1984 was a good year for me—thankfully way different than the way George Orwell described it in his novel. I was a junior in high school and, as an upper-classman, I felt a sense of confidence that was lacking just a mere year before. I was older, wiser, and certainly cooler. I lived in a pretty little town about an hour outside of Boston. Looking back, it was a very innocent time. Thanks to the movie Flashdance, cut-off shirts and sweatshirts were all the rage, as were popped collars and neon everything. Posters of Michael Jackson and Prince adorned my bedroom. Naturally I had planned on marrying Michael Jackson after “Thriller” came out but now, at the ripe age of 17, I laughed at how silly that was (although I didn’t take down the posters AND I continued to spend money on pins with his picture to pin to my jean jacket).
I grew up in a town that was very “white bread,” with very little diversity. In my entire class there were maybe 5 non-white students. For the majority of my classmates it was expected that, after finishing high school, we would head to college, earn a degree and settle down and have kids just as generations had done before us. I was the consummate people-pleaser so I went with the flow. But in 1984 a movie came out that changed the trajectory of my life. That movie was Breakin’. The movie is so bad that it’s good. Though break-dancing had been around for years, it was just coming to my attention. I was fascinated.
Roughly, the plot of the movie is about this young, privileged white woman named Kelly who befriends two break-dancers from the “wrong side of the tracks”, Turbo and Ozone, and they teach her “their” way of dancing. They enter a competition and…well I’m sure you can guess how it ends. I wanted to be Kelly, as did many other girls my age. But the point is, after this movie came out, break-dancing “crews” started popping up in a large town nearby. It was also at this time that an under-20 nightclub opened up called The Gazebo. For weeks, every Monday, I would hear the popular kids in my class talk about this club. There was good music, kids from other towns, and break-dancing battles. What?! Sign me up!
It wasn’t until the spring of my junior year that my friends and I finally got up the nerve to go to The Gazebo. I remember it very clearly. I put on a jean skirt which fell just below the knees and a red button-down shirt. I looked like I was headed to 3rd period English class. I was clueless. The club was part of a much bigger building called the Chateau de Ville. I remember that my stomach was in knots as we parked the car. I think I was nervous about running into my own classmates and getting a look like “what are YOU doing here?” (which NEVER happened, by the way). Outside there was a staircase that lead to the entrance.
As I entered the club, the first thing I noticed was how dark it was. As you walked in, there was a bar area. I remember it being a long narrow horse-shoe shape, but I can’t be sure. What I do remember is that there were only two people sitting at it: a beautiful Puerto Rican girl with her boyfriend. They were both looking sharp—both dressed to kill. I immediately regretted my outfit choice and, based on the look she gave me, she agreed. I recognized her and her boyfriend right away. I had seen them at the movies and at the mall many times. There are only so many places you can go as a teenager and certain people stand out. As pretty as she was, she always looked bored or annoyed. I couldn’t have known that 6 years later she would become my sister-in-law. We are still close to this day and laugh about those times. But on this day in 1984 she was a stranger and she had ZERO use for me.
My friends and I made our way through the club, not knowing where we were going, but following the kids ahead of us like badly dressed lemmings. To my left was the dance floor and at the far left was an actual gazebo. The music was loud and the dance floor was full. I continued looking around, wide-eyed. I must have looked like a tourist visiting Times Square for the first time. I glanced at the DJ booth. I could barely see him through the glass. A Hispanic guy dressed in all black stood next to the booth. He had a serious expression and his arms folded in front of his chest. Did the DJ need his own security? I was careful not to make eye contact.
That first night at The Gazebo I barely danced. Mainly I people-watched. I noticed that most of the white kids stood on one side of the club and everyone else stood on the other. Yet on the dance floor, everyone danced together. It was odd, yet nobody seemed to question it. I scoped out a boy I thought was cute and then agonized over the fact that he was dancing with a girl from my school. I felt invisible and definitely not like Kelly from Breakin’. Things took a turn for the better when the break-dancing started. Just like in the movie, the dance floor was cleared and the “battles” began. To me those break-dancers were like movie stars. Everyone surrounded them and cheered. As Herbie Hancock’s “Rock It” started playing, I glanced back at the DJ booth. Mr. Friendly was still standing there, like a spider in the shadows.
Soon after my first visit to the Gazebo, summer began. As always, I went to Long Island to spend the summer with my Dad. This was the first summer ever that I felt like I was missing out on something back home. My friends would send me letters of who was dancing with whom and what they found out about this break-dancer or that one. I was so jealous. When summer ended, I anxiously entered my senior year. That first Saturday my friends and I went to The Gazebo. By this time, I had watched enough Madonna videos to give me tips on how to dress for a club. I was so excited! But halfway through the night, a fight broke out between kids from 2 different towns and it was rumored that guns were involved. The police came and to my horror, The Gazebo was shut down, never to be opened again.
A few months later another under 20 club opened at the same location, but on the other side of the building. It was called “The Other Side” (no joke). Although I, along with hundreds of other kids, were happy to see it open, it wasn’t the same. For most of us, The Gazebo was our first taste of clubs and dancing with people from different backgrounds than our own. When I think of it now, it’s like remembering a movie I once saw—even better than Breakin’. I witnessed drama, heartbreak, laughter and incredible dancing. My memories of that little club will always stick with me. Oh, and remember the guy I mentioned standing by the DJ booth? He was only 16. How do I know? He became my husband! How’s that for a Divine Breadcrumb?!