Dance Brings the Funk to Mercers

Dance Brings the Funk to Mercers

The Mercer Arts Center’s aesthetic was wide open enough to make room for glam groups, avant-garde composers, and even funk bands like Dance—which regularly played with the New York Dolls. “What was popular at that time was a kind of non-rhythmic pop music,” said Dance frontman Marion Cowings, one of the handful of African Americans in that scene. “A lot of audiences back then weren’t conditioned to dancing, but the Mercer’s crowd was great.” The band’s guitarist, Nestor Zarragoitia, grew up in Greenwich Village and in the early 1970s was living in SoHo in the same building with Cowings and Dolls frontman David Johansen. “SoHo used to be a garment district,” Cowings recalled. “All of a sudden the factories started folding and moving out, and the artists came in and fixed them up and became a community.” Only a few galleries like OK Harris dotted the area, along with the occasional bodega, martial arts studio, and what was left of the industrial sector. “The workers would come out of the factories,” Zarragoitia said, “so you’d see them sitting outside eating their lunch.” Cowings was friends with Johansen, which led to Dance playing at Mercer’s with the New York Dolls. “We opened up for them a lot,” Zarragoitia said, “and the last gig we did at the Mercer Arts Center with the Dolls was that night before the collapse.”

From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


New York Dolls' loft
119 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002