Joseph is 56 years old, and is the second to youngest of seven children, six of them being girls. Having only sisters, and six of them at that, Joseph found himself surrounded by more dancing than he may have wished for as a young boy. Growing up, the main musical Joseph remembers seeing in theaters was The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews that came out in 1965. Paying only a couple of dollars for a ticket, he remembers watching Andrews dance around in the mountains singing the title song, “The Sound of Music.” This song should ring a bell for it is ranked tenth in the American’s Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Songs in Movie History.
Having many sisters much older than himself, meant that Joseph’s background in dance was a little before his time. While his generation was more Rock N’ Roll and informal dancing, he was more familiarized with the Jitterbug before he knew how to properly head-bang. One of his favorite memories revolving around dance is when his sisters all got together and taught each other the Jitterbug. The Strand, and other such dances. Innocently watching from the sidelines, his sisters insisted on him joining in. “My sisters practically raised me since my parents were older and working hard to make a living, so I believe dancing was a way for my sisters to just relax and let go from reality, and they always wanted me to experience that with them.”
Growing up, dancing was never a huge aspect of Joseph’s life. He never had proper training, and he never really cared to. In his world, the only time one needed to showcase adequate dance skills was at school dances and family affairs such as weddings. Though, in high school, Joseph was always more focused on perfecting his footwork at the pitcher’s mound than his footwork on the dance floor. He grew up in a smaller more conservative town, where gender roles still hung high in influencing the social norms of their community. Joseph, however, was not completely brain-washed by these ideals, for he grew up as a child in the 60s, where he learned to have love and peace for all, despite what his parents and elders may have believed at the time. In fact, he was part of the stage crew for his high school production one year, which did give him an inside look at the world of the arts.
Being from a large Irish-Catholic family, his relatives were always dancing when they all got together. As one of the younger kids and having a somewhat shy demeanor, Joseph always watched how much fun they were having and admired how free and joyous they appeared. Of course, his aunts and uncles had the help of alcohol to make them loose, but it was also the fact that everyone knew the same dances. It was the closes thing to a real-life choreographed scene that one could witness. “I could not tell what exact dances they were doing, but I just remember there were a lot. Although they are were very similar and seemed to be more like swing dancing than anything else. Over the years, I have learned some of them, but not all. It is a shame that my generation seems to be one of the last to value and perform and real dance style, and not just grinding and twerking like Miley Cyrus.”
For Joseph, his dance style did not catch up to the times until he was out of the house and the disco craze began. In 1977, the movie Saturday Night Fever came out, starring John Travolta. This movie was a huge reason why disco became as big as it did in 1978-1980. Though disco had already been an underground phenomenon since 1970. The movie just made it more openly popular amongst white middle-class heterosexuals. “Now, for me personally, I was never into the music or went to disco clubs and danced like John Travolta. Though, it was hard not to know the main moves, and it was the first time in my life that I really noticed dance being so influential in society.”
Not only did disco bring about new fashion and style trends, but also socially it accomplished amazing feats. For the first time, minorities such as Gays, Latinos, and African-Americans were able to be a part of the cultural movement. In fact, in many ways, they were part of it since the very beginning. The first New York City disco clubs were very gay-friendly, and they often became a safe place for gays to relax and enjoy themselves for who they are, free from worries. These clubs included David Manusco’s The Loft, The Gallery, and The Paradise Garage. The Latinos loved the new disco partner dancing, because in their culture two is better than one when it comes to dance. As for African-Americans, the single Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango starting playing in the city clubs in 1973 and that started the next generation of Motown soul. The blending of these three subcultures really allowed for disco to grow and expand, and take on different lives in different light, depending on who you were and where you went.
As for Joseph and other white baby boomers, their generation was yearning for their own identity and a sense of freedom. Most baby boomers only missed the sixties and its long hair, Woodstock, peace-loving ways by merely a decade. Thus, envious of not being able to partake in such a revolution in society, the youth of the 70s needed their own way of fighting the man – whether that be large scale or simply rebelling against their elders. Disco became the perfect way to unite both the baby boomers and the hippies, due to the air of sophistication that defined disco.
