Have a Nice Night with Ann Glaviano’s HEATWAVE!

To attend the decade-strong HEATWAVE! dance party might mean to twist, do the swim, and maybe even pony—but most importantly, it means listening to Ann Glaviano play her records and having a great time with a friendly crowd. Watching Glaviano work is joyful not only for the soundtrack, but because seeing her cue records and dance is watching someone clearly doing what they love with intention and care, under the sepia lights of a dive bar, surrounded by dancing people. I met Glaviano at The Orange Couch to talk about hosting pro-consent and sober-friendly dances, what sustains a party for 10 years, and why the hell her set uses music exclusively from 1957 to 1974.

For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself and your DJ night to the readers?
My name is Ann Glaviano. I am from here. I am primarily a writer and a dancer and a dancemaker. And I fell into DJing while I was in grad school because I was homesick; I’m a self-employed artist.

Right before I started my MFA in writing, which was at Ohio State, I was here, and I had just been through a really awful breakup. And Kristen Zoller Aul [co-DJ of the iconic Mod Dance Party in New Orleans]—we were barely acquaintances, and she overheard our mutual friend talking to me about my breakup. And Kristen got a sense of what had happened and stood up and said, “That happened to me, and it was the worst experience in my life. I’m so sorry.” She gave me this huge hug and said, “If you ever need anyone to walk into a bar with you, or a party, because you’re afraid you’re gonna run into them, I will go with you.”

It was so, so nice. So I started going to Mod Night regularly. Then I went up to Ohio and I was very, very homesick, and was like, “Well who’s doing a soul night? Because they have them all over the country.” And no one was doing that in Columbus, and after eight months of being extremely homesick for Mod Night and just in general, I was like, “Do I have to be the one?” I had almost no records. No idea how to buy used records. Nothing about mixers, didn’t even really know how to cue records. I also was like, “I’m not cool enough to be a DJ.” It’s very presumptuous, to stand in a room and be like, “I will pick all the music and you’re gonna like it.” But at a certain point you just make it happen. I needed to go out and dance, and that was the only way I was gonna get to do it.

So I started HEATWAVE! in Columbus, and did that for the remaining two years of grad school. And by the time I came home, I had a bunch of records, and it turns out I really liked DJing. I had been checking the Mod Night dates, and Mod Night was always at Saturn at that point. So I set it up Uptown and in Mid-City on weekends where Mod Night wasn’t happening, but then math has shifted, so now we are usually overlapping on second Saturdays.

HEATWAVE! was very explicitly modeled off of Mod Night so that I could go out and have my joy in Ohio. And it went over really big in Ohio—by the second HEATWAVE!, we had probably 200 to 300 people through the door, and people would stand in line in the snow to get into this party. I wanted to come to this party so badly that I invented it. And I wouldn’t stand in the snow over the show. It was a big venue, called the Ace of Cups. It’s still around I think, and HEATWAVE! is still going in Columbus.

When you’re telling people about HEATWAVE!, how do you describe it?
Records from 1957 to 1974. Dance dance. And everyone sings with their arms up.

And what was the beginning of your relationship to this music?
When I was little, my dad had cassette tapes. He had at least one I think was a gas station cassette, that was garage hits that I was obsessed with as a little kid. I mean, it’s all like “Wooly Bully,” it’s the songs with nonsense rhyming titles like “Louie Louie.” So I was obsessed with those songs as a little kid and then mom had on cassette The Best of the ‘50s. And I would choreograph to some of them in my head. So that was sort of the beginning.

It’s been kind of perpetual from early childhood on, and when I had just graduated from LSU, I had a degree in creative writing, and my family told me repeatedly, “You’re never gonna get a job.” And so I graduated, and I didn’t know what to do. In the meantime, I was waitressing at this diner called Louie’s Cafe, a 24-hour diner right off campus and I was working the graveyard shift. The cooks were very controlling of the stereo… until about 3 a.m., at which point they stopped giving a shit. And I could go in and pick what I wanted to put on. And I would put it on the ‘60s pop station, and everyone would sing, and the customers would sing. The servers would sing. The cooks would sing; it’s just music that makes people really happy. The singing together is very, very important to me. As far as I’m concerned, the dance floor isn’t really warm until there’s singing.

