Danceteria: Memories, Reunions and the Loss of DJ Anita Sarko

Posted on: October 26th, 2015 at 10:26 am by

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Danceteria has flooded social media recently. The onslaught began when a video of a late night low-budget 1980s TV commercial started circulating online, and culminated in the tragic death of famed DJ  Anita Sarko.

Advertising the club, the commercial, edited by videographer Dee Cortex back in 1981, featured visuals of Danceteria flyers, hand colored by artist Jessica Jason.

The commercial was narrated by owner Rudolph Piper, who referred to himself as “the head bimbo of Danceteria, the dance club located you-know-where in Manhattan.” Comical and also David Lynch-esque, the spot featured music by Nino Rota, along with Piper’s voiceover claiming that Danceteria was “The meeting point for all kinds of fashion vandals, accordion experts and Soviet drag queens,” and also exclaiming, “Exiled Latin American dictators have free admission!”

Danceteria was one of our favorite clubs of the 80s. Originally at 252 West 37th St, the location was shut down in 1980 by the police and fire departments for operating illegally. In 1982, it reopened at 30 West 21st St. The latter location was well known for its varied performances on six floors, each of which had a different vibe.

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Betsey Johnson’s birthday party, 1980. Source

The first floor featured live music along with famed DJ Anita Sarko spinning in the VIP room, aka “Congo Bill.” Known for her 12 hour DJ sets, she also hosted the “No Entiendes” cabaret shows with famed Danceteria doorman, Haoui Montaug.

Danceteria became known as the center of highbrow-meets-lowbrow culture with bands including (to name just a few): New Order, the Smiths, Duran Duran, Sonic Youth, Devo, Madonna, Sade, The B-52s, Romeo Void, Nick Cave, Cyndi Lauper, Depeche Mode, REM, the Beastie Boys, Bauhaus, Soft Cell, RuPaul, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards. (And yes, we saw them all. Jealous, much?)

As Danceteria DJ and noted producer Mark Kamins said in an interview, “I think Danceteria was a remarkable space, like Warhol’s Factory or Max’s Kansas City, or CBGBs. Rudolp Piper and [booking agent] Jim Fouratt had this amazing finesse in hiring people that they believed in. Why were the Beastie Boys the cleaning crew? Why was Madonna one of the dancers? Why was Sade a bartender? You’re talking about a magical moment, a magical space.”

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Rudolph Piper, Diane Brill and assorted guests. Photo:

So, why are we writing about this now? This past Friday, a flurry of Danceteria news was back on social media, for reasons both cheerful and tragic.

There was a Danceteria reunion planned for later that night, but earlier in the afternoon, news broke of the suicide of Sarko earlier this month. According to many sources, Sarko was in remission from two brutal forms of cancer (ovarian and uterine), but was having some physical distress and was also finding it difficult to find creative work. For those who knew Sarko, it was shocking news since she was a musical hero to so many. This reporter would like to personally thank her for all of the joyous, music-filled nights she gave so many of us. Before there were superstar DJs, and certainly before there were female DJs, she was our superstar.

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Anita Sarko.

Michael Musto wrote a beautiful and deeply moving tribute on Facebook and, like all things Musto, he said it better than anyone else.

Despite the news, the Danceteria reunion went on as planned at the Rumpus Room on the Lower East Side. The turnout was huge, and many guests said that, initially, everyone was in shock and there was a pall over the room. But then they felt that Sarko would have wanted them to continue on and to celebrate. So they did.

Facebook’s Danceteria page has many photos from the reunion, as well as tributes to Sarko, along with other lost friends, here and here.

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