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Remember How to Dance, New York?

Santiago Felipe

New Yorkers are going to have to learn to dance again. After being conditioned to just sit around and blab thanks to years of lounges foisted on us by the city's no-dance-licenses-for-the-wicked restrictions, the gays are being cannonballed onto the dancefloor with xl, the glossy West 42nd Street club that's begging them to cut a carpet (if not munch one).

The space—a sort of cross between G Lounge and Splash, attached to a soon-to-open gay hotel complex—will only work if people actually stand up and move their tuchuses around. But between all the zoning bullshit of the past 18 years, the reassimilation of gays into mixed events, and sex apps' effect on nightlife (no need to go clubbing to get laid anymore), luring people to a dancefloor is almost like asking them to bareback. A lot of people will still do it, but it's kind of crazy!

The club itself certainly has possibilities. As you enter, there's a circular bar topped with two foofy floral arrangements, a mirrored inverted-pyramid structure prominently hanging from the ceiling like a growth. It's Cabaret meets La Cage and a little too old-school gay, though the guys seem to like congregating there since most of them have been lounge-acclimated since coming of age. Strut down the long corridor, and there's the main event—the dancefloor—which is sometimes packed and other times dotted with confused-looking people, though on one night I went, it was totally curtained off, so people could just stick to the inverted pyramid.

But almost as important to a gay club is the bathroom, which is down two narrow Star Trek–y flights. And it's surreal all right. The row of urinals is positioned so low, you can easily glance around and see everyone's business as you do yours. Even if guys don't dance, peen-lovers will no doubt line up to go to this club just so they can look at all the noodles! But talk about mixed messages. Go one more flight down, and you'll find that the stalls are rather smallish for sex, and besides, the cologne lady is ready to throw you the evil eye if you even try it.

The club's VIP preview two weeks ago had industry people scoping the space—meaning the main floor—and that included teen idol Aaron Carter, the peroxided cutie who's doing The Fantasticks not far away. "Why are you here?" I asked him, oozing charm. "It's family and friends night," Carter explained—but just then, a plus-size guy swooped in and frantically said something into Aaron's ear, clearly saving him from my evil doings. A while later, Aaron left through the back door, followed by two girls who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Something I said?

The next Thursday at xl, the legendary Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny premiered their weekly "42nd" party there, and in lieu of teen idols from the Snapple Theater Center, there were clubbies with sieves on their faces and Medusa wigs on their heads roaming the place side by side with the T-shirted gays. Kenny said he likes the club because you can go on the dancefloor without being knocked over. But the crowd didn't seem that light in their loafers at first. The ones who dared to grace the dancefloor generally just stood there, staring at the go-go dancing tableaux of provocatively clad Valkyries and wood nymphs or taking in the seizure-threatening strobe effects. Later, Kenny had the DJ add bass and "play deeper" ("I learned that from Larry Levan"), and that drew some extra people, but most of them still just stood in some kind of immobilized rapture. Apparently, dancing isn't like bike riding; it has to be totally relearned. Some occasional pandering via really obvious Katy Perry or Rihanna songs might have broken the ice, though as the night went on, things did get more festively physical and dancey-prancey, I must say.

And weirdly aggressive. A girl pushed into my photo op and spilled her drink all over the place. A guy vehemently pitched his line of hangover remedies to me and didn't seem to care that I never have hangovers because I don't drink. And someone who does drink kept following me and repeating: "I work for GMHC, and I have a story to tell. They have a horrible CEO." Party!

Friday nights at xl bring Rockit, the long-running Tony Fornabaio/Brandon Voss event, and that crowd knows how to dance as intricately as they know who's going to get booted off RuPaul's Drag Race. At midnight, the place was already packed, and not just the inverted-pyramid area. There was a solid crowd on the dancefloor, and most of them were bobbing up and down and even serving an occasional fist in the air. The high-tech screen showing the bash's logo in motion—a naked, steroid-y cowboy from outer space flying around on a phallic rocket—obviously provided artistic inspiration.

John Blair's JB Saturdays attract cavorting hordes, too, and in fact, every single night of the week there will bring something different, from show tunes to drag-queen shtick to Latin night to more drag queens. One night last week even brought someone screaming at a friend: "You are a horrible person! We paid for that shit, and you didn't even give us any!" Well, at least no hangover remedies were needed.

So will the club's elaborate, floral ambitions pay off? I don't know, but even if Aaron Carter never swings by again, I'll be there, third urinal from the left. Dancing.

musto@villagevoice.com


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