For a few hours on the last Saturday night in June, Pickwick Gardens, a popular event venue in Burbank, became a time machine that transported hundreds of LGBT seniors back to the halcyon days of the late 1970s, when dance music divas such as Donna Summer and Sylvester ruled the airwaves and disco balls hung from the ceiling of every nightclub. The occasion was the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 20th annual Senior Prom.
The space was transformed into a dance hall that resembled New York’s legendary hotspot Studio 54, as more than 300 clients of the Center’s Senior Services, many admirably decked out in their sequined finest, filed in through the double doors to dance the night away. And since no Studio 54-themed bash would be complete without the presence of the entertainer perhaps most synonymous with the nightclub, there were two Liza Minnelli impersonators who took to the stage during the evening.
It’s an event that many attendees have eagerly anticipated since the previous one.
“I look forward to this party the whole year,” says David Epstein, a Senior Services client, who admits to being a fan of disco since the beginning of the genre more than four decades ago. “I used to go to Studio 54 when I was living in New York City in the 1970s. I can’t wait to hear that beat again and get out on the floor and dance.”
With this goal in mind, it’s unlikely that he or any of the guests left disappointed. The DJ kept the crowd on the dancefloor for much of the evening, as clients demonstrated their disco moves to an array of ‘70s anthems including Diana Ross’ The Boss and Chic’s Good Times.
Epstein also notes the sociological importance of the party for the Center’s senior clients.
“One of the things that happens when you become older is you become isolated and you lose touch with people,” he explains. “This is the way it was when we were younger and would party. It’s fabulous. You get to see people you’ve only seen once or twice during the year.”
Jon Imparato, the Center’s Cultural Arts director, recalls this as part of the impetus for organizing the initial Senior Prom, the country’s first LGBT prom for the 50-plus crowd, in 1998.
“I thought of this as a way to celebrate who they are and their history and have it be an event for them that they didn’t have in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Imparato said. “They never had a prom. Think of all the things they never got to do with same-sex partners. To go out dancing in clubs back then they had to knock on a door and give a password to be let in. They could be beaten up in the alley when you got out.”
Imparato, who received an award from Senior Services for creating the prom two decades ago, also noted how he’s watched it grow from a relatively small party held at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza.
“The very first year we had 70 people and now we have 300,” he recalls. “The event just keeps getting bigger and better.”
It wouldn’t seem like a real prom without the coronation of a king and queen. Theresa and Brad, both nonagenarians, accepted the honors this year before their cheering court. Then the royal pair proceeded to take a victory dance on the floor.
As they began to depart the venue, many noted that they were already looking forward to the 21st annual event next summer.
Learn more about the Center’s Seniors Services, including upcoming activities and workshops, at lalgbtcenter.org/seniors.