Memories of the Atlanta Limelight Disco

I was a Limelight Twinkie. At least that’s what one of the regulars there told me. He said that the Limelight solo dancers were nicknamed “Twinkies” — maybe as a shortened version of Twinkletoes.

There were quite a few of us. Pardon me if I don’t remember the girls, but I do remember two of the guys. One was a dark haired Latino fellow who always wore black leather with buckles and straps. He danced solo down on the main dance floor. Another was an Asian jazz dancer with layered, shoulder length hair, who usually wore a white suit. He danced up on one of the speakers, and he was my favorite to watch. It amazed me the moves you could pull off dancing in one place.

Needing a lot more space than a speaker offered, I stayed down on the dance floor, which was stainless steel and slippery as hell. It took a bit of practice to get the hang of dancing on it, especially after an initial hard landing on the rump.

They called Limelight The Studio 54 of the South, with its grand staircase that led down to a glass dance floor, over a live fish tank with sand sharks swimming inside. Apparently the sharks weren’t there for long, and neither was the live black leopard. I didn’t see the sharks or leopard, the dance floor having changed by the time I discovered what became my favorite discotheque of all time.

Thousands of flashing and moving and strobing lights, and even occasionally smoke blown in, turned the dance floor into a fantasy world of dancers. Sometimes confetti showered you from the heavens up beyond the lights, and always the mirrored disco ball turned, multiplying the lights a thousandfold. For us Twinkies, nothing existed beyond the edge of the dance floor.

It was the biggest dance floor I’d ever experienced, with giant speakers on each side that some of the Twinkies danced on. Us Twinkies provided free entertainment for the crowd, and for the Limelight club itself. Before the Twinkies, they actually paid scantily clad hotties to dance in cages suspended from the ceiling. When the club changed management, the paid dancers and cages were out, and the Twinkies were in. We got in free most of the time, bypassing the $5 cover charge. They’d hand out get-in-for-free cards, and sometimes even a permanent membership card, both of which I had (and still do!)

Limelight Atlanta was The Place to Be, and if celebrities came through Atlanta, that’s where they hung out. Farrah Fawcett, Andy Warhol, Rod Stewart, Burt Reynolds, Tina Turner, Neil Simon, Tom Cruise, Ali McGraw, Blondie (Debbie Harry), Rick Springfield, Madonna, and David Hasselhoff were among them. I personally saw David Hasselhoff, who danced in the center of three women. The Limelight staff told me that the women were his bodyguards.

Three disc jockeys rotated shifts: Randy Easterling, Noel Aguirre, and a third DJ whose name I don’t remember since he was never there when I was, but I think his name was Tito. My favorite was always Noel, who played the best mix of music to get my feet tapping the floor.

I didn’t start out as a solo dancer, it happened when a killer song came on and nobody asked me to dance. Whenever a boring song played, there they were, all the men tugging at my sleeve, “Wanna dance?” But the minute a hot song played and I had to sit through it just dying to dance, I thought, “To hell with you guys if you won’t dance to the good songs!”

I’d been watching the Twinkies dance, oblivious to dance partners, lost in the joy of the music, and so I became one of them. It was better that way. I wasn’t there to get picked up, and if a guy asked you to dance, what he really wanted to do was get all slinky with you and crowd you so that you couldn’t dance. The Twinkies had been there — they knew.

The other downside of accepting a dance invitation was that the guy then acted like he was on a date with you, and stuck to you like flypaper, angling for goodies. That gets really old when all you want to do is dance, and he’s keeping you from it.

And then there was the small talk. Guys don’t get it. When you go out to dance, the last thing you want to think about is going to work on Monday, or any other mundane aspect of life. And what’s the first thing a guy asks a strange girl? “What do you do? Where do you work?”

Once I became a Twinkie, my world was free as long as I was on the dance floor. People didn’t exist except to know where they were to avoid collisions. I was the song personified.

Becoming the song was so intense that people thought I was on drugs, but I wasn’t. Absolutely no drugs, and at most, I drank three drinks for the course of the entire night, but more often it was only two, and most of that got burnt off on the dance floor.

