At this late date what could I possibly write about Alegria that hasn’t been already written? That it was amazing? That it set a whole new level of excellence for party goers? That it was like the Avenger’s endgame of 22 MCU movies that cumulated in possibly the highest grossing film of all time? How about we go with that. It was like the cumulation of 50 years of dancing in NYC. Dancing in the 60’s as a demonstration as our rights to gather. Dancing through the 70’s through both the Saint and Studio 54. Through the 80’s and 90’s through the AIDS crisis as a way for our right to simply exist. Dancing through the 2000’s as we fought back against AIDS via fundraiser “circuit” parties and Mayor Guiliani’s attempts to clean up the city by shutting clubs down.. And through the 2010’s as we fought back against perhaps the greatest challenge of all – gentrification and nimbyism. And it all came together in one perfect night. In one perfect place. At one perfect time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting Into the Venue
Ric Sena runs an incredibly tight ship. He’s been doing it for almost 20 years and he’s the undisputed Queen of the gay NY club scene. And Alegria is his crown jewel. He knows logistics. He knows his crowd. And he knows his DJs.
I asked a close friend Alan if I needed to get a VIP ticket. His response was, “There’s absolutely no need with Ric Sena and Avant Gardner, the event will run flawlessly.” And he was right. Total time from entry to center of the dance floor was approximately 5 minutes. That’s 5 minutes to check ID, go through the metal detector, get a wrist band and enter your credit card payment for the wrist band. I didn’t go to coat check but I did want to note that it was not just numbered, but color coded! It’s that kind of detail that takes it to a whole other level and that would be evident in numerous touches throughout the night.
We arrived around 7:30 pm because I figured that the dance floor would be filled up by then since 2.5 hours had already passed since they opened. It was already approximately 2/3 full and Jackinsky was playing an excellent tea dance set. It was high energy, full of vocals and just brimming with fun. It was great music to dance and talk to friends. It seemed like the crème de la crème of the circuit world was out tonight and I met so many warm and kind people throughout the night.
I also wanted to be there early because I wanted to be there at the magic hour. The hour in which day becomes night and everything is rapturously covered in a warm golden hue. I didn’t want to miss a single moment. By 9 pm, the WOW tea dance was ending. The hors d’oeuvres were concluding and we were about to enter the meat and potatoes portion of the meal.
The initial WOW dance area was a large courtyard with a large stage as the focal point in which the words WOW were spelled out in white with the DJ spinning in the letter O (as in OH!). The letters changed in color throughout the night. The sides of the wall were about 3 stories high and there were extensive video projections the remaining 3 sides of the box throughout the night so one minute you would feel like you were flying above the clouds and then deep in the ocean the very next. There were also numerous standing columns in which plumes of smoke or fire would intermittently erupt and where go go boys would be waiving international flags symbolizing World Pride one moment or dancers regaled in the most intricate of glowing costumes such as the LED-covered Mayaneque bird costumes would be dancing the next.
The highlight of the WOW dance area was without a doubt the unfurling of the rainbow flag. This was a custom-made flag and it had to be one of the largest that I had ever seen, covering close to half of the courtyard when it was completely unfurled. When it came out, there was a dance version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” harkening back to Judy Garland, who died just the day before the Stonewall Riots erupted. It was the perfect connection of the past to the present and Stonewall 50. It started at the stage and flowed back to the bar, signifying the procession of the gay civil rights movement from the beginning to the end. And it concluded with a stunning fireworks display above the stage that culminated literally with the different colors of the rainbow. The amount of planning that went into this was staggering. All of this was before midnight. There was still serious dancing to be done.
I had wanted to hear Mauro Mozart because he had some amazing sets on Soundcloud but nothing prepared me for the set that he was about to play. You can tell when a DJ has worked really hard on getting his set just right, when he’s prepared the audience for a musical journey and it was so very evident with his set. He played lots of classic songs from the last 50 years and did it seamlessly. Sometimes a DJ surprises you with his abilities. Sometimes a DJ surprises you with his musical selection. Both were evident in his song selection and the order of his set. It was absolutely flawless and the set was spot on for the prime time portion of the night. All night people were asking me, “Who is this DJ? He is so good!” I just smiled and shrugged but inside I agreed that it could not have been better.
Tom Stephan was the perfect DJ to bring it home. He had the closing set and he literally had the crowd in his hand. He spun harder, richer and deeper. He was doing what he does best, bringing his post Superchumbo sound to the masses. And just when you think he can’t do any better in the midst of the night, he the drops the FULL trancelike mix of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” in the courtyard and just let it breathe like a fine wine. The audience let out a collective breath as Jimmy Sommerville’s classic vocals sang “to your soul. To your soul.” Just a little reminder to us in our 40’s about how far we’ve come as individuals since hearing the song in our childhood. Absolute perfection.
I went to the Circus room to see the amount of attention to detail there. Ric planned the decorations 6+ months in advance, had them built in Brazil, and then shipped to the States for the party. The main Circus stage was like your favorite childhood animal cracker box come to life in a 2 story version adorned with circus lights. The first show had all sorts of sideshow characters and animals dancing for your enjoyment. Once again, the costumes were incredible. They were intricate and detailed, almost like high fashion runway caliber. The dancers were professional. They were not steroid queens gyrating with hamburger hats on their head. ?
The second show featured about a dozen clowns that had an extended and detailed choreographed routine. The show flowed seamlessly, and you could either watch the show or just dance. It was done the way that shows should be: integrated into the evening.
At one point a friend of mine was trying to meet up with another friend under one of the two-story banners. “He can’t find me,” he explained. I explained that there wasn’t just one huge banner – there were 4 of them – 2 on each side. “But mine has the clowns on it,” he groaned and then scurried off. I gave up on helping him at that point and danced on. I forgot to tell him that with 3 dance floors, when you’ve lost your friends, they stayed lost.
I almost forgot to mention that the Alegria disco ball was perhaps the largest that I’ve ever seen in all of my years attending this sacred space. It was like the size of the disco ball at the Mayan. Except that it was also shrouded in wire. Like many of the patrons there – gorgeous to look at, but don’t get too close or else you’ll get cut.
I revere that Alegria disco ball because when the light hits it in a certain way, it’s a symbol of everything that is right with the circuit scene. The light fragments out across the galaxy, like 1,000 lighthouses beckoning dancers across the universe over 50 years to congregate at this most magical of places.
The amount of thought and detail that went into this room was light years ahead of what most promoters would put into it. Between the lit up stage with smoke columns, the side banners, the Alegria entry sign, two sets of dancers and their intricate costumes, stilt walkers, and enough confetti to choke any gay (even those without gag reflexes) – in the words of Stefon from SNL – THIS PARTY HAS EVERYTHING. And Ric did this for 3 stages concurrently! It’s the equivalent of trying to spin a dozen plates while pedaling a unicycle backwards. In a bear costume. To extend the circus analogy.
There was also a third room but I was literally in and out of it in a flash. There were amazingly detailed military themed decorations, but it was the smallest of the 3 rooms and I had too much to do and see. And I wanted to dance under the stars as the old pagans used to do with tribal music.
I often talk about how magical it is when I feel like I’m at the right place at the right time, and nowhere is it more apt than Alegria. It was the cumulation of all the years of Ric’s expertise in throwing parties. It was the celebration of our progress of 50 years as a community. And it was a celebration of pride around the word with an international array of attendees. It was a musical journey that was just as much about honoring the past while looking towards the future. It was absolutely magical. And I was honored to be witness to it all. Happy Pride America!