How deep was your love for Saturday Night Fever in Sunderland

The jive really was talking in Sunderland in 1978 when it seemed the whole of the city was getting into dance fever.

Thursday, 22nd September 2016, 10:00 am
Janet Oliver, Glynis Summerson and Cherine Turner are shown how to pose by Rowena Thompson.
Janet Oliver, Glynis Summerson and Cherine Turner are shown how to pose by Rowena Thompson.

Whether it was Stayin Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, More Than A Woman or If I Can’t Have You - you couldn’t miss the influence of the American mega-hit movie.

In fact, according to the Sunderland Echo at the time, the fever had reached “epidemic proportions.”

The skeleton team which won a prize for originality.

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So today, Wearside Echoes takes a look at that fantastic period when Tony Manero - played by John Travolta - swapped his job as a paint store clerk for weekends of dancing the night away.

We all remember the hits such as Night On Disco Mountain, Night Fever and Disco Inferno.

But how many of you remember the reaction on Wearside to the movie.

Or the fact that it led to competitions and Fever-based dance classes.

The skeleton team which won a prize for originality.

Our report at the time said: “The dance craze that has swept the States and is now all the rage in our discos is so popular on Wearside that a Sunderland dance teacher is starting classes for middle aged ravers wanting to hit the dance floor as Saturday Night Fever Exponents.”

That dance teacher was Mattie Dorn who said at the time: “It is so popular that I am getting up to 100 people a week coming to learn the steps.

“The youngest is nine and I have over forties and a fifty year old all wanting to get the fever.”

Mattie learned the dance from Americans running a special £1-an-hour course in London.

She said she was confident that the current rage would rival the rock and roll era, the twist, the shake and even the Charleston.

She said teenagers loved it because there were set steps they could learn.

Mattie said: “We have continually been asked to teach disco dancing but we don’t because there are no set steps. With the fever, they enjoy the disciplined movements and the excitement of the beat.”

The dance newcomers were certainly in safe hands when it came to learning as Mattie was the third generation of her family to teach dance in Sunderland.

In fact, her father Professor Dorn took classes in the Victoria Hall.

But Mattie believed that strutting their stuff to Saturday Night Fever was the best way for people to exercise.

She said in 1978: “You are exercising all parts of the body - the tummy, hips, shoulders, head and feet - it is a marvellous way to keep fit.”

Elsewhere in Sunderland, the Northumbria Association of Youth Clubs held its own Saturday Night Fever dance competition.

Among the entrants were a set of students who had been complete beginners eight weeks before the contest got under way.

But then they came under the guidance of Rowena Thompson, a dance and community worker at the Biddick Farm Arts Centre, who started putting them through their paces.

Twelve girls and three boys took part and all of them were members of the Fulwell Methodist Church Youth Club.

They formed three teams and entered themselves into the dance contest.

Rowena devised routines for them and helped her mum Gwen Outen to design costumes.

Then, the Sunderland teams lined up with 20 others at the Jarrow Community Centre to show off their new moves.

And much to the delight of Rowena, her team of skeletons and a witch got the unanimous vote as winners from the judges.

Step forward Helen Wilson, Lynn Thornton, Georgina Outen, Janet lee, Jill Albion and Susan Hitcham.

Rowena said at the time: “The competition was really exciting.”

She said her teams “danced the best they have ever danced and they are definitely hooked on the fever now.”

The competition led to a regional finals at Leeds and potentially to a national final at the Hammersmith Palace later that same year.

But our question is - how did the ladies do in the next round. Can anyone tell us.