Deney Terrio Keeps Disco Flame Lit with Dance Fever [Interview]

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Deney Terrio
Photo Courtesy of Deney Terrio Facebook

For those of a certain age, the name Deney Terrio is synonymous with the dance fever happiness that disco invited into lives. Terrio, who shot to fame teaching John Travolta how to move to the disco beat on the streets of Brooklyn, NY in “Saturday Night Fever,” continues thrilling new and old fans fueling disco dance joy.

Disco may not have made the impact it did as, not only a dance trend but as a lifestyle without Terrio. The famed dancer is touted as a major architect of the craze as choreographer and dance coach leading Travolta to fame in the iconic “Saturday Night Fever” movie. Terrio then brought his enthusiasm for disco to the masses in his TV show “Dance Fever.”

Deney Terrio
Photo Courtesy of Deney Terrio Facebook

Terrio Forever Inspires Dance Fever

Long before “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” Terrio hosted the competition show “Dance Fever” beginning in 1979. The inspiration for the modern celebrity judged shows had four couples on each week to compete for a short 90-120 seconds with their own dance routine. Famed judges scored the duos on originality, showmanship, style, and technique.

Terrio heated up the show with his own fever-inducing all to get up and dance. Each week viewers would tune in to get inspired to head out to the clubs to do their own choreographed movements. Terrio woke up fans from their disco naps with many using the show as their fuel to warm up for disco nights.

With the world recently celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Fever,” the fever has never cooled for Terrio. The king of disco has continued to spread his feverish magic fueling dance flames touring with his show, “The Deney Terrio Dance Party.” In 2019 he brought his brilliance to host the ultimate disco party on a fabulous disco cruise and is happy to announce that he will be hosting the 2020 Ultimate Disco Cruise as well.

Terrio Talks Dance and Life

The boy born Denis George Mahan transformed himself into the brilliant choreographer and well-known TV host known as Deney Terrio. Terrio was thrust into fame as a pioneer of disco after turning Travolta into a dancing phenom in “Saturday Night Fever.” Although he is most known for his choreography and role as host to the TV show “Dance Fever,” Terrio also worked as an actor.

Terrio showcased his acting abilities in several films including: The Idolmaker; Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; A Night in Heaven; and Knights of the City. He also delighted fans when he appeared as a guest star on television series.

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Deney Terrio and Carol Ruth Weber
Photo Courtesy of Carol Ruth Weber

Carol Ruth Weber: What made you change your name from Denis George Mahan?

Deney Terrio: It was my mother’s maiden name and she was the love of my life. I just kind of paid homage to her by taking her name. Every time I would get on TV she would hear her name and smile.

CRW: When did you begin dancing?

DT: The great thing about having an older sister is she had girlfriends who spent the night. I would peek into the window and see them all dancing. I realized women loved to dance and started telling guys they needed to learn how to dance to get the girls. It started out just for social reasons. I began watching Fred Astaire, the Nicholas Brothers, and Gene Kelly and started dancing at around 14. My sister took me to Beantown for a dance competition and I entered without her knowing. I won the entire competition. She was totally embarrassed.

I actually-performed for Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. The first talk show I was on was Merv Griffin. Before I went on I was told by the show that I was going to dance for Fred Astaire. After I danced Merv asked Fred what makes a great dancer. Fed Astaire referred to me with his answer:

“There are good dancers but the great ones have their own style like this one right here!”

CRW: What people have most inspired you?

DT: A group called The Lockers who started the great funk dance that you see on “Soul Train.” I worked with that group and with Dick Clark on his special “Killing Me Softly,” with Roberta Flack. Dick Clark believed in street dancers when no else took them seriously. He brought them into our homes.

CRW: So, was street dancing what started disco?

DT: Absolutely! People were going into the clubs listening to the music and started their own moves. Others would join them and I think that is where the line dance was formed. It started underground and blew up from there.

CRW: What life experiences have been most life-changing for you?

DT: I think the time I met John Travolta’s manager. This woman who was managed by Travolta’s manager, Bob LeMond, set up an appointment for me to meet with him. I went in with an old reel-to-reel [tape recorder]. I get there and am setting up the reel-to-reel and can’t get it to work. He was giving me the brush-off so I had to do something. I turned on the radio and found a station playing Kool and the Gang “Jungle Boogie.” LeMond got on the phone with Paramount and the next thing I know they signed me to work on “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta.

Before then I was winning all the dance championships in California. I was actually doing what Travolta did in the movie. That’s how I got my start.

CRW: What passions do you have beyond the world of dance and disco?

DT: My dogs! Shelter dogs. I have two. [With a laugh] I probably should have said this first – my son Kyle.

CRW: What has your favorite part been when it comes to bringing the fever of disco to the masses?

DT: I like the smiles on all the faces – I like to see them up dancing. We have all age groups, from grey haired to young people. That music had great lyrics and a 4/4 beat. It is great music, and when I am done with shows I go out in the audience and everyone tells me they had such a great time. That’s why I am trying to keep it alive. That music was so good it has weathered time and, to me, it is still the best dance music, and the best party music, there is.

Fun music makes you smile and stamp your feet – and want to dance. Other than a few groups today I don’t see the dancing. There are some bright spots, like Bruno Mars, but disco was designed to go after your dancing feet, to make you dance – the lyrics were about dance like “Saturday Night Fever” where they got dressed up to go out. This is the way clubs should be.

This disco cruise has been the biggest lineup I have ever worked with. To me getting all these people on the ship dancing is like going back in time.

Forever fans will be able to dance along with their favorite disco master in person on the high seas in a fabulous dance-fueled Gulf of Mexico Celebrity cruise in 2020, February 10-15. Terrio plays his host magic promoting dance fever to incite all to boogie down with favorite disco superstars.

Joining Terrio to wow admirers will be such famed acts as: KC and The Sunshine Band; The Jacksons; Commodores; The Pointer Sisters; Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes; Heatwave; Sister Sledge; First Ladies of Disco featuring Martha Wash, Linda Clifford and Norma Jean Wright; George McCrae; Anita Ward; and Maxine Nightingale – to name just a few. Terrio’s fans are invited to book the Ultimate Disco Cruise at a special rate with an exclusive offer.

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