The wild apartment disco party that paved the way for Studio 54
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Before legendary New York nightclubs such as Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, and before “Saturday Night Fever” burned up dance floors around the world, Mancuso kicked it all off with his “Love Saves the Day” party, which was more about fellowship than relationships.
In 1975, Mancuso — and the Loft — moved south to a larger space at 99 Prince St., before Soho was known as Soho. It was at this location that John “Jellybean” Benitez became one of the influential DJs who was inspired by the music and the message of the Loft.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” says Benitez, executive producer and host on SiriusXM’s Studio 54 Radio channel, who was about 18 when he started coming down from The Bronx to go to the Loft. “I learned from watching and listening and participating in that energy. David played a lot of songs I had never heard before, and I’d find myself searching for them when they were commercially available.”
Benitez, who spoke at Mancuso’s 2016 funeral, says that it was more about the programming of songs — from soul and funk to jazz and African music — than the synchronization of beats on the Loft’s killer sound system. “Sometimes there was space between the songs,” he says, “and the audience would just clap and stay on the dance floor. And then he’d play the next record.”
And at the Loft, it didn’t matter if you had a dance partner or not. It was all about “individual free-form dancing,” says Lawrence. “This was the breakup of partner dancing. You didn’t have to be interested in a guy or a woman or whatever . . . The driving element was the music and the dancing. And the sex was something that you might think about later.”
Eventually, the Loft would move around to other, nonresidential locations, such as Union Square Ballroom and the Ukrainian National Home social hall. And four years after Mancuso’s death, his spirit lives on in Loft parties everywhere from London to Japan.
And the Loft forever changed the way DJs such as Benitez see the dance floor. “It just became a connection to my soul, to myself, and an awareness of being present and in the moment. I was living in that moment,” he says. “It had all these souls in the same place dancing together and alone at the same time, living in their moment. You felt like you were part of the family.”