10th anniversary Gala Edition at Okay Bar, June 2023
photo by Cameron Bordelon

Your events are pro-consent and sober-friendly; talk about how you encourage this.
I do a sober-friendly intermittent thing at The Domino where I’m aggressively like, “I want a decent mocktail menu.” Because most mocktails are disgusting. And I am a sober person. What ends up happening, I think is that—and this is true for the consent part also—your event feels like you. I am a sober person and I have no fucking patience for shitty sexual violence, and I think that the people who are attracted to the night or who keep coming back show up and they feel comfortable in the space. And I think if you are looking for something that feels like a different kind of party vibe, you would come to my night and be like, “This is lame.” You know what I mean?

But otherwise, the bartender is increasingly telling me, “Wow, your crowd really doesn’t drink that much.” And it means that I make less money, because I make money off the bar, but privately I feel pleased. I’m public about the fact that I don’t drink. It makes it so that people who don’t drink know that they’re in a space where it’s encouraged. I don’t think it’s fucking necessary. But I also often hear the bartenders being like, “It was a funny crowd, they were all on shrooms!” OK, there’s like a huge limit to my sense of what was actually going on at any moment at any point in my life.

The pro-consent thing is another can of worms. I’ve had—like any femme person—plenty of experiences with various intensities of sexual violence. I was stalked in grad school for six months by a guy in my cohort. And that was a pretty searing experience in particular. So when I had HEATWAVE! here, and it had gotten to be a pretty good-sized crowd, a friend from Columbus came and was hanging out with his girlfriend for a while, and then right as he was leaving, he was like, “Hey, great to see you. Listen, there’s a guy in a green T-shirt who’s been walking around grabbing girls’ asses all night.” And then he left, and there were two guys in green T-shirts in the bar. And he didn’t think to tell me the first time he saw it—now you’re gone and all I know is there’s some groper. This is my shit, but I felt accused somehow, and certainly what I felt was responsible, which is both true and insane.

So, after that night, I went home and I was really, really upset. And I got on Facebook and I just made a public post asking—I knew I didn’t need to fucking reinvent the wheel, like what are the best practices around making us an environment where people are dissuaded from feeling like that’s OK? And I got some good tips. One of the guys who works the door in Columbus said if a woman was walking out of the bar with a guy and she seemed wasted, he would pull her aside to be like, how with it is she? Does she know who she’s going home with? As [HEATWAVE! in Ohio] had gotten bigger, Marcy Mays at Ace of Cups hired extra staff just to walk the perimeter of the room.

Any party that gets really big, it’s easy to hide shitty behavior. And as it gets bigger and drunker this shit just gets worse. So some of that tapers off a little when the party’s not so intense, and the venue is not so big and it’s harder to hide. But one of the things I did was—peak dance floor, against the venue owner’s recommendation, at midnight when the room is fullest—I’m going to turn off the music and I’m going to get on the mic and we’re going to talk about it. And everyone cheered. You know, the people who go to the bars that I gig and the communities around those spaces are cool. If some shit goes down the staff cares. I mean, this could be its own interview. There’s so much that goes into it. Like the bar will know that a guy has been cut off, but I don’t know. I see the guy acting out and I’m trying to get a read on it. But I don’t know that he’s been cut off and that he’s wasted. I get comments from people who say, “Your night is the only place I feel comfortable going out without a group of friends.”

I do think the culture is getting better. And I don’t say that as an optimist. Over the course of my lifetime… I just turned 40 two weeks ago. I think all people regardless of gender have been historically in denial about what constitutes sexual violence. And I think there’s a lot more openness and awareness, for people of all genders, that it happens, who’s vulnerable, and that it happens to everyone. So I feel like there’s more openness and there’s more understanding of what shit you’re entitled to, and when to leave someone alone. And less excuses made on behalf of someone you think is a nice guy.

Talk about dancing—what makes people really move, and what kills the mood?
My theory is actually this: You have to want to have a nice night. It goes well when you are committed to having fun. So regulars come in and they’re just ready to go. Because they’re there to have fun. People who’ve never been before are a little bit scared, because they really want it to be fun, but they’re not sure if it’s going to be fun. And that’s a really palpable thing. You have to win them over. But they have to at least be open to the concept that maybe they’re going to have fun tonight—or better—be absolutely committed to having a good time. For example, the New Year’s Eve party is always amazing, because you kind of have to lock it in, you want to be situated for midnight, you’re not going to be bouncing around. You’re showing up to a place and you’re like, “This better be good because I want to have a magical night.” They just want to have a good time. So they do.