If you read old news stories about the Limelight, they all focus on the wild side of drugs, and public sex, and the sharks and leopard. They talk about the owner and his nefarious connections and legal troubles. I never saw any of that in the two years I danced there.

Two years, every week, usually on Sunday, there I was, and the staff called me Sunday Girl. Sometimes I went on Tuesday or Thursday as well, but never on the busy weekend nights when the dance floor was jam packed. I was a regular, and I did not see what the news stories described. Maybe it was rare, but big enough to make the news. Maybe you only see what you’re looking to see. I don’t know.

Being a girl solo dancer had a weird side effect. Girls figured that if I wasn’t dancing with a guy, maybe I swang the other way, and they’d start hitting on me. I embarrassed one poor girl. She made the mistake of hitting on me out on the dance floor, in front of the whole world, rather than asking me beforehand. She got the same treatment as the guys who tried it — blatantly rejected right out there for all the world to see.

What tortured those of us who loved the Limelight was trying to listen to a radio station any other time. None of them even came close to playing the high energy disco music that Limelight was known for. Radio stations were so tame, throwing you a good song maybe once every couple hours. We didn’t have streaming radio stations back then, coming in from faraway cities on our computers.

Limelight was best known for playing Euro-Disco — pure energy 80s disco music from across the pond — but that was before my time there, too. If I were going to put together a Limelight playlist, including songs that came out after they closed down but that they would have played, the following songs would be included. The songs marked with an asterisk are ones that I specifically remember dancing to at the Limelight.

Other songs that the Limelight DJ’s spun for us included Stop, Wake Up; the dance version of Venus; and a song that I’ve never been able to locate, but what I wrote down on the napkin said, “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

When the Limelight closed its doors, I was devastated. Like the other Twinkies, I drifted from dance club to dance club looking for a new home, but the joy of dancing after the Limelight was elusive. The other Atlanta clubs were designed to be social clubs, not dance clubs, and there is a huge difference. A gazillion tables crowding around a tiny dance floor does not a dance club make, and it seemed as if 80s disco had been shot dead in Atlanta. I don’t know why, because we all still wanted it.

Rumor had it that the gay clubs were still going strong with this genre of music; and sometime later, two similar clubs sprang up called Axys and Petrus, but both were short-lived. I never found out where the other Twinkies ended up. I adopted the 57th Fighter Group, and The Shack, the latter of which also went poof after awhile.

Like the explorers of old chasing after lost islands, the Twinkies chased after a fast-disappearing dance scene. We were aliens in a strange new world, where dance clubs started leaning toward rap music instead of disco music. The Limelight giant was dead. Disco was dead. Somebody murdered them, and left us as orphans.

* * * * *

For a look at the lost worlds that ancient explorers chased after, Ancient Aliens and the Lost Islands takes you deep down into wormholes to other planets, where extraterrestrials traveled from to get to Earth. If you believe in the possibility that humanoid giants once roamed Earth, Ancient Aliens and the Age of Giants delves deep into who they were, how they lived, where they came from, and what evidence they left behind. Neither book has anything to do with dancing. Both are related to ancient astronaut theory, and extraterrestrials visiting Earth.

  • Ancient Aliens and the Lost Islands

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    15 Responses to Memories of the Atlanta Limelight Disco

    1. Keith Castilloux says:

      I am going to be 64 soon, still love to cut loose on a dance floor. I have talked about the limelight off and on over the years when the conversation turns to the pathetic clubs of today we have to choose from.

      I still speak of the limelight as I always have with the reverence usually reversed for a spiritual experience. I was there from 1980 until late 84. It is still hard to believe the phenomenal things I saw and did at the limelight while I was going to school working towards my doctorate. Things like the only holographic laser I have ever seen which produced a green naked couple making love midair over the dance floor, (I only saw it once in 4 years). Like wise a mostly naked woman in a Plexiglas octagon which was lowered over the dance floor from high above (only once in 4 years). This was a hallmark of this incredible club, extravagance, innovation, versatility, originality and unequaled quality. It had and still has no equal.

