Written by Steve Kleine
Ask any party boy to name the top promoters on the scene, and the name Jeffrey Sanker will be at the top of the list. His career spans three decades starting with the New York club scene during the halcyon days of Studio 54. His parties happen in the country’s hottest hot spots—Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Miami and Las Vegas. He’s also brought some of the Circuit’s best-known DJs to parties during Gay Days in Orlando. The super-producer known simply as “The Man” has consistently come up with the baddest parties for the fiercest crowd.
How does he do it? According to Sanker, “You have to make everything like a show. That is why I feel I am more of an impresario than a promoter.” It also means keeping up with the changes in nightlife.
Sanker is perhaps best known for White Party Palm Springs, which has long held the crown of largest gay dance event west of the Mississippi. More recently, he has been extending his brand into some of the hottest clubs in L.A. Every month a new party seems to crop up with “Jeffrey Sanker presents” emblazoned on top of it. But these are not your uncle’s Circuit-style parties. He might add some décor, and he always has the top DJs at the turntables, but he has realized that the younger party boys are self-lubricating with that old standby, alcohol.
The music is hip-hop and pop, the dance floors are smaller, and there are “chill” spaces where the city’s A-list can see and be seen. The focus has shifted from a night of sweaty dancing to an evening being with your friends and making new ones. In fact, at one recent event, the dance floor was filled—but no one was dancing. Instead, the boys were just holding the latest trendy martini and chatting each other up. Shirts firmly remained on torsos.
A lot of the Sanker “magic touch” can be attributed to the perception that if his name is on the event, you’re guaranteed a fun, sexy crowd (shirts on or off). One relatively new event, Fresh Fridays at WeHo’s Eleven Lounge, has a line down the block each week. “I create Donald Trump-style events,” Sanker said in a recent interview. “I want to give only the best of everything: the best DJs, venues, performers and themes. That is why they keep coming back.”
Sanker’s signature event, White Party, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. Sanker points out that drink sales have gone up 25% in the past few years, but he likes to keep this one Old School. Each event is in a “big room” where the focus is on serious dancing, performances, and connecting with the crowd. For the twentieth anniversary, he is planning an over-the-top event. However, despite having big-name headliners like J-Lo and Tony Braxton in the past, do not expect the usual rumor mill of who might be the special performer this year. He is done with that.
“If you want to see Cher, go to Vegas,” Sanker quipped. (He’s been there with a roadshow White Party in the 24-hour town.) This year, he is focusing on bringing big, innovative shows to Palm Springs that will blow the crowd away, without any of the anticipation (or drama) of an unannounced diva showing up—or not. He was the first to add Cirque du Soleil-type performances to dance events. Previous years have included the L.A. Philharmonic backing up Flava; live horses; acrobats; and insane pyrotechnics. No matter what he comes up with, you know it will be exciting—even without one of those big-name (and big-maned) divas.
DJ-wise he is also mixing it up. This year, he’s going international by importing Oscar Velasquez from Mexico City for Friday night and Ana Paula from Rio closing the main event. He’s also nurturing the hottest young DJs on the scene such as the Perry Twins, Casey Alva and Morningstar. The theme for this year’s White Party is “Legion of Superheroes.” To keep with that theme, each event is set up “dynamic duo” style. Every party will have a known DJ along with a fresh face as the sidekick to give the boys a feel for tomorrow’s headliners.
Looking Back & Ahead
Surprisingly, Sanker got the idea to do a dance event in Palm Springs from the lesbian community. In 1987, he felt the New York club scene was moribund. So he moved to Los Angeles, where he initiated a string of successful parties and clubs. His first event at the Palace (now Avalon) brought in 1,800 guys. Based on that success, he was invited to check out The Dinah Shore Weekend, a party for the gals in the Desert during the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament.
When he saw the main event consisted of four speakers and a few balloons, he knew he could do better. His first event was called Wet and Wild and attracted 500 guys. One DJ, Manny Lehman, played all the parties. A year later he changed the name to White Party and its popularity exploded. Today, nearly 20,000 people descend on the town during White Party Week. It takes over 300 workers and $1 million to produce this marathon of dance and camaraderie.
When asked about the future of the gay dance scene, Sanker would like to remind the new generation that the gay community has always danced. Dance has been an important element of socializing and feeling a sense of community. He hopes that with themes younger boys can relate to and their favorite DJs, he can continue to attract them to a big event like White Party. Once there, he feels they will embrace and understand our communal need to dance and will propel the scene into the future.
So what if some of the older Circuit boys are doing cruises rather than parties these days? Or that the younger generation is restlessly looking for something different? Sanker has continued to be successful in creating the best club and party experience possible—and that’s what he intends to do, wherever the prevailing winds blow. By doing so he keeps reminding us of our need to connect in the place that has always been an integral part of the gay experience: the dance floor.