Weddings, generally speaking, they understand that the job is to dance and have a good time. So they do. The events that are always nightmares are corporate Christmas parties. Corporate Christmas parties it does not matter who the DJ is. I have been to corporate Christmas parties and I have played corporate Christmas parties. Any kind of corporate-sponsored-fun event, the employees of the company arrive assuming it’s gonna be terrible.

There are songs that they [the crowd] like. There’s also songs that they don’t know that are just cool. For my set, I am specifically playing a lot of songs that people know the words to because for me the catharsis comes when they start singing. So some of it is about introducing people to songs they don’t know, but a lot of it is playing people’s favorite songs and also songs that my regulars know, because it was like a rare cut when I started playing it, and they keep showing up and so they know the songs. I get worried that they get bored with me playing the same things. But then I’ve had people who’ve been regulars for a long time, and they’ll call up and request “The Clapping Song” by Shirley Ellis and I’m like, “Oh, I know you’ve heard it a million times,” but like, they show up and they want to hear this.

I had to learn how to sustain the dance floor, which took a couple of years. I could play songs, and people would go nuts, and I would make a mental note, but I didn’t know how to string the songs together to keep it going. And I got pretty good at that. And then I had to kind of lighten up. Like I could play a two hour block [where] they would be losing their shit. But I’ve learned that I can pace it and throw in songs that give them breaks. My friend has told me she’s almost peed herself because she wouldn’t go to the bathroom.

For any party I’ve ever DJed, it’s collaborative. If the vibe is good, it’s because their vibe is good. If the night is fun, it’s because they’re being fun and having fun. I can’t make them dance. I can’t make them do shit.

Do you have a favorite song or album you play?
It changes over time, but what’s funny is I will have a favorite song that I’m looking forward to all set, and that feeling will last for a couple of years. Right now “I Can’t Stand the Rain” [by Ann Peebles], I’m always really excited to play that song. I’m also really kind of obsessed with “The Philly Freeze” by Alvin Cash & The Registers.

What would you say is one of the songs people are most excited about?
One time on a whim I played “Cecilia” [by Simon & Garfunkel] and people went fucking nuts. And my dad actually came to visit—he’s one of the reasons I know the music—and so he came in to watch the set. He was so tickled by the whole thing. And I put on “Cecilia” and they all went nuts. I play it every set, and people are always really hyped. It feels pretty left field. It’s not necessarily a song people are expecting in the moment. And also you can play something very funky with a lot of really good drums on it and go into “Cecilia.” And it weirdly works. It’s very stompy.

You have a specific year window. Can you talk about that?
It’s post-swing, pre-disco. I’ve played a little bit of early stuff that you can swing to, but I don’t encourage it. The truth is there’s not a shortage of places for people that swing dance. But it is harder to get people who feel like they don’t have specialized dance knowledge to feel comfortable dancing. I’m a professional dancer myself. I feel like the more people feel free to dance, the better the world will be. So what happens in post-swing and pre-disco is up until the end of the swing, dancing was partnered and there was generally some choreography to it. And then disco picks up again with partnered dancing, but the era that I play was kind of the beginning of solo freestyle on the dance floor, doing fad dances like the twist.

My aunt says, “I loved the twist because you didn’t have to know how to dance.”
Not only is it easy to do, but the song literally exhorts you to do the dance. It’s like, “What do I do during this song?” He’s like, “Baby, let’s do the twist!” I usually start with twisty-er songs, because people will do it even if they’re feeling a little shy. At family parties or weddings, babies will twist or parents will go and twist with their babies, and they get the dance floor going. So it’s a great way in. If I play swingy stuff and the swing dancers come out, they will clear the floor, and they don’t care if they hit you in the nose with their elbow. And I like partnered dancing, but HEATWAVE! is for everyone! People are only too eager to back away and make room for the “real dancers.” I don’t want people to stand in a circle and let the good dancers be in the middle.

Basically what happens after 1974 is disco begins, and that’s where you get beatmatching, the songs get twice as long. You can hear a difference in the recording quality and there’s something that happens between ‘57 and ‘74: All the songs across the board [sound] almost like they’re recorded in the same room. Also, I like constraints.

Years ago, I saw this comedian John Hodgman, who sings “Rocky Top,” and he asked the audience to sing with him—which was hard because the audience was half college students. And he said, “You think you’ll feel better if you don’t sing, but you’ll feel better if you do sing.”
It’s the truth. It’s liberating energy in your body. It’s physical. And they get a bit silly. There are parties where the whole point of the party is performing cuteness—but there’s pictures of the dance floor [at HEATWAVE!] and it’s just raw.

