We are still under a tornado watch here and may be for the entire night and into the morning. In the event of a power failure (or not being able to get online) I’m posting this now in order to ensure it’s up and ready to go for tomorrow.
There was a time when I was oh, so much different than I am today. It was a time when I would thrive on late nights and long sleeps in, on getting dressed to leave the house at 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. and not returning until 1:00 a.m., or 2:00, or sometimes even later. It was the 80s.
I love music of all sorts. My taste runs the gamut from a serenade by Schubert to a Sex Pistols anthem. Granted, these days, I don’t listen to The Pistols as a rule, but if I hear it on the car radio, I won’t shut it off, and will usually sing along, belting out the “God Save The Queen” refrain, “No future, no future…now!” It’s just fun. On the other hand, I love to sing choir music at church – I sound really good with an organ – much better than without, actually. The point is, the vestiges of who I once was, still remain, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see me decked out Goth-style anytime soon, or doing anything on a Friday night other than getting into my cozies and watching the box.
I have to credit my university days with developing in me the tremendous urge to dance. I remember as a tweenie, doing some disco in my friend’s basement, so it didn’t take much to revive the impulse, but hanging out at The Blind Duck pub at Erindale Campus was where I really honed my skills.
I am part of that era that still bought vinyl records and listened to radio stations with Top Twenty Countdowns every week. I was a radio deejay at my college – I hosted my own program (listened to by about 20 people, most of whom worked at the station) on Friday afternoons. I became very good friends with the head of the radio station, CFRE Radio Erindale. This was a smart move on my part because he was also the night-time deejay at the Blind Duck, so come Thursday nights, I could virtually pick and choose what music I wanted to hear. In fact, I used to go record-shopping with Pete on Wednesdays to buy new stuff for Pub Night. I had it “made in the shade”.
It was at the “Blind Duck” where I realized for the first time that dancing without a partner was way more fun than dancing with one. I had freedom to move around, no one was stepping on my feet or invading my space and people found it fascinating to watch me out there by myself. I guess I must admit, I’ve always had a side that enjoys the limelight–“dancing with myself” as Billy Idol said, was a blast!
As time moved on in university, my musical tastes began to incorporate more Gothic influences, post-punk, new-wave and ska. I loved nothing more than to swirl around on the dance floor to Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Depeche Mode and the like, but the kinds of music to which I really gravitated had ominous-sounding vocals, synthesized strains and a wicked beat. I spent many Thursday nights at the pub, dancing my head off and Fridays were great too because we had some terrific bands: The English Beat, The Diodes, Michael Jordana and The Poles were just some of the innovative acts that graced the small stage of “The Duck”.
I spent the entire decade of the 80s exploring all the best dance clubs in the Greater Toronto Area. In my final year of university, I moved downtown to a truly grotty bedsit apartment, but I didn’t care that all I had was a bed, a zip-up closet and a bookshelf with fold-out desk. From this H.Q. I could not only finish my degree, but also take a subway to my favourite hotspots. I went to my job with a head-hunter firm in the morning, took some classes in the afternoon and headed out dancing almost every night of the week. There was The Silver Crown,The Domino Klub, Nuts and Bolts, The Spectrum, The Diamond, The Copa (on Sunday nights there was a fabulous, free buffet with admission) and on Friday nights you could find me at the campus pub, Reznikoff’s (so named after a university ghost) which was just your average cafeteria with the tables pushed back and a deejay spinning his records. Beer was dirt cheap ($.75 a glass), the music was awesome and the people were pretty cool too!
On Saturday nights, I would head westward to Mississauga so I could do laundry, but also so I could get to my favourite home-town haunt: Raven’s.
Raven’s was originally a mid-sized bar with a small, elevated, panelled dance floor (a la Saturday Night Fever). The deejay booth was away at the back in an alcove that could only be reached by a ladder. I always made it my business to get to know the deejays since familiarity led to favouritism in those days and I had certain songs that I always needed to hear. It was a bad night on the dance floor if my top songs didn’t spin on the turntable.
When Raven’s decided to renovate, they took over the empty Towers’ store next-door and made the entire thing into a huge, hardwood dance-floor. It was incredible! My sister and I and our friends spent many the weekend night dancing to the alternative hits of the mid-eighties at Raven’s. Unfortunately, someone decided to rechristen the bar and turned it into “Keester’s” of all things, but we kept going, until the bar was sold and became an R&B club called “Ocean’s 11” and I never went back.
