Otto's in the Press
NY Times - Sept 3 2006
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The City

Urban Studies | Dancing

Come On, Baby

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

Newcomers from Japan twisting the night away in the East Village.

Published: September 3, 2006

SEIJI SATO, a pomaded rock-and-roller from Chiba, Japan, always tucks his pack of Marlboros into the sleeve of his T-shirt so that no matter what happens on the dance floor, his smokes remain intact. This precaution proved necessary on a recent Friday night when Mr. Sato, 25, defended his title as the king of a new version of the twist by way of Tokyo.

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Audio Slide Show: The Twist, by Way of Tokyo

Audio Slide Show: The Twist, by Way of Tokyo

In the backroom of Otto's Shrunken Head Tiki Bar and Lounge in the East Village, a crowd cheered Mr. Sato on as he disappeared into a Tasmanian-devil-like blur of limbs, leather and chains. Bouncing up onto his knees from a side split, he ran a comb near the crest of his jet-black pompadour and, with a smoldering stare, pointed to his next challenger.

New York has its niches, but perhaps none so surreal as the scene at Otto's on 14th Street near Avenue B, where Mr. Sato and four friends host a monthly party called Rebel Night. They see themselves as leather-clad, motorcycle-riding, tattoo-sporting rebels, hence the name of the event.

Around 11 p.m., the makeshift dance floor starts to look like a casting call for a Japanese remake of "Hairspray," with newly arrived transplants sporting ducktails, skinny jeans and poodle skirts. Though the participants jive, bop and stroll to a range of hits, the real attraction is that staple of 1960's Americana, the twist.

The version they perform grew out of dance parties that Mr. Sato attended in Japan in the late 90's. "Japanese twist is real tough; it is for real men," said Mr. Sato, who moved to Washington Heights from Japan three years ago and waits on tables at Sushiden, near Madison Avenue. "We're thinking: 'I am No. 1! Do not come into my space!' It is like war."

Their fervor for all things rock 'n' roll is as infectious as their anachronistic references are studied. Though a couple of party regulars still greet each other with a quick customary bow, they say goodbye with an uttered "A.B.C." ("Always be cool," explained Mr. Sato's roommate Junichi Matsuzaki, a 26-year-old noodle shop waiter with an impressive pompadour and long sideburns.)

In the two years since the friends organized their first event, the group has accrued a considerable following, from rockabilly fans to L-train hipsters to the occasional break-dancer.

The other night, Mike Decay, a 26-year-old D.J. from Astoria, Queens, was swiveling at blender speed, wearing a T-shirt scrawled with the slogan "The twist to end all twists."

"Rock 'n' roll isn't about looking cool," he said, running his hand over his mohawk. "It's about pure energy and unbridled excitement. And that's exactly what they're able to produce."