      The lime light was decadent and boasted 5 million in light and sound equipment in 1980 dollars. It featured the only strobes I have ever seen which went from instant daylight to instant total blackness producing an absolutely surreal stop action effect. The best confetti, foam, wind and fog effects I have ever seen or heard of. Then there were the 8-10 curtains which pulled back or pulled up to reveal the giant limelight logo which slowly rose from above the stairs to a second back dance floor while the walls expanded doubling the dance floor area to open the club. There was a musical theme song, insane sequential lights and lasers punctuating the opening of the dance floor nightly. A show in and of itself. The opening alone told you this place was an event not merely a club. The limelight closed by contracting the same walls. Talk about cool! The bass speakers were huge, 6 feet high and lined the main dance floor walls. We danced on top of them. Again how cool! The limelight sound system was so powerful that the music was literally inside you moving you to it’s rhythm even if you didn’t have your own. If you have ever sat close to blown fuel cars as they launch you know how sound can be felt as much as heard. The sound was so clean and perfect that you never thought it was loud but it was. Your ears would ring for hours after you left. Then there was the true magic of the limelight – the lights. The lights were computer programmed by the sound engineers for all of the best limelight songs the DJs picked for their dynastic range and layered beats. They created an immersive environment which has never been equaled or even approached. The lights were of every shape and color, some spun, some strobed, some twinkled, some pulsed, some were structural and fixed but most could be raised or lowered nearly to the dance floor. Every note, every beat, every vocal, every nuance of the music was engineered into the lights. It was impressive on the dance floor however, if you were lucky enough to go up to the second floor above the dance floor it was mind boggling – you could literally see music. You felt high and taken in by the sight of music, no drug needed. I made a point to look at the second floor lights every time I went. It was beyond what a this mere mortal’s brain and senses were able to process. I can’t describe it any other way.

      There was a sound proofed film studio area with built in huge wrap around coaches complete with huge throw pillows and popcorn machines down a hallway if you needed privacy or quiet. They would play vintage flicker shows like Key stone cops and Charlie Chaplin. Things often occurred there you don’t normally associate with a discoteque – think of modern day furries. There was also the VIP area which I was too broke to go into but the drugged out people and nudity which often stumble out left me with no doubt that it was the equivalent of a Caligula scene in there. Limousines lined the front every night the club was open while the commoners like me stood under heat lamps in long lines during winter months for up to an hour. I usually went single because a date was a distraction from this club and stuff happened there that precluded the need for a date. It was a feast for the eyes, ears, and soul every time I went. I needed a week or two to recover and I was in my twenties. I recall standing in line under the heat lamps one night and the two ladies in front of me had on clear raincoats and pumps – absolutely nothing else. The nightly debauchery, the celebrities, plentiful drugs, and money all coalescing to the throbbing music and lights was the reason we all went. It was simple insane. God help me I miss it.

      I ran across this review from a person who knows what he is talking about, it bears repeating.

      “In this DJs opinion… the Atlanta Limelight was the greatest nightclub ever realized. Like all clubs, it had it’s heyday and then eventually went downhill… However, during the first two years of it’s operation, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. I and my business partner have worked or visited every notable club on the east coast during the late ’70s to mid ’80s. We were always looking for ideas to improve our own DJ skills, and the draw of our extensive “mobile disco” service, which was the largest in the surrounding three states. Our tours included such famous names as Xenon… Studio 54… Penrod’s… Studio 51… etc… Always… if we heard a club was hot, we traveled there ASAP to check out the party. However, nothing I ever saw could compete with the total experience of Limelight Atlanta. All the sound equipment was absolutely top drawer. The DJs and music were the best money could buy. The decor was excellent, and the layout could only be described as extravagant. Furthermore, the light show must have literally cost millions! And the crowd during the early days was always fantastic… beautiful well dressed clientele, including stars of the recording and entertainment profession. And every weekend, you could expect some kind of stage show. Comedy skits, recording artists lipsyncing to the latest dance hit, etc….”

    2. Audette says:

      The Limelight was probably when my life was the craziest! In a good way. I LOVED being there so much, I worked there. Forget it once you’re on the dance floor and Easterling is “spinning” out of control with kick ass dance music that would have a lot of us out there for hours, sweating off 10 pounds by the time we left!! But yes – I think anyone that experienced the Limelight experienced a world apart from anything else – a fantasy world so to speak. It was for me. I could get so lost in the music – I LOVED to dance!! John – I miss you breaking in my pumps! There are so many memories to reflect on but we all probably have a little of each others story in our own.