Disco was so different from the flower-child era, which was exactly was the baby boomers were looking for; their own identity. Everyone enjoyed this new age because dressing up and going to fancy clubs meant an escape from reality and the ability to go from being a nobody by day, to someone of importance by night. This idea is essentially the plot of Saturday Night Fever, where Travolta has a blue-collar day job, but also happens to be a disco king. Middle-class America was simply enchanted by this movement. It allowed for a sense of equality between both social classes and races, and an overall social movement. Disco became so big that it quickly spread to Europe and parts of Asia. At the time, Disco was futuristic and fun. Clubs were lit up colorfully, and were home to the latest and greatest technology available at the time.
Even if you were not on dancing, simply being at these places was an experience on its own. The loud music, and strong dance beat can easily be compared to today’s raves and clubs. Growing up in the 2000s, it appears that like disco, dancing is less pertained to a certain culture, but rather internationally. With the media sources and technology today, nothing is within the boundaries of a nation. Cultures around the world look especially to America’s youth to define their own youth’s identity. In charge of the social movements are celebrities and musicians. Dances come and go such as the dougie, jerking, and now twerking. On a larger scale however, there is a huge international phenomenon taking place within the last couple of years especially, and that is with rave music festivals.
My older brother has attended Ultra Music Festival in Miami Florida three times now, and recently went the campout-style Firefly Festival. These festivals can be compared to Woodstock in that they are outdoors in fields and the atmosphere there is a crowd of teenagers and young adults together for the love of music and a good time. Though, the music itself is much more related to that of the disco era, for it is house/techno music made for the sole purpose of making people dance and to make individuals have an outer body experience – mostly with the aid of drugs and alcohol.
There is a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars to attend these festivals, though it is opposite of why Joseph and his generation spent so much money going to disco clubs. In today’s world, the younger generation finds they are growing up faster and faster, constantly surrounded by sophistication and the burdens of adulthood. A music festival provides a more primitive, relaxing, and raw experience. Instead of being part of society, festivals are meant to be a break from just that. They provide today’s youth with the ability to act childish and be outdoors with other people, instead of cooped up indoors with their technology. Personally, I have never attended one of these music festivals, and yet I still feel like I am part of that culture in a sense.
Although, I did attend an indoor Tiesto Concert and the Liacourus Center and experienced on a smaller scale what such a performance is like live. Like Joseph who never really went to disco clubs, he still felt immersed in the era. For me, I believe it is due to how involved my generation is with social medias. There is Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and so much more that allows anyone anywhere to listen to the music and dress the fashions of one who attends these festivals. Often times, what young women of my generation wear out to college party is of the same style that you would see at these festivals, and the same techno house music is blasting through the walls. It is very possible to feel like a part of something even if you are not, simply due to its overwhelming influence on your world. Just like how Joseph may have dressed the part and new the music that would be played at discos such as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees or “Dancing Queen” by ABBA.
The closest experience I have ever had with knowing multiple dances is from attending Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Sweet Sixteens. At these events we would do the Cotton Eye Joe, the Macarana, the Electric Slide, and more. It was one of the few times that everyone was on the dance floor, not matter the person’s age. There was definitely something special and unique about everyone knowing a certain dance and performing it together. It brought the room together and they were all dances that anyone of any age or dance level could accomplish easily. Often times, I saw these dances as ice breakers, because once those were over the only other dancing left to do for my generation was grinding. To call grinding a dance style is difficult, but none-the-less it is the dancing my generation is best at and most familiar with.
No matter the time period or the style, dancing will always be a huge part of our culture. Dance being directly linked to music allows for genres to come and go with time. The first movies were a way to document dance, and even create new ones, such as “The Continental” in the film The Gay Divorcee. Then the musicals came and the song and dance numbers took on their own new life and told stories through the arts. And now Youtube and other social media outlets are broadcasting music videos and dancing of all types and genres. With each generation the styles change, sometimes more drastically than others, but as time goes on dance seems to become bigger and bigger with technology and a new sense of a worldwide culture.
Joseph Donohue may be my father who grew in a suburb in New Jersey like myself, but our dance histories are completely different, and yet somewhat alike. I took classes, while he was taught through observation and his sisters. His generation’s dance legacy was disco, while mine is grinding and twerking. However, we both seemed to take to the sidelines when it came to partaking in these cultural evolutions. Both the 80s disco music and the house techno music of rave music festival that feature artists such as Avicii and Tiesto are meant for dancing and focus on a powerful beat to make people want to move.
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Garofalo, Reebee. “Disco.” Britannica Academic Encyclopedia. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-2. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. .
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