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Birthday Dance

In my family, birthdays are celebrated with a lovely meal, ice cream instead of cake, a few well-chosen gifts and wine. This year was a big one for me—my 60th. So when I was asked how I wanted to celebrate, I thought about this past year with COVID, of missing family and friends, of living through a time of huge social, political and psychological unrest. And then, I recalled one of the happiest times of my life: I’d just turned 18. Fresh out of high school, I was headed to college where I’d plant the seeds for my future. In my young mind, the possibilities were exciting and endless.

Remembering that happy time, I told my family I wanted to recall that special summer, when every weekend was an opportunity to hang with friends, to cut loose before September took us in different directions. I wanted to celebrate my 60th with a disco party.

I loved disco. Still do. Be honest: can you really listen to Donna Summer sing “Last Dance” and not, at the very least, tap your feet? Doesn’t the sound of the Bee Gees’ falsetto get you up and out of your seat? Don’t you know that everyone looks better in the glow of a mirrored disco ball?  

Back in the day, even getting ready to go out with my girlfriends for a night of disco dancing made me happy. Curling back the “wings” of my Farrah Fawcett hairdo and lacquering them into place with a blast of Final Net. Applying baby blue eyeshadow just so; glossing my mouth with Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers before spritzing a little Charlie perfume in the crease of each elbow. We all donned the same disco uniform: a stretchy tank top leotard—or, in a pinch, a one-piece swim suit—and a full, swingy circle skirt made of Qiana. Not “quinoa,” the trendy grain. I’m talking about the super silky, stretchy, shiny fabric that never wrinkled, even if you sat on a barstool for hours with your skirt inadvertently crunched up under your butt.

But here’s the thing: I long ago retired my disco outfits to Goodwill. So when I went looking (hello Amazon) for a replacement outfit for my party, I discovered that they no longer make Qiana. Which, in retrospect, is a good thing. Created by the chemical giant DuPont, I’m sure the fabric was eventually proclaimed a major fire hazard (especially back then, when smoking was actually permitted in bars). Perusing Amazon’s disco offerings, what I found was mostly 70s fashion: bell bottom jumpsuits, super short skirts, lots of Peter Max/psychedelic colors and patterns. Not a single circle skirt/leotard combo to be found.

So I let go of my Qiana memories and instead ordered a short, fireproof, 70s-style swing dress, but in a disco ball print. (Best of both worlds.) Besides, even if I had found a Qiana skirt, I would have worried all night about getting too close to a candle. With grandkids in attendance, you can’t be too careful.

I also fulfilled a secret, lifelong dream and bought a pair of shiny, white, patent leather go-go boots. Back in 1979, I’d have worn platform sandals to dance the night away. But in my 60th year, I reasoned that I’d probably fall off of platform shoes and besides, while Nancy Sinatra’s song, “These Boots are Made for Walking” came out when I was five, the go-go boots were definitely in keeping with the disco vibe of my dance party.

The big night finally arrived. As I pulled on my shiny white boots, the Bee Gee’s song, “More Than a Woman,” popped into my head. I felt 18 again, full of the promise of a bright future just like the Donna Summer song, “Hot Stuff” (but without the flammable disco skirt). My family looked pretty hot as well, grandkids included, in their tie-dye and glitter, curly perms, white bell bottoms and shiny jumpsuits. Even the dogs got in on the act, mirrored disco balls hanging from their collars.

Most days, I’m in disbelief that more than 40 years have passed since my disco days. I don’t feel 60, except for my arthritic shoulder, my tight IT bands and my creaky back after a day in the garden or babysitting the kids. Last Saturday night, dancing to Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” with my oldest granddaughter Zoe in my arms, I relived the joy of my youth even as I felt my back ache and my feet cramp in my go-go boots.

