x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dancing machine

Family Helena Frith Powell hits the dance floor to investigate the worldwide popularity of Baby Loves Disco.

In 2005, Heather Murphy and Andy Hurwitz launched Baby Loves Disco in the US, which led to a worldwide popularity for it in Europe, Asia, and since last April, Dubai.
In 2005, Heather Murphy and Andy Hurwitz launched Baby Loves Disco in the US, which led to a worldwide popularity for it in Europe, Asia, and since last April, Dubai.

As we walked in, the DJ was playing I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, but I wasn't sure I would. Much as I love a good disco, a dance floor strewn with popcorn, toddlers roaming around and an overwhelming smell of sweets is not really my idea of fun. But this disco is not designed to please me. It is designed for children. It was created by Heather Murphy, a Philadelphia-based caterer, dancer and choreographer in 2004. She felt there was something missing in kids' entertainment. She had found nothing that could amuse parents while also giving the children a great time. "I wanted a real opportunity to have fun dancing together without skimping on the big people," she says. "But I quickly realised my living room would be too small."

She approached her then boss at the restaurant she was working in and arranged to have baby dance parties there. "I bought egg shakers, play scarves, pillows and a bubble machine," she says. "I got a friend to bring his amazing stock of disco and rare Eighties records to spin at the party. I bought some balloons, made a nappy changing station and opened the club at 2pm on a cold Saturday in November. I prayed that 35 people would show-up, and in the end, over 100 turned out. Baby Loves Disco was born."

In 2005, Murphy teamed up with Andy Hurwitz and launched the concept nationwide under the name Baby Loves Disco. It quickly spread to Europe and Asia and has now landed in Dubai. Emma Scorpo, the organiser of the local event, came up with the idea of bringing it here while she was in London in April. "All my friends were trying to get tickets to this baby disco event that had been sold out for months," she says. "I immediately knew this would work in the UAE so contacted the organisers in the States right away. They came back within minutes and I started work on the first event."

Scorpo was in PR and event management before she had Chloé, aged one, and Lily-Rose, aged three. She was looking for something she could do from home when she stumbled across Baby Loves Disco. But Baby Loves Disco is not just about singing along to Gloria Gaynor. Underneath the popcorn, the candy floss and the real life Barbie is a serious message: dancing is good for your child's development. It all boils down to neural pathways. Research has found that children who regularly listen and dance to music forge more neural links or pathways between cells in the brain. They are shown to perform better at school than other children, as well as being better able to control their bodies, play with others more easily and enjoy higher self-esteem.

And, as Scorpo points out, "it's great fun. This is a family day out which everyone can enjoy equally". Up to a point. My husband sat in the corner, reading the Financial Times, shaking his head and muttering about the markets. He briefly came to life during YMCA by the Village People, but only because he felt that if our investments did not perk up soon, we might end up living in one. Other parents were having a better time, including me. The hits just kept on coming: Uptown Girl, Footloose, The Shoop Shoop Song. I was surrounded by other parents who also knew all the words to every tune. At one stage it was more like Mid-Life Crisis Loves Disco than Baby Loves Disco. Feeling a bit guilty, I tried to get my five-year-old son to dance. "I hate dancing," he said and stomped off to join his father in the corner.

The girls had more fun. They ate candy floss, played with the Barbie castle and tried in vain to win the dancing competition. One Dubai-based mother I spoke to had brought her four-year old daughter along. "She is enjoying herself," she told me. "It's quite expensive [Dh95 per person] but I think it's worth it." But Angela, an Australian who lives in Dubai, was disappointed. She was forced to send her 11-month-old baby home due to the company's no pushchairs policy.

"This is supposed to be for babies and they won't let them in. They suggested I leave him to roam around, but it's not a safe environment. They need to think about separating the age groups, otherwise it's no fun for anyone." Since the event I attended, Baby Loves Disco has been on hiatus while a relaunch was planned. It will return with an event on March 21, which will take place at Wafi Rooftop Gardens and will feature a wider range of activities, including more for younger children. There will be indoor lounges for the under ones and twos, as well as dancing classes for both younger and older children. There will also be a range of activities for children of different ages, including bouncy castles, story telling corners, face painting and crawling competitions. Children can also take part in a fashion show featuring clothes from the event's sponsors, Mamas & Papas.

Scorpo is confident that the event will catch on. "As this is a completely new concept in the UAE, some parents and children are unsure of what to expect," she says. "When people arrive they should just take some time to relax into it, because the whole experience will be so new to them. Some children will run straight on the dance floor and won't want to leave for the whole event. "Some children take a while to adjust to the music and lights and all the action, and might want to go and start in the chill out zone, getting their face painted, watching the magician and having a bite to eat before getting out and shake on the dance floor.  The same can be said for parents. For some, this is the best excuse to beeline to the dance floor and dance till their hearts content. Some will take some time to get their disco shoes on.  It is just like real life." Except it smells of popcorn.

The next Baby Loves Disco event takes place on March 21 at Wafi Rooftop Gardens in Dubai. For more information visit www.babylovesdisco.ae or call 04 390 2060.