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Hot stuff: Summer’s disco made us dance

DonnSummer performs during finale 'American Idol' NokiTheatre Los Angeles 2008. |  Kevork Djansezian~AP

Donna Summer performs during the finale of "American Idol" at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles in 2008. | Kevork Djansezian~AP

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:13PM



This weekend I’m going to take time to dance.

I’m not sure yet where I’ll go, but it will not be to one of those steppers clubs — not that I have anything against stepping.

But I don’t want to worry about coming out of the turns, or missing hand signals or stepping on my partner’s toes.

I want to move to the joy in my soul.

It would be the only fitting way to honor the work of Donna Summer.

The “Queen of Disco” slipped away on Thursday, succumbing to lung cancer at age 63. On Friday, news outlets were reporting that Summer believed the 9/11 terrorism attacks contributed to the lung cancer because she was exposed to toxic dust.

Summer’s music was the soundtrack of many youthful memories.

These days, my dancing is reserved for wedding receptions and family reunions.

But back in the day, dancing was a big part of life.

And there were rituals associated with going to the disco. You couldn’t just show up looking like you accidentally stumbled into the place.

Every weekend, we were in a department store looking for something to wear on Saturday night.

The outfit had to be just right. The high-heels had to be really high. And the hair had to be, as they used to say: “fried, dyed and laid to the side.”

By the time we walked out of our doors, it was usually well past midnight.

Today, most of us don’t want to think about the risks young women are taking by leaving their homes at that time of the night, let alone about what could happen once they got to the club.

But disco times were fun times.

In fact, there were so few violent incidents reported, we didn’t give these late-night outings a second thought.

We would get there, and Donna Summer’s pulsating “Love to Love You Baby,” or “Last Dance,” or “Heaven Knows” would be playing, and despite our troubles for a few hours, we were carefree.

We danced until our straight hair frizzed into Afros.

To this day, when I hear one of Summer’s songs, I want to get up and dance.

But I always felt Summer was shortchanged by the “disco backlash.” Although she continued to record music into the ’80s, it was impossible for her to really be “queen” of disco when people kept pronouncing disco dead.

Some critics believed the hatred of disco was driven by homophobia and racism. Disco had originally been popular with gay, black and Latino clubs and didn’t gain mainstream acceptance until the film “Saturday Night Fever.”

In her book Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, Alice Echols writes:

“The consensus among historians and discographers is that the backlash against disco reflected the anger and frustration with America’s changing sexual and racial rules.”

Echols also points out that once disco became known as “everyman’s music,” it was fair game for all manner of “scapegoating.”

“Unlike sixties’ rock, which instantly became ‘classic rock’ and a mainstay of FM radio, seventies’ disco was banished from the airwaves except as an April Fool’s Day joke,” she wrote.

That just goes to show you how messed up we are.

The music industry, and by industry I mean the whole lot of them — including producers and DJs — backed music that advocated violence, but suppressed music that made people dance.

That’s scandalous.

But Summer went on with real life. A divorced mother with one daughter, she remarried and had two more daughters. Late in the ’80s, she announced publicly that she was born again.

In death, she is again being honored as the “Queen of Disco.”

I have to dance to that.



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