    3. Lillie says:

      I agree.they robbed us of the aura, the experience, and the music. It was no where near being dead. All I know it was the one place for serious dancers who felt the vibe of the place and the great music. It was the one place where having a date just got in the way of the personal experience.
      All I know is that I was dead during the week and resurrected there every weekend.

    4. James Simmons says:

      Sitting at home on New Years Eve, 2017 reflecting on the new years I rang in at the Limelight. Catching a 3:00 PM NYE flight out of DFW, arriving ATL at 5:55 PM. (Good thing Delta was ready when I was!) Claiming my bags, getting the rent car and checking into the hotel around 7:30. Grab a shower, a quick dinner and arrive at the Limelight around 9:30 PM. The energy level I had when I was a 20-something! And the dumb questions people asked me: “Why would you go all the way to Atlanta to ring in the new year? There are places in Dallas where you can do that.” Really? Those folks obviously never went to the Limelight. So I would answer, “I want this year to be over with as quickly as possible. If I go to Atlanta, it will end an hour earlier than it will if I stay in Dallas.” Really.

    5. Chris Takashima says:

      The other DJ was Tito Alvarez, he was the one that taught me how to spin way, way back in the day.

    6. Terry Hardy says:

      Wow. Great. I, too, was a Limelight orphan. So sad to see it go. I always say I was born on the speaker in front to the DJ booth. I was from small town Alabama and had not lived until I was on that speaker.
      I still play those songs from time to time. I started going the first year and for about the next 3. I was done in 1985. I guess I changed.
      There are songs that will forever be burned in my mind when thinking about the Limelight….Give me a break, Hit and Run Lover, Dancin, Break Away, and my all time favorite – Dan Hartman’s RELIGHT MY FIRE.
      It was a joy to go to the Limelight party at the Buckhead Theater a few years ago…very real and fun to relive that once more.
      I also went looking for a replacement for the Limelight and have still never found it.
      Thanks for the article…it is spot on.

      • Alex says:

        Vivian Vee “Give Me a Break” was one of my favs too and anything Carol Jiani (Hit and Run, Mercy). Many of the songs listed here were released long after the club closed so they were never played there.

    7. Aron Siegel says:

      I like your list except:

      Flashlight by Parliament was not played there
      Word Up by Cameo was not played there.

      Plus The other songs John Hulsey pointed out.

      Thanks for your blog!

      • Allie says:

        As I said to DJ Hulsey, my list is prefaced with: “If I were going to put together a Limelight playlist, including songs that came out AFTER they closed down but that they would have played, the following songs would be included.”

        So if you were going to host a Limelight party today, you wouldn’t limit it only to songs played at the Limelight. You’d surely include newer songs that fit the theme. Being one of the regular twinkies whose sole focus was on dancing, I can tell you there’s an “aura” or “vibe” to a song that transcends. I was known as Sunday Girl, although sometimes I came during the week. I literally “felt” or “lived” the songs I was dancing to, and no, I didn’t take drugs. Max alcohol was three drinks over the course of a night, though more often two, so the dance was natural, coming from within. Rarely danced with a partner, and owned the dance floor 🙂 My list is made of songs with the “Limelight vibe.”

    8. Dj John Hulsey says:

      Your songlist is not quite accurate, Pink, and Backstreet Boys, were released, much later, thnn 1987, when Limelight closed down.,all great songs, and the rest of Your list is quite accurate..just clarifying!!

      • Allie says:

        I said as much 🙂 The list is prefaced with: “If I were going to put together a Limelight playlist, including songs that came out after they closed down but that they would have played, the following songs would be included.”

    9. Brian Graham says:

      I just found this, and have fond memories of my short-lived time I got to attend the Limelight from ’85 until it’s closing. I was at Miami Nights and got to see Company B, Expose’, Stacey Q, Steve Paul Perry, Paul Parker, and Debbie Gibson perform.

