Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983
Tim Lawrence is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London and the author of
The Saint Peter of Discos
Bruce Mailman, an entrepreneur and owner of the St. Mark’s Baths, opened the Saint as the city’s largest and most futuristic venue for the white gay crowd in the autumn of 1980. Featuring a cyborg-like depiction of St. Sebastian with lasers shooting out of his fingertips and eyes, so blending the iconography of suffering, righteousness, and pleasure with male beauty, the artwork for the opening party signaled how the venue’s name did more than establish a connection to the St. Mark’s Baths. Just as Sebastian was martyred for his Christian beliefs, so the gay male dancer who refused to forsake his homosexuality could experience a form of dance-floor redemption, where the ritual of sacrificing one’s body to the rhythm carried the prospect of transcendence. Held on 20 September, the first night drew in celebrity partygoers while eyewitnesses recalled Second Avenue coming to a stretch-limo standstill.
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