Serving as a template for the bevy of new-wave clubs that sprung up in the city in the ’80s, Rudolf Piper and Jim Fouratt’s original Danceteria opened on West 37th Street in 1979. But it was Danceteria’s second incarnation at 30 West 21st Street, which ran from 1982 through 1986, that cemented the club’s place in history. It was there, of course, that Madonna’s first live performance took place in 1983; the club also served as the setting for a pivotal scene in Desperately Seeking Susan. But forget Madge—the club was much more renowned for its array of risk-taking DJs (including resident Mark Kamins) and as a setting for musicians ranging from shock-punkers the Plasmatics to modern-classical giant Philip Glass.
Rudolf Piper, Danceteria impresario: “Those were still the good old days of sex and drugs and rock & roll…and, thank God, we all got plenty of it. The five floors of this supermarket of style were where gays, straights, artists, junkies, goths, skinheads, lost uptowners, sexy Jersey chicks, pinheads, Studio 54 leftovers, B&Ts, weirdos from outer space, drag queens, S&M freaks, hookers, performers of all sorts, East Villagers galore, not to mention musicians of all kinds, got together. We lived over there! Seven nights a week, week after week…it was so good, and we all thought it would never end. It was more than just entertainment—it was a lifestyle, and it was a school. People stop me on the street all the time, telling me how important Danceteria was in giving them a direction and how much it changed their lives, for the better or for the worse. It didn’t matter—it was well worth it!”