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Disco dazed

Celebrating its birth... and the fact I didn't kill myself on the floor

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As most of you are no doubt aware, today is an incredibly historic day.

Get ready to get down and get back up again, because it appears today is the 53rd anniversary of the opening of the world's first discotheque (pronounced "deesk-oth-akew).

Without doing any serious research, I was able to stumble on reports claiming that on Oct. 19, 1959, the Scotch Club restaurant in Aachen (pronounced "gesundheit"), Germany, reopened as a dance hall.

According to a gripping entry on Wikipedia, the club owner didn't want to hire a band and used a record player instead, which prompted a newspaper journalist covering the event, Klaus Quirini, to become extremely bored, so he commandeered the turntable and became, according to him, the world's first club DJ by announcing songs and making informative comments, which no one could hear because he was playing the music way too loud.

Speaking of which, online sources also claim the first song played in the first discotheque was -- and you are going to kick yourself for not remembering this -- Ein Schiff wird kommen, a cover version of Never on a Sunday sung by legendary German singer-songwriter Lale Andersen, who was already famous for her rendition of Lili Marleen.

I personally was not present for the alleged birth of disco, mainly due to the fact I was only three years old at the time and was committed to spending my free time watching Captain Kangaroo on the black-and-white TV in the basement of our home in Vancouver.

Despite this slow start and a total inability to move in time with recorded music, I became a legend on the Winnipeg disco scene in the early 1970s. All the hipsters were impressed by the fact I'd seen the movie Saturday Night Fever at least 60 times, knew all the lyrics to the Bee Gees' hit Staying Alive (Sample lyric for young persons: "Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' alive, Stayin' alive, ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' Aliiiiiiiiiiive!") and had my own cool disco outfit consisting of skin-tight white pants, a matching vest, a purple shirt and a pair of handmade Greek riding boots.

So I was definitely one hep cat when I made the scene at local clubs back in the day. I was even more impressive when I attempted to perform popular disco dances such as The Hustle with persons of the extreme opposite sex.

What would happen is, wearing my blindingly white ensemble, I would approach a girl in the disco and demonstrate my "moves," which consisted of gyrating around the floor in an uncontrolled manner, at which point my "dance partner" would frown and slowly back away as though she'd just discovered I was, in fact, radioactive. In certain cases, the girl I was trying to impress would call in the paramedics fearing there was something medically wrong with my central nervous system.

The point I am trying to make, which dovetails with the fact we are potentially celebrating the historic opening of what may have been the first disco, is that dancing is my life.

Regular readers will recall that a few years ago I competed in Dancing with Celebrities, a ballroom-style competition for the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, wherein I danced the rumba as if I was being repeatedly stung by Africanized fire ants.

Lately, however, my dance tastes have swung more towards ballet. For example, Wednesday night, while you were on your couch eating ice cream directly from the container, I was performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in the sense I was in the same building when the dancers hit the stage in their season-opening production, the Canadian première of The Princess and the Goblin, an enchanting new ballet choreographed by the legendary Twyla Tharp.

I was there because, what with being a classy PBS-watching guy, the RWB invited me to conduct a hard-hitting Q&A with the University of Winnipeg's Mavis Reimer, an expert on George MacDonald, the Scottish writer whose 1872 novel inspired the RWB's groundbreaking creation.

As I sit here writing these words, I am confident I asked Mavis some probing ballet-related questions and that my wife was thrilled because she finally got to watch something classier than televised sports highlights.

But this is not a time for idle speculation. This is a time to dance and celebrate the birth of disco. So come on, everyone, put down the paper and shake your groove things. I'll turn up the music ...

"Stayin' alive, Stayin' alive, ah, ha, ha, ha ...

Hey! Get back here! Please! Don't call the paramedics!

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2012 A2

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