My late-night lesson with a professor of disco


It’s midnight, and New York’s nightlife sociologist is explaining the importance of a club called The Box. “They’ve really hit on this magic formula for offering shows you can’t find anywhere else,” Victor Corona, who teaches a class on club culture at Columbia University, says. We’re in the back of a taxi, on our way there. “Extremely disturbing works, but also an A-list crowd,” he adds.

Dr Corona mentions a transgender performance artist named Miss Rose Wood. “She has very large breasts but retains male genitals. I have seen Leonardo DiCaprio and Susan Sarandon watching from the front row.” He has seen people “dropping $40,000” in an evening to watch Miss Rose Wood defecate on the stage, he says.

The taxi pulls up outside a narrow brick building, bearing the name of the sign company which once occupied the premises. Dr Corona’s crew for the evening wait by the entrance. There’s an aspiring nightclub star from Boston called Ava Glasscott, a young advertising intern from Florida and one of Dr Corona’s former students, a young woman who now works in healthcare. Dr Corona speaks to one of the bouncers, who goes inside.

“This is one of the hardest doors in the city,” says the advertising intern, Michael Womack. He means it’s hard to get in.

Moments later, a man in a silk dressing gown ushers us inside. In the gloom of the entrance, the floor feels soft underfoot. Ms Glasscott, in high heels and sweeping red dress, wobbles slightly. The interior has been turfed.

Dr Corona says the theme for the night is Slumber Party, which explains all the dressing gowns and negligées, as well as the grass, which seems to be a pastoral nod to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The club is one long narrow hall, like an old theatre. Balconies overhead are hung with vines: there are small private lounges up there, hung with curtains, from which people peep down at the stage.

“That’s the really VIP corner,” says Dr Corona, nodding up to the end of the balcony, which juts over the stage, like a royal box. “That’s where you get Jay Z and Beyoncé.”

We sit at a table at the front with Amanda Lepore, the transgender model and socialite. I ask her to describe the scene. “It’s more or less like wet dreams, at a party,” she says. We also meet Miss Rose Wood. She’s awfully nice. I ask her what she’ll be doing this evening and she frowns. “I’ll be expressing my own particular mental disease,” she says.

It’s more or less impossible to describe her act in these pages, though as I watch it seems to me that Dr Corona was absolutely right. You probably can’t find this kind of entertainment anywhere else.

Dr Corona’s first work as a sociologist examined career patterns in the officer corps of the US army. “I’ve always been interested in the puzzle of hierarchy,” he says. “Why are some people ending up on top? Why do some get stuck in the middle?”

Arriving at Columbia in 2010, he decided to apply the methodology to New York’s nightclubs. I wonder aloud if his fellow academics thought he was just having a grand time. “It’s never been poorly received,” he replies. “The proof is in the pudding. I show up on time to my classes. I have strong student evaluations.”

•Weakened by federal inquiries and plunging poll numbers, some believe that Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, could face a serious challenge by an independent candidate when he seeks re-election next year. Only one candidate has broken cover, however. Charles G Hogg II, a groundhog from Staten Island zoo, was photographed scurrying along the road outside City Hall this week. According to the New York Post, Mr Hogg is a “close friend” of the late lamented Charlotte, the groundhog that died a week after being dropped by the mayor in a Groundhog Day ceremony. The paper said that Mr Hogg would campaign on the rising cost of living. “I’m getting priced out of all five of my burrows,” he said in a statement.

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