Should society have come further than it has since that long ago summer of my 18th year? No doubt. But during this past year, the world has gotten a glimpse of what it looks like when we don’t look out for each other or our planet, of what happens when we care only about ourselves. And most of us, especially those of us who aren’t old white men who have been in control up until now, didn’t like what we saw. As painful as it was, that glimpse also opened up all kinds of possibilities. The world is changing and nothing can stop it. I’m excited to see what comes next, eager to help and hopeful that people and leaders who aren’t old and white and men, will usher in a brighter and more equitable future for all. I feel as full of hope now as I did during the summer of my 18th birthday, even with my creaky, achy, 60-year-old body, including my cramping feet.

Now, if we can only bring disco back.


  1. You still look like 18! But now you are even more wise and wonderful!

    • This from the woman who epitomizes youth and beauty! Thank you, my friend. And back at ya!

  2. What an awesomely fun way to celebrate your 60th!

    • It was! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Disco, like all musical genres had its great and not so great moments. As a dedicated rocker, I did own a T-Shirt that read “Disco Sucks”. That said, Disco was dance. Dancing is expression of joy and ritual. It touches an emotional nerve of wildness. The freedom to “Let go”. Sadly, we don’t dance much these days.
    Bring back Disco, sure. As to the fashions, let’s leave them right where they were.

    • You nailed it, Mark, especially regarding the “freedom to let go.” Yes! But…no more bell bottoms? And I know you rocked a leisure suit back in the day, complete with silk shirt. Never say never…

      Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  4. What a glorious piece, Jill! You captured our nostalgic longing for the past, with the reality of the present, and the hope for better days ahead!
    You ARE the Dancing Queen! You encourage all of us to keep the dance going and welcome the possibilities!
    I’m in!!!❤️

    • Well, no one has ever called me the Dancing Queen–not even when I was 18. That is high praise, indeed. I will do my best to live up to it! Thanks for your kind comments!

  5. Great blog Jill. As 60 will soon be my reality, and I am OK with that, reflection is an everyday occurrence. Congratulations on having a wonderful family to celebrate your momentous occasion with. I may go the travel route, rather than disco- hopefully by next year that can happen. But I will be sure to play Donna Summer and The Bee Gees as we toast to the past and the future.

    • Thanks Barb. However you celebrate another year of the wisdom that comes with age, I hope the sound track accompanying you brings you nothing but joy.

  6. OK, this particular post hits REALLY close to home as I WAS there on the day you turned 18, (on the last day of our senior trip to Daytona Beach, oh my), and I WAS the one doing your hair and lacquering it into place, and I WAS one of the girls swimming and sunning the summer away with you by day, then dancing the entire night away cuz no matter what you “DISCO SUCKS” hard rockers think, dancing all night long when every song was cool, was a BLAST!!! Yes, in our quiana flowing skirts. All I can say is I could not possibly have had a better compadre to take on the world with, starting in 8th grade. As we’ve oft noted, the world should be glad we used our Super Powers for good not evil, so let’s keep on keepin’ on and go catch some bad guys! (I’ll watch for the mirror ball light in the sky). Love You Sista! “We are family, I got all my sistas with me…”

    • All those shared memories: Beer on the beach. Broiling our skin with baby oil. The scent of Final Net combined with Charlie, Love’s Baby Soft, or in your case, patchouli. Stayin’ Alive on the dance floor, and then finishing off the night at Sambo’s (do you remember that the chain, eventually sold to Denny’s, was originally called Sambo’s? So sad. Is that part of what inspired our activism? Or was it our combined guilt over how we treated the Beehive Lady?)

      Some might say, we are the original Thelma and Louise (preceding them by a decade), but with a better ending. I like that idea, but I also know we are far from the end of anything, my friend. Our Super Powers continue to be in great demand. We’ve got work to do, sista! Love you right back.

  7. How funny you with Disco, and just last week I said to Jeanne, I want to hear a Frank Sinatra, or Andy Williiams, Bobby Vinson or Doris Day sing those beautiful love songs! Dancing close to my loved one & humming in my ear! We all have our favorites and I must say you looked 18 in you fun Disco dress, but the dancing was just a little hard for this not to old lady! Thank you for inviting me & thank you Annamarie for giving me purple hair, I loved it

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