I’m curious what you think about more modern interpretations of music from the time period you’re talking about. I feel like Leon Bridges’ first album is a similar thing.
Oh yeah. Like one of the first things that comes to mind. Yeah. I love it. I’ll say this, and this makes me sound so biased. I just did a gig at Double Dealer downstairs at the Orpheum, a wedding gig. And the florist was helping me put my speaker on the stand. He’s older Gen X, and he was looking at my records. And he had done some deep dives into rock music or I don’t know, music history. I told him what stuff I played and he was clearly holding back an assessment. And I knew already what he was going to say. I was like, “Go ahead. You can say it.” He said, “It’s just the best music!” I was like, “It’s the best!”

My friends are in a band called Generationals, and in an interview Grant [Widmer] referred to, I think it was the Beatles, as understanding the Beatles is like studying Latin grammar. It’s foundational, like R&B, soul, and pop—we’re still fucking with that. And still evolving it. But knowing where it comes from is nice. And it’s not corny and it’s not oldies, it’s foundational in a lot of ways, and a lot of it is from New Orleans. So I love the modern interpretations, going back to these production values is essentially what Leon Bridges is doing. The song structure, the sampling, it doesn’t have to sound old to be coming from that place. When people are able to get the production values to sound like that room in 1961 or whatever, it’s hard to do successfully.

HEATWAVE! New Year’s Eve 2021 (celebrated in July) at Twelve Mile Limit
photo by Hannah Bahney

There’s so much music from the ‘50s. And there’s some songs everybody knows, but there’s a lot more to that era. Has a lot of stuff been lost, or is it because it’s been so much time that only the top, top hits stand out?
It’s a couple of things. There was a movement in the U.K. called Northern Soul that was about rescuing these bargain bin records that had not been huge hits. And so that was a whole movement that rescued a lot of rare records, but they were only rare because they weren’t hitting the charts, so they didn’t make a million copies of it.

DJing is a male-dominated field. Record collecting is also pretty male-dominated, and has a lot to do with socialization. A lot of guys who DJ and who record collect are into knowledge acquisition and demonstration of knowledge and arcane knowledge, as opposed to getting people to dance. If you don’t personally love to dance, you’re not necessarily DJing with a sensibility of what the dance floor wants, whereas I literally started DJing because I wanted to go dancing. So I don’t have a lot of ego around playing rare songs, playing songs no one else has and no one’s ever heard of, and some people are more oriented towards demonstrating encyclopedic knowledge.

What inspires you to keep doing this event?
That’s a really good question, because coming back from the pandemic was awful. And I got to a point where I was just complaining after every set. Because after vaccines, after the mask mandate was dropped, then Delta hit, it was clear that there wasn’t going to be a single moment where it became safe to come out. It was going to be this kind of eternal navigating of risk. People, like I said, what makes them want to dance is a commitment to having fun and if you don’t feel safe—and this is related to consent too—if you can’t relax, it’s pretty fucking hard to have fun. And so I could not tell what of it was psychological, what was something that I could control, if it was going to get better over time, what were the variables, and what are the variables I could influence or adjust? There were just too many unknowns. And I was like, “Well, here’s the deal. I can either keep doing this or I can stop. But what I can’t do is keep doing it and bitching about it.” I was like, “I guess I’ll keep going.” I really had to gut it out through some pretty sleepy sets. I was wondering, “Do I still need to do this?” And then my friend was murdered on September 26. His name was Paul Knox, he was murdered walking his girlfriend’s dog in L.A.

I was going into October, which is peak event season in New Orleans, where I had at least a wedding or a gala like every single week on top of my usual gigs, and I was not sure how I was gonna get through them. It turns out in that month of being fucking out of my mind with grief, the only place I could access joy was DJing. Putting on a song and watching people connect to it was the only time I could really feel anything other than really, really sad about Paul. So it’s cool to be like, “Oh yeah, like when you strip away all the other bullshit, and you get down to the bottom of it, it makes me really happy.” So I guess I’ll keep doing it, because that’s deep! If you can be that sad, and the only place that you can feel pleasure is putting on a song and watching people get really hyped about it, and being like, “I fucking love this song too.”

You can follow Ann Glaviano at annglaviano.com and @annglaviano (Instagram), and catch the next HEATWAVE! sets on Saturday, December 23 at Okay Bar and Sunday, December 31 at Twelve Mile Limit.

Top and bottom photos by Stephanie Tarrant

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