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"You don't need to stick your boobs out," my dance instructor tells me, correcting my posture. I'm standing in front of a mirror next to Dancing With the Stars' Peta Murgatroyd at the midtown Manhattan location of Dance With Me, a studio co-owned by her fiancé and costar, Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Murgatroyd and my dance partner, Ivan Paulovich, are giving me a quick brushup on my hustle and cha-cha for the disco takeover I plan to execute at a rave—yes, a rave—I've been invited to the following night.
I've been craving the return of disco for years. It started around the time I had children, gave up wearing heels, and noticed that instead of lullabies, I was singing my kids to sleep with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way," and Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (their favorite dance tune is Midnight Star's 1983 "Freak-A-Zoid"). Not too surprising, I suppose, for someone who'd spent the previous three decades out every night, and who is still in possession of an Imelda Marcos–worthy collection of some 600 pairs of gravity-defying shoes.
Happily, my call was answered by more than a few designers' spring 2017 shows, from Marc Jacobs's Deee-Lite–descendant club kids to the glitter-embellished numbers that turned up everywhere from Nicolas Ghesquière's Louis Vuitton, to Olivier Rousteing's Balmain, to Carol Lim and Humberto Leon's Kenzo. I can't take credit for the trend, but I'm thrilled for its return.
I've always linked my obsession with wild-and-crazy footwear to my love of dancing, and especially to disco. In high school, inspired by heavy doses of Soul Train, my best friend, Pam, and I acquired a couple of fake IDs and hustled down to the only disco joint in town, where we broke curfew hotfooting it to the aforementioned top-of-the-pops tunes, plus more by the Pointer Sisters, Rose Royce, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, the Bee Gees, KC and The Sunshine Band, and Chic. Later, in my freshman year of college, seven of us drove all night from Indiana to Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell's short-lived Studio 54. We stood across the street watching fabulously prom dress uk contenders wait for the bouncer to call them out of the crowd like a carnival barker. The women wore either slinky halterdresses with satin flamenco-style Mary Janes or Boogie Nights–worthy satin hot pants and platforms; the men, colorful Pierre Cardin suits or tuxedos. When the bouncer looked across the street and pointed straight at me, I responded with a "What…me?" shrug. He nodded and waved us over.
Frugal Midwesterners that we were, we balked at the $15 entrance fee, but once inside, our heads spun as fast as a 45 on a turntable, watching all the glamorous people shimmy across the floor. Mick Jagger was at the bar. Halston was reclining on a velvet couch strewn with gal pals Lauren Hutton, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Elsa Peretti in glittering dresses, all of them laughing and swilling champagne. It was one of those epic moments that imprints on your brain, to which nothing else ever measures up—a litmus test for fulfillment. And it was certainly my aha moment: Like that, I decided that after college I'd move to this glittering Oz, where the impossible was suddenly possible.
When I recently lamented my inability to wear heels—let alone dance in them—to the godfather of comfortable yet stageworthy footwear, Stuart Weitzman, he told me about the shoes he's custom-made to keep Beyoncé and Taylor Swift sashaying on tour. As he described the added padding, the extra stitching on boots for ankle support, the stronger and yet more flexible metal plate inside the sole, I felt a little hopefulness creep back into my toes. "Fifty percent of what I do is engineering the shoe; 50 percent is designing it," Weitzman says, explaining that as materials have gotten both stronger and softer, so have his shoes. "If the shoe doesn't feel good when you put it on, it's not going to get any better."
When motherhood first left me interned in Birkenstocks and Stan Smiths, I felt like an unfashionable outlier. Not to mention a klutz—I had to learn how to walk in flats without tripping over my own two feet. But then normcore surfaced, and not only was I sartorially in step with the times, I was well-shod for a life that now includes dragging around toddlers, walking dogs, and doing errands on the fly. Then, about five years ago, Phoebe Philo designed Céline's now-iconic slip-on, Vans-style sneaker, and designers like Raf Simons, then at Christian Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld, at Chanel, followed suit with couture and ready-to-wear sneakers they paired with day elegant prom dresses and eveningwear. Casual kicks not only functioned well; suddenly they looked great, too. Every now and then, I'll excavate a pair of six-inchers—typically adorned with metal spikes or mink pom-poms, or covered in gold brocade—from the depths of my closet for a black-tie event, but the balls of my feet send up cries of protest before I'm even out the door. This from someone who once gamboled about in the futuristic mile-high wedges Pierre Hardy designed for Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga! Who used to silence rooms with the elaborately embellished platforms Marc Jacobs sent down the runway while at Louis Vuitton! Who has been known to boast that she could run with the bulls in Pamplona in 120-mm stilettos!
The only elevated shoes I feel comfortable in these days are platforms—though I hate the way people clomp around in them like a team of Clydesdales hauling kegs of Budweiser. But a friend recently suggested that perhaps what's been missing from my world these past six years, aside from heels, was a personal life. I know from experience that platforms (or flatforms, to be more precise) are not only considered—in the dating arena, anyway—the most off-putting of sexual provocations, they also make it impossible to whirl around the dance floor in a come-hither fashion. If what I really needed was to get back to my dance hall days, I couldn't do it in flats.
Weitzman hears me out with the patience of a therapist. Still, he's not convinced my high-heel days are done. After all, it is his singular ability to turn the foot into a sex object, sans pain, that has landed his ankle-strap sandal, the Nudist (in countless hues), on almost a thousand red carpets since it was introduced in 2013. Waving his hand at an endless display of stilettos in his Madison Avenue showroom, Weitzman tells me I need to think about technology. After all, "without the titanium developed for Stealth fighter jets, none of this would be possible," he says. Even platforms have become less clodhopper-ish in recent years, thanks to cutting-edge materials. "We never used to have light, thick platform bottoms like we have today. Once a bottom got thicker than half an inch, it was like wearing a brick," he says. "Now they're like Styrofoam, only filled with air. If you crushed the sole, it'd be a tenth the size."