
But, the real stars of the show were “The Solid Gold Dancers,” who didn’t even need to knock before entering our living rooms, especially when gays-in-training took a gander at original male dancers Alex Cole and Tony Fields. Yes, there were other dancers aside from Darcel Wynne, who seems to be the most recognized one – but she was fierce, so it’s understandable.
But, back to the men (my personal favorite was Mark Sellers) – they were just so bendy as they helped countdown the week’s Top Ten songs; and young gay boys didn’t need “Bette Davis Eyes” to figure out what they were seeing was sealing their fate as gay men in the future.
Clams on the half shell and roller-skates…roller-skates, and other assorted disco sundries
Another strain of boogie fever that sprang from Saturday nights was the roller skating fad.
No movie more deftly captured the spirit of this four-wheeled trend than 1979’s Roller Boogie starring Linda Blair, the incomparable Jimmy Van Patten, and introducing Jim Bray as Bobby James – this was his only screen credit, by the way.
Hopefully, you know sarcasm when you read it, because this flick clocked in at a whopping two hours and fifteen minutes, and needed to be trimmed higher than Blair’s satin shorts! Something else that needed to be trimmed was Blair’s waistline, ’cuz you can see the strain on Bray’s face when he literally has to heft her above his head.
The film’s plotline revolves around a group of kids (who go everywhere with their trusty skates on) stopping corrupt forces that want to shut down their favorite roller rink, and Cher provided the title track “Hell On Wheels” – wonder why she doesn’t sing it live?
And what ’70s flick would be complete without the TBG (Token Black Guy) who cries out, upon hearing of the possible demise of the skating rink, “What are we gonna do about the boogie contest?” Ah, words to live by, really!
Skatetown, U.S.A., also released in 1979, is most notable for the first-ever screen appearance by Patrick Swayze! Plus there was a veritable who’s-who cast, including Maureen McCormick, Scott Baio, and Ruth Buzzi; all of whom must have been biding their time between guest star stints on “The Love Boat.”
Xanadu has got to be the pen ultimate of roller skating flicks. And, while I love me some Olivia Newton-John, all I can say about this weird fusion of old school meets new school dance movie, is it is one big Xanadon’t! It had a great soundtrack, though, as did Thank God It’s Friday, with songs by Diana Ross, Thelma Houston and one of the films stars, Donna Summer. Unfortunately, the soundtrack outsold the movie, putting on hold its proposed sequel, Bennigan’s: The Musical! Oh, T.G.I. Fridays wasn’t about the restaurant business, but a disco contest? My bad!
Surprisingly, Can’t Stop The Music starring The Village People was not nominated for an Oscar, as we were to believe the “Macho Man” crooners were straight – and, that’s why they call it acting! Yes, their musical number set at the YMCA, had me thinkin’ they were gonna do it with co-star Valerie Perrine, amongst all of the naked guys in the locker room. The flick also starred Steve Guttenberg and Bruce Jenner, who wore a pair of Daisy Dukes and a half-shirt – surprisingly it wasn’t a horror movie, as I can’t get that scary image out of my head!
But, horror movies were catching the fever. Case-in-point, Jamie Lee Curtis’ disco dance routine in Prom Night, which was the most frightening part of the movie!
Even when it was boldly proclaimed that disco sucks (um, does not!) at a “death-to-disco” bonfire during a baseball game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park Arena on July 12th, 1979, dance movies still forged ahead.
In 1980 Fame assured film audiences that we would remember its name, with its tale of students attending the New York City High School for the Performing Arts.
I wasn’t all that surprised that Flashdance star Jennifer Beals would later star in “The L Word.” I mean her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and leg warmer wearin’ character was a welder-by-day-and-dancer-by-night, which seems ripe with lesbian overtones, no? Alas, she was straight and did some very interesting shows – the most memorable being the pouring water on herself dance sequence.
But, what if she had been shuckin’ and jivin’ for tips at a lesbian club, say, The Clambake, for instance? What a feeling, indeed!
The same thing could be said of Footloose, with Kevin Bacon as the new kid in a town that dreads gettin’ down. This film should have been written with a gay main character, as Bacon and male co-star, Chris Penn, exhibit more sexual chemistry, than Bac-O-Bits and female lead, Lori Singer. Who was the first one to hug Bacon after he wins a tractor chicken race? Penn, of course!
Plus, to blow off steam, Bacon does a very kicky dance routine, complete with gymnastics moves – how very hetero of him. Even though Footloose is one of my all-time faves, I do have a few bones of contention to pick with it.
For instance, in a town that is super religious – why do all of the kids lose their shit when they string up and plug in simple Christmas lights for their prom? Additionally, there are a number of kids that knew how to break dance – yet they had no MTV?
Perhaps they were visited by the casts of Beat Street, Breakin’ and its sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo?
These 1984 films, much like their 1970’s counterparts, set out to capitalize on current obsessions in dancing; this time, it was for those about to pop and lock, and featured (starring is too kind a word) the likes of “Kool Herc,” “Shabba-Doo” and “Boogaloo Shrimp.” Look closely in the Breakin’ sequel and you can spot me as “T ’N Krumpin’.” Just kidding…or am I?
Ironically, a film set in the 1960’s would restore some luster to dance movies of the ’80s, as 1987’s Dirty Dancing, set the box-office ablaze, and again brought up that flaming question: is a man who wears leotards less of a man? Well, Patrick Swayze did seem to fill his out nicely, and there was definite chemistry between him and Jennifer Grey’s old nose – which you are not to put in the corner, by the way! So, it’s just a matter of taste, I suppose.
Hairspray was John Waters’ introduction into the world of mainstream cinema, as it didn’t involve its star Divine eating a doggie turd ala Pink Flamingos, but rather “a pleasantly plump” Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, the “baddest white dancer in Baltimore.” Her character not only manages to snag the hottest guy on “The Corny Collins Show” away from arch rival Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick – where you been hiding out, girl? Apparently, she has been doing both small acting roles and even writing for TV shows and movies!), but she leads the charge to intergrate the “Negro day is the last Thursday of the month” portion of the show into one cohesive Oreo. Plus, the movies also highlights the importance of good hygiene – would you want to be accused of having roaches in your hair? I didn’t think so!
Cut!Print! That’s A Wrap!
The reason for this dance down memory lane is a strange happenstance of “Solid Gold” coming up in interviews with Margaret Cho, Chelsea Handler and, of course, Dionne Warwick. Oh, did I just drop those names? Let me pick them back up. But, it did seriously make me think back fondly about disco days (and beyond) gone by, and how they molded me into the man I am today. Thanks a lot Diana Ross! Until next time, that’s all of the news that’s fit to print!