When Saturday Night Fever (SNF) came out in the late 70’s, people all over the world who were mail clerks, housewives, and pubescent teenagers by day suddenly became Disco Kings and Queens at night.
My family (my parents, my sister Martina, my identical twin Mick, and me) held Saturday evening dances in the living room. We discoed with the Bee Gees and John Travolta in our bell bottom sweatpants and teddy-bear slippers.
Travolta stole our hearts in Saturday Night Fever with his polyester suit, and in response we flaunted big hair and big footwear. After my sisters and I watched the movie for the first time, we tried doing the Hustle in front of the mirror in our bedroom, but when Mom found out she dragged us into the living room so everyone could join in on the fun. At first, it was embarrassing, seeing my overweight Dad spin around on one foot and do the cha cha slide. We were sure he would fall over and split his very non-Travolta polyester pants. My mom danced like a chicken, flapping her arms and singing loudly. And her big floral patterns and skin-tight leggings will forever remain a fashion mistake statement. There were evenings when we fell over laughing half way through “Night Fever;” rolling our eyes at our parents was great bonding. Yet the dancing proved that despite differences in age, weight, style, tact, and rhythm, we were able to come together as a family on the living room dance floor.
SNF dancing is about identity and living your dreams. Part of the movie was about learning to grow up; the other was about trying to break away from a boring life. My dad worked in the insurance business and Mom had left her job to raise us three kids. Her dream for us was to graduate from high school, get a job (preferably teaching or the civil services), and stay in that job until retirement. Yet watching SNF and dancing as a family gave us girls confidence and we told our parents that we would follow Tony and reach for the stars. We had to work several jobs to fund our educations but my sisters and I were the first members of our family to go to college. My identical twin got a PhD in biology – the night before she delivered her final thesis, we did the Hustle in her living room (sans polyester), celebrating that we followed Travolta’s footsteps (and dance steps) to the top.
My son James (5) has seen my family dance – he thinks Grandma sings very badly loudly and dresses oddly. I think she is a disco star. James has tried to do the Hustle with us, but he usually ends up laughing, saying “You do the hips Mummy, yours are so big.” Like me, he is a bit shy and just likes to observe, and when we did Karaoke for the first time he simply breathed into the microphone. But now he has been singing “Yellow Submarine” with Beatles Rockband for weeks, yelling into the microphone and strumming away on his fake guitar, and I’m happy to join in. I’m sure he’ll be doing the Hustle by the time he’s seven, though. And if not, well, the Beatles had some pretty great outfits for “Yellow Submarine.”
I know that my son and my sisters’ offspring (all boys: David, Jonny and Jaron) won’t grow up with a silver disco ball (unless it’s on their iPad) and their friends won’t know what the Hustle is. Yet I hope they will become as confident in their own skin as their moms have become over the years. And while I have given up big hair for now once and all, I won’t ever give up on big dreams…and teaching my son “Left arm up! Right hip swing! Go for the fever! Ah-ah-ah-ah-stayin’ alive – stayin alive!”