Thursday, May 23, 2024 May 23, 2024
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Where Everybody Cut Footloose: The Day the Dancing Died in Plano

illustration by Dean Gorissen

Dancing is my life. It is my one undeniable gift. It doesn’t just bring me joy, in other words. My sashaying makes Dallas a better place to live. When I am at a club, and I hear some old-school Stevie Wonder, and I start my seductive walk toward the writhing crush of humanity—arms chugging to the beat, thumbs up, one eyebrow raised—Big D’s nightlife scene is as sexy and sophisticated as Miami’s.
That’s the way I imagine it, anyway. Truth is, I’ve never really gotten support for that theory. When my wife and I two-stepped our way through the early ’90s, we fought so much about my inability to shuffle-shuffle-step to the beat that we quit dancing together.

It’s my gift to her.

Generally, then, my attempts to gambol about town were reserved for guys’ night out. It worked like this: my middle-aged friends and I would happy-hour until we had the courage to go to a dance club filled with collegeaged boogie hounds. This led to several uncomfortable moments on the dance fl oor of the Knox Street Pub, where I or a cohort would force our way into a tribal sorority circle and try to convince the young ladies to join us in a jitterbug tribute to T-Pain.

After our last such sad excursion, it was time for me, the only over-40 member of the group, to face the truth. I am too old to cut a rug in Dallas, where all the non-country (or non-Tejano) dance clubs cater to the younger set.

That’s when I discovered the magic of Martini Park.

It was an unlikely locale for a dance hall Valhalla. Situated in the middle of the Shops at Legacy in Plano, just south of Frisco and east of the Tollway, it made an odd bedfellow with Williams- Sonoma Home and Cold Stone Creamery. But given that its target market was the same as these businesses (middle-aged, disposable income), it made economic sense. I was sent to scout the cavernous dance-and-drink spot for a story about “cougars” (older women who date younger men). I found not only ample supply of these women but also a truly diverse cross-section of North Texans: white, black, brown, old, not-so-old, balding, toupéed, high-heeled, and well-heeled. They had one thing in common: like me, they loved themselves some Bon Jovi.

On my first visit, I didn’t dance, because I was working that night. And, given that most of my friends still feel as though they belong in a club fi lled with twentysomethings (murmur), I had no one with whom I could cut Martini Park’s rug. Like Salieri, I felt angry at God for showing me pure greatness, only to keep it just out of my reach.

Thank goodness for the executive editor of D Home.

“Hey,” she said one Friday night after work, “let’s kidnap some folks and drive up to Martini Park.” That we did. Two weeks later, she suggested the same thing.

And we did it again.

To say these were two of the best nights of my life would incorrectly suggest that you could compare them with the other nights of my life. The images from these trips through the Martini Park wonderland exist in their own wing in the gallery of my memory: cover bands that tell tales of boots with the fur and midnight trains going anywhere; men unafraid to sweat from their bellies and women who drink enough cosmos to ignore this fact; the euphoric faces of people, like me, who use the word “awesome” unironically.

Some of my joy was in response to the ambiance: shoulder-to-shoulder, music blaring, and five bars scattered throughout the club. It felt like being trapped in an Escher painting with a bottle of Ketel One and 5,000 of your closest friends. There was more rumpshaking and vodka-quaffing than in a Russian strip joint.

In the end, though, it was all about just having a place where middle-aged people can dance. Whether grinding to the rap stylings of Flo Rida or singing at the top of our lungs that, despite livin’ on a prayer, we’ll make it I swear, my high-level editorial colleague and I had found a club for people like us.

That’s why it was so sad when Martini Park closed late last year (for reasons that still remain a mystery to me). It left a void.

For me. For the executive editor of D Home. For Dallas. For all us dancing fools.

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