      To date, I still have not found a killer club, with the light show, energy, and music of the Limelight.

      I remember dancing up on the speakers to the left, next to the DJ booth, just to watch what record was spinning on the turntables. The next time I came to town, I’d run by Let the Music Play, and hope the DJs there could help me find the songs I could recall from my last visit. This was lonnnnngggggg before Shazam was even a concept, and you had to remember the words or hope you could read a record spinning at 45 RPM.

      Listening to all the great music at The Limelight is what inspired me to become a mobile DJ. I still have a lot of records, about 3000, from working in clubs in the late 80s, adding to my collection of stuff I picked up from being at the Limelight in the mid 80’s.

      Thanks for the great memories……

      • Trip Swindell says:

        Thanks for this, Brian! I was Googling Company B at the Limelight in Atlanta and found this. I remember being there for those performers … I forgot it was called Miami Nights. I also remember they had to bring Debbie Gibson through a separate entrance because she was too young to be in the bar. You’ve got a great memory.

    10. Tim Sullivan says:

      I remember those days (nights). The most unbelievable club I have ever been to, and never found its replacement. A group of us kid would drive from P.C. BCH to ATL at least twice a month, for all the years the Limelight was open. Stopping off friday night, at University of Auburn check out the parties, stop at Darvo’s where Jack and Coke three for one, on friday night, and pick up another friend. Off to ATL, slept most the day Saturday, getting ready for Magic Bar, and then Limelight. Wow, what a time we had, also every new years eve, we were there. Remember, you had to have paid reservations for the New Years Eve party, at nights end they would feed you eggs benedict.

      I did see the sharks, and the Panthers, the sharks were there for the filming of the Burt Reynolds movie Sharky’s Machine. That dance floor, what a trip, the twinkies,those huge speakers, We would bring the dances we saw back to our little town. (I feel sorry for the kids today, they have nothing like this). I saw Rod Stewart, Christy McNichols, and Steve Martin parting there. The lighting system second to none, the live mannequin’s in glass as you walked to the spiral stair case. The white crossed lights showed you the path, the hum was all you heard, Then BAM your standing on a balcony, the music kicks you like a mule, everyone below you is dancing, a dance floor so huge, looked like it could hold a thousand people. You run to the spiral staircase just to get out and get involved (I just loved this place) There were U shaped couches red velvet material, ten or more bars selling drinks, Bathroom porters treated you like a king, you tip them, they could get you anything, and I mean anything.

      Halloween there was, I cant even describe it, one guy rapped completely in cellophane porter house steak tied around his neck. another with clear tubes over his entire body, an electric cord attached, when he went to the bar, he would plug in, and those tubes where colored flashing lights. There is so much, I been to south beach club liquid, Sly Stallone was there ,Madonna too, not even on the same Universe with Limelight.

      I am 57 now and when I go to ATL, I ride by the location, now a Kroger grocery store of something like that. I sit in the parking lot and imagine the fun we had, we lived at a moment in time like that was so special. It couldn’t last it was disco, a supernova type flash of history. ) Before we Knew it the Limelight was sold, and Rupert’s opened,after, Rupert’s in any other spot would have been a great place. But, we are talking about the same location as the Limelight. The bar was set too high, I only went to Rupert’s one time, It was great, but I cried after we left. It was not the limelight, and Rupert’s didn’t make it any way. We were so lucky to have lived during this special time. Thank you for allowing me to remember, I will not forget Our Time At The Limelight.

      • Debbie Duncan says:

        I have to agree with all of you. Never before of since has there been anything close to the limelight. Everything else pretty much sucked. So many unique experiences and So very glad that I grew up on the era that I did. I feel sorry for kids today. They will never know the pure joy of a dance club. They do not know what they missed. It truly was an experience that I have tried to explain it to people who never went. You simply can’t comprehend they how spectacular it was.
        I too didn’t dare miss Halloween or New Years Eve. There were other events throughout the year but those two were always spectacular! They always went all out. Management and staff always made sure things were done right. If you ever run across anyone who lived in Atlanta during that time, ask if they ever went to the limelight. That always puts a smile on their face! ❤️

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