Let's Dance: Six Great Outdoor Dance Parties

Jane Lerner

Underground clubs have their time and place, but summertime sun warmly invites revelers to a season full of outdoor dance parties. New York City is dotted with weird, wonderful places to boogie down in the out-of-doors, and some of this summer's best DJ events and live shows will be held in such varied locations as the courtyard of a contemporary art institution, along the banks of an industrial canal in Brooklyn, on a man-made beach at the Queens shoreline and right in Lincoln Center Plaza. And that's not even including the innumerable concerts taking place in our favorite parks and green spaces throughout the five boroughs. Get out of the nightclub and welcome to the day party; cabaret laws don't apply outside.

A surprisingly pastoral patch of green along the shores of the Gowanus Canal, once a very active shipping passage, the Yard was saved from extinction when development planned for the site fell through. But bad economies give rise to great dance parties—Sunday Best is a weekly event with a fine cast of international DJ talent on the bill. This year brings out German producer Losoul, I:Cube from Paris and Detroit's Omar S, just to name a few. Cheap beer and sangria make fine accompaniments to the taco stand's huaraches and quesadillas. The whole affair is casual and kid-friendly, and the dance floor is always a raucous good time.

Stuyvesant Town Music on the Oval
Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town used to be known more for its draconian policies than for raging live music, but the summertime Music on the Oval concerts have been creatively programmed to feature some of NYC's most beloved underground bands. Besides the guaranteed-to-get-a-dance-floor-going shows like the Budos Band, Forro in the Dark and the Phenomenal Handclap Band, music heads will surely have fun watching the neighborhood kids groove like maniacs to garage-punk musician Jay Reatard. DJs start off the evening before the bands hit the stage.

Midsummer Night Swing
Lincoln Center's annual dance-a-thon is a dream come true for the real dancers among us. The world-class program spans eras, genres and styles—tango, swing, salsa, cumbia, big band, ballroom, rumba—always with an emphasis on the dance floor (which is now bigger than last year's). Everyone's welcome, no matter your level of footwork; each session begins with a dance lesson, which is included in the price of admission. Bill Bragin, who filled this year's program with acts like Chubby Checker, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, William Bell and the Woody Herman Orchestra, knows the reason why Midsummer Night Swing is so popular: "It's a place where New Yorkers and visitors from all ages and backgrounds do more than just attend the same event, but actually dance together, making real connections."

CityParks Concerts
This year's City Parks Foundation music series pays much respect to the old-school hip-hoppers, with hotly anticipated sets from KRS-One, at the Boogie-Down Bronx's Crotona Park; DJ Premier and Pete Rock, rocking it in Red Hook; Slick Rick, jamming along the East River; and Sugar Hill Gang, taking it to Queensbridge Park. There will be plenty of sing-along hits, excellent reminders of the days when it was not much more than two turntables, a microphone and a crew of break-dancers. We dare anyone not to groove along to the classic beats of Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." You know you know it: "Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn…."

P.S.1 Warm Up
Before we even get to the killer music, enthusiastic crowds, fabulous fashions and international reputation of the P.S.1 Warm Up series (launching on July 4 with DJs Jonah Sharp, Move D and Dan Bell), we need to talk about the art installation in the courtyard. This year's landscape features skyscraper-high cone towers and cool-air-emitting shade structures, all the better to protect the hipsters from the hot Long Island City rays. Providing true revelry for electronic-music aficionados, the event lures in talent like disco diva Danny Wang and hard-techno master DJ Pierre. Admission to the always-packed party includes entry to the museum—take a break from the pulsing crowds and pounding beats to wander the galleries.

Water Taxi Beach
A stunning view of the Midtown Manhattan skyline is just one of the draws to the East River's edge; the awesome lineup of DJs, a bar and barbecue options make the trip all the more alluring. Water Taxi Beach is a charming patch of sand where one is least expected, and parties throughout the summer feature local boys Turntables on the Hudson, friend-of-Madonna Jellybean Benitez, Detroit legend Carl Craig, wunderkinds the Martinez Brothers, plus plenty of other gigantic names of electronic music like Sander Kleinenberg and Danny Tenaglia. For the first time, Water Taxi Beach is expanding beyond Queens to South Street Seaport and Governors Island, too!