It’s a damp Wednesday evening in October and inside a historic five-story building just south of bustling Astor place, Manhattan’s latest exciting venue yawns itself awake. The unmarked door out front opens to a stark red-lit hallway with iridescent glitter flooring. At the end of the entryway, a piece of construction paper leaned against the wall reads simply, “THE DANCE”.
Turning the corner into the Sparkle Room, you can see folks head-bobbing to punk beats blaring from the speakers while others mingle along the left bar that has a mirrored-tile backdrop like someone flattened out a discoball. The spirit is similar to what you might find on a Friday night at a space in Ridgewood or Bushwick.
“I feel like a lot of people think Manhattan is over,” says Billy Jones, head honcho of The Dance and co-owner of music venue Baby’s All Right. “They often asked me, ‘Where can you even dance there anymore?’ But I began to notice people still wanted a space in the city where they could feel safe and comfortable to experiment and try new things. I really didn’t have an answer for them of where that could be until now.”
In the multi-room venue there are a total of three performance spaces: one by the entry bar, the main 350-capacity room that coalesces the club, and another upstairs space with a disco ball and additional bar. While The Dance officially opened at the end of 2019, a wide swath of secret, but erupting, gigs went on here starting in September through late fall, featuring the likes of DIIV, Charli XCX, Wild Nothing, Twin Peaks and Whitney.
Back inside The Dance, indie pop band Beach Fossils is in the green room gearing up to hit the stage for their first of two sold-out Halloween shows. Each band member is dressed in George Washington costumes with painted faces, colonial wigs and hot-red lipstick, ready to enter into the raucous party brimming two floors below.
Downstairs people have shuffled into the 350-capacity all-white room, a kind of blank palette (everything is painted that color, down to the stage monitors). On the right corner of the stage is a white spiral staircase that climbs to the green room above, calling for a theatrical entrance by the performers.
The audience shrieks as Beach Fossils make their way down the steps and onto stage in their aristocratic fop attire. They play out their set ending with an encore of mosh-inducing covers: Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” followed by Drowning Pool’s “Let The Bodies Hit the Floor.” One warrior in the crowd is hoisted into the air to crowd-surf, passed along from hand-to-hand. Others kick up a frenzied mosh pit. The grand finale is Oasis’s “Wonderwall,” which prompts a sloppy sing-along.
This isn’t a typical space for heavy hitter acts who often play to 1,000 people or more. “A venue like this is kind of an underplay for some of the popular artists who have played here already,” explains Beach Fossils’ frontman Dustin Payseur. “They’re used to playing much larger rooms like Webster Hall and Brooklyn Steel, and it’s really exciting to both perform and watch a show in a smaller room where there’s this insane amount of energy coming at you the whole time—like a bottle being shaken up with force,” he adds. “The energy passes back and forth between performer and audience so easily in a space like that, like one giant ball of energy that everyone together is sharing.”
Something else is cooking above the main venue too: Set to open in February, The Dance’s attached two-floor restaurant is a project by Billy Jones, chef Ken Addington of Five Leaves, Leif Huckman, and the team behind Greenpoint’s the Hidden Pearl and Williamsburg’s Donna. “I want the upstairs to be a release from the chaos downstairs, somewhere people can reset,” says Jones. “I want it to be a space where you can continue your night out together over a meal.”
While crowd overlaps with downstairs is probable, the new eatery aims to exist as a neighborhood spot in of itself too. “Our hope is that the restaurant is the type of space where people can come more than once or twice a week to hangout and eat and feel comfortable to express the same sort of energy as downstairs in a different form,” Jones says. “But, it’ll be different than Baby’s All Right where Baby’s is a venue that also serves food. This will be more of a restaurant that lives right above a venue.”
At its center, The Dance feels like a weird and wonderful collision between an above-board professional venue and one seeking a similar spirit as a DIY space.
“When all the DIY venues were around in Brooklyn like 285 Kent, Glasslands and Death By Audio, I used to just head down there on any night of the week to check it out, and you’d see a bunch of people you knew,” explains Payseur. “It kind of felt like this party that was always going on. There was always a sense of community that existed that most venues don’t really have outside of community-run venues—and now The Dance has that. Every time I’ve gone there, I’ve run into a community of people I know, and there’s always this common thread of interest.”
So far, there’s been diverse genres represented in bookings from electronic to punk, and a presence of budding artists to catch like Crown Heights-based experimental jazz and hip hop group Standing on the Corner, Queens female multi-instrumentalist and composer Eartheater, and a budding rapper MIKE who emerged from the Bronx, to name a few. Events for the LGBTQ community have also been demonstrated like a sizeable party, set for Valentine’s Day called “Gay Asstrology” where local legend Eli Escobar will take the decks with Lauren Flax, Armando Alexander and Charlene Inc.
Jones says that up-and-comers and larger acts are announced similarly on the venue’s Instagram. “It was my initial goal to have people coming here feel that, say, a Whitney show is just as important as a show from Model Actriz [a post-punk act], because in my mind Model Actriz is a really important artist playing in the city right now,” he says.
“Yeah, they may not have as many fans or sell as many tickets, but if I have this power to give them a platform to showcase the good work they’re doing, I want to make it feel just as important.”
428 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10003.