October 2009

The Nation Reviewed

Dance with me, baby

By Clare Press
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

It’s a sparkling Sunday afternoon, and three grimacing youths are loitering in the bile-green doorway of Off Ya Tree, that marvellously monikered emporium at the city-end of Sydney’s Oxford Street. The sweaty-looking male members of this terrible trio are scaring children. Gnashing their teeth, clenching their addled jaws and generally hopping about in the discomfort they’ve mistaken for a good time, they are clearly suffering the after-effects of the stimulants they imbibed last night. Perhaps they have only recently emerged from the 24-hour drinking establishment two doors down.

It takes all sorts. Some consider Sunday a time for quiet reflection and paying respects, while others – mostly those in the first flush of youth who still believe their bodies are indestructible – consider it a fine time for banging techno. The latter are the patrons of ‘recovery clubs’, those daytime discos for the day-glo garbed. Hopefully, our trio will soon find such a club in which to hide, because, like I say, they’re scaring the toddlers.

Ah yes, the toddlers. Opposite Off Ya Tree, the rather more glamorous Slide nightclub, with its chandeliers and rococo ceilings, is also welcoming party animals long after the sun has passed the Sunday yardarm. But all is not as it seems. Twenty-somethings in search of solace are being kept at bay by a velvet rope, a bubble machine and a gilt-framed sign proclaiming this to be a “private party”. Today, Slide is opening its doors to babies and young children – with their parents – for Sydney’s inaugural Baby Loves Disco event.

Bob Marley was lying when he told us, “Every little thing gonna be alright.” Some things are just plain wrong. When I was nine, I went to Sunday school. When I was 19, I went to illegal dance parties in disused buildings and muddy Yorkshire fields. That is the natural order of things. Toddlers may dance, but they do so at home in front of The Wiggles. Or, for a special treat, at Wiggles’ live shows. They don’t do so at clubs at the Harlem end of Sydney’s notorious party street.

Obviously no one told this to Heather Murphy Monteith and Andy Blackman Hurwitz, the American parents responsible for the Baby Loves Disco concept, which, since its birth in 2005, has become an international hipster-parent phenomenon. Regular events are staged in 29 American and nine British cities, and Tel Aviv, Australia and Dubai are now following suit.

The Sydney gig has been organised by two media-savvy mums: Alexandra Carlton, the features editor at Madison magazine, and Natasha Henry, who works in PR. Tickets (free for babies, $17.00 for those who walk in; adults must be accompanied by children) sold out in advance.

Outside, a news crew from Sky has turned up; inside, it’s a riot. Three-year-olds leap about to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, while their dads do the twist. Upstairs, two young mums drink sparkling wine and eat sliced-apple snacks – one with a baby on her knee, the other with an eye on her son as he lies on the floor pretending to swim to the beat. (The floor is free of last night’s stiletto goop thanks to specially laid Webber’s carpeting.)

In the “chill-out” area, two tiny girls show off their fairy wings while a boy in a cowboy hat has his face painted. Mothers queue for the nappy-changing station. None of it is nearly as sinister as I’d expected; even the grumpiest misanthrope couldn’t deny that the kids are having a ball, albeit a rather commercial one.

Like all top clubbing events, there are commercial partners – because a good time is one that makes you shop, no? In the US, Baby Loves Disco’s sponsors include CleanWell hand sanitiser, Parents magazine and fast-fashion giant H&M, while the website (www.babylovesdisco.com) has its own online store. Baby loves brands!

Locally, Hardie Grant is supplying books, Webber’s Carpet Warehouse is hoping parents will buy its carpets for their homes, and Green & Black’s is spruiking its organic chocolate. Other sponsors are equally eco and worthy, as cool parents would expect. And clearly you must be a cool parent if you want to introduce your kids to clubs; a cool parent hell-bent on making sure you don’t turn into your own parents, bellowing, “Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?” as your offspring sprints out the door with mayhem in mind.

As the website puts it, Baby Loves Disco “is transforming the hippest nightclubs into child-proof discos as toddlers, pre-schoolers and parents looking for a break from the routine playground circuit let loose for some post-naptime, pre-dinner fun. Make no mistake, this is NOT the Mickey Mouse Club, and The Wiggles are banned.” Events feature “real music spun and mixed by real DJs blending classic disco tunes from the 70s & 80s guaranteed to get those little booties moving and grooving”.

But did anyone ask Baby if he wanted to groove his little bootie? Maybe he wants to go to a traditional kids’ tea party with Daddy dressed sensibly as a clown in a red rubber-nose as opposed to Daddy merely acting the clown in his bad Mambo shirt and glow-in-the-dark bracelet. Maybe Baby hopes Mummy will drink Earl Grey. Maybe his little mind is freaked-out by her boozing away on champers while a real DJ spins the tunes.

Maybe he can smell the sordid tales of the city – sunk forever into the fibres of the sofa in the mezzanine bar – because the carpet might be new but upholstered furniture remembers stuff, even if you think that Baby doesn’t.

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