We had to find a new place to dance. We had heard about a bar on the Lakeshore in “New Toronto” called “Crown 33”. It had originally been “Reflections” but it too was under new management. We were not to know it, but this was to become our new home.
Crown 33 was a seedy bar/restaurant owned by a Macedonian family. I never saw it in the light of day. Even now, as I write this, I feel the swell of excitement rise up in me – the thrill of getting dressed up, heading out in the car and going dancing at “The Crown”. Visualize Julie Andrews on that hill in Austria, swinging her arms and singing, ‘The hills are alive”… and you get close to the exhilaration I can still recall.
It’s Friday night. I’ve just awakened from my little nap and I’ve had a quick shower. What should I wear? I think the little black, lace-topped vintage cocktail-dress with taupe, silk lining (I just picked that up at my favourite second hand store, “Courage My Love” in Kensington Market), my black fishnets, my little studded belt, silver dangly ear-rings, dog choke-chain and black, pointy-toed, leather ankle boots. Perfect!
I put everything on and examine myself in the dresser-mirror – everything looks good. I paint my face—wine-coloured eye-shadow with a golden frost, lots of black eyeliner out to my temples, mascara, and lipstick to match the shadow. The final touch? A spray of Xia Xiang, the Orient-inspired cologne in the smooth round bottle. All done. I grab my black purse stuffed with Kleenex, wallet, makeup bag and my glasses (I wear contact lenses).
Who’s driving? Usually it’s me, in our huge midnight blue Impala (lovingly nicknamed Christine or The Getaway Car). Tonight, we’re all piling into Frank’s Lada like a bunch of circus clowns. It’s always fun in that car, except when it’s cold and you can’t get the doors open (especially when someone gets sick).
“The Crown” is about 1/2 hour away from home. We cross over a set of railway tracks on the Lakeshore and we’re not in the suburbs anymore. We’re in the big city: Toronto. Frank pulls into one of the slanted slots in front of the bar. It’s early – good timing to get those coveted seats at tables in the back by the dance-floor.
Rick, the deejay is a full-time punk. He has a 2 foot high Mohawk haircut and is skinny as a rail. He’s decked out in black jeans, studded belt and black muscle shirt. I find him irresistible, but he has a girlfriend and I can’t really see bringing him home to my strait-laced Catholic father anyway. I’m only punky on the weekends. It’s fun to flirt though, plus, I have a lot of pull when it comes to the music. Actually, Rick and I have quite similar tastes so it works out well all around.
Not many people are in the bar yet, but the music is already going and it’s a great opportunity to dance without being impeded by other locals who shuffle to the mainstream stuff. So, when the The Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” hits the air, we leap out of our seats, leaving our beer bottles behind (because glasses are SO uncool) and take that first step up onto the hardwood floor. For me, it’s like coming home—I was born to it.
Mirrors line one wall of the dance floor where we surreptitiously catch ourselves in the glass, checking our new, innovative steps and arm movements (we don’t want to be labelled as “posers”). We are as one on the emotional scale; the excitement is high, the energy is full. We are whirling and swirling on the floor, bending and diving, sinuous and slithery, we are imbued with the song and the night.
It was an addiction. I’m sure it was the ego-boost over being watched and admired from all angles of the dark room. It was also the physical energy – the sweat, the adrenaline rush. Whatever it was, I was up for it EVERY single weekend and begged anyone who was around to go with me. When it didn’t work out some weekends, I’d be in tears–relegated to a night at home with mom watching Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO.
I often feel the old pull when I hear the music and can still recall what it was like to be up there in the spotlight, “tree-dancing” as one person once said.
The night’s ends were strange. We were exhausted. I always punctuated my drinking with glasses of water, so I was kept hydrated, but the physical exertions were like 10 consecutive “20-Minute Workout” sessions
We just about fell into the arms of the guys who bucked up enough courage to ask us for the final dance. Often, I would head over to someone I’d had my eye on – someone who was mysterious and just propping up the bar,or someone nursing a beer at a table in the corner. We would melt into each other to the sounds of Sinead O’Connor singing, “Nothing Compares 2 U” or The Cult’s “Revolution”. Then the lights would come on. We would groan and blink at the blinding bulbs, look down to find the detritus of the night on the hacked up tables: empty bottles, chock-full ashtrays and beer-mats, overturned with phone numbers scrawled on them – if you were lucky.
Those were the days.
For more memoirs like this, check out the best of my “Blasts From the Past” blog.