The Long Days And Boogie Nights Of America’s Last Disco Ball Maker

Just one move from John Travolta could change everything

Screenshot from NBC Nightly News

It’s a trend that Portlandia takes great delight in mocking—in the U.S., we don’t let our bygone professions die in peace. Hand-churned butter, straight-razor shaves, and Polaroid photography all seemed gone, but they’re back with a nostalgic vengance.

That’s why it’s a touch bittersweet to look at an industry that just didn’t warrant its own artisanal resurgence. All hail the disco ball.

In a little segment on NBC Nightly News, we get a chance to meet Yolanda “YoYo” Baker, toiling away in an obscure corner of Kentucky. Baker works for Omega National Products, the last American company still producing disco balls.

It probably never occurs to most people just how much work goes into crafting each ball, as the hundreds of tiny mirrored tiles are applied by hand to the large orbs. Even back in the day, when Bee Gee fever was at its peak and Omega employed 40 employees, they were still only putting out 25 disco balls a day.

Now it’s just Baker, upbeat but wistful and nostalgic for the past. She sweetly blames John Travolta’s career evolution for disco’s demise. “Get off your butt and dance again,” she lightly pleads with Travolta on Nightly News.

A more realistic foe for Omega’s business has been cheap Chinese imports, which Baker displays ample disdain for (“They don’t make very good balls,” she quips). Disco balls made by Omega run upwards of $125, while on Amazon you can score an import for a fraction of her custom pieces.

Oh, and if this kind of melancholic ode to bygone craft is your bag, have a peek at the last cassette tape factory below.

via Alan Levine / Flickr

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