Danny Nava played rock and roll for Satan
An eye-witness speaks about the night the devil danced at Boccaccio's
On a cool spring night 30 years ago, Danny Nava played rock and roll for Satan.
Nava says he was a 16-year-old DJ at Boccaccio 2000, a McAllen disco, the night that birthed the legend of the woman who danced to her grave with the devil.
It was April 13, 1979, Good Friday, when the pious commemorate the crucifixion of their savior. The young woman wasn’t supposed to be at the club that night, as the legend goes. She had defied her parents and her religion to dance the night away.
“You’re going to ruin the whole thing if I tell you the truth,” Nava said.
According to the legend, a handsome stranger dressed in black pulled up to the club in a black Lincoln Continental. The man was not a club regular — Nava said he had never seen him before, nor had anyone else.
The man in black swept the young lady on to the dance floor with unmatched grace.
A smell of sulfur trailed the unknown man. Nava said he caught a whiff from where he sat in the DJ booth and it burned his nose.
Suddenly, a scream overcame the loud music and conversation. Bouncers rushed from all angles toward the dance floor, Nava said.
They found the lady alone. The skin and on her neck and arms, the places where the fiendish stranger had held her, was burned. The man disappeared into the crowd, but the bouncer at the front door never saw him leave, Nava said.
“They couldn’t find him … one of the guards actually saw the door open and thought it was just a wind, but we had a heavy metal door,” Nava said. “When I was a bouncer there, I would throw people out and I would hit them against the door … it was pretty heavy sometimes so I would double knock them.”
Word of the incident spread quickly across the Rio Grande Valley and by next week the club’s crowd was bigger than usual as revelers hoped that they too would see the devil.
Nava is 46 years old now. He’s still a DJ for private parties, under the pseudonym DJ Bone Daddy. Hearing him tell the story, it’s a little disappointing. Despite promises of finally revealing what really did happen that infamous night, he only added to the confusion.
Where Nava’s story differed from the popular legend, is that in his version, the woman lives.
“I’ll take it to the grave,” he said.
The folk tale of a women’s dance with the devil is an old legend. An early version surfaced in 1875 in Danzig, Poland. A more contemporary retelling places the devil at a San Antonio dance hall in 1975.
Folklore binds cultures, enforcing traditional values and norms. The tale of the dance is a warning against promiscuity and perhaps a paean for a patriarchal society — had the women not disobeyed her father, and been pious, she would still be alive. Just why then the story resurfaced in 1979 is a mysterious as the event itself.
“It became such a popular story in way it hadn’t before,” Mark Glazer, a former professor of anthropology at University of Texas-Pan American, said. “Wherever you went or wherever you listened to a conversation you found people talking about it. What was essentially a legend, in a very short time, became a rumor.”
Glazer collected witness accounts of the event for the next 30 years, work that is archived at the Special Collections Department of the UTPA library. He was surprised to hear about Nava’s tale, because he had never spoken to anyone who had actually worked at the club.
One woman recalled how when the fated couple began dancing, patrons caught a glimpse of the stranger’s legs and let out a horrified scream that started the commotion. Another claimed to have seen the fiend disappear.
“While they were dancing, people were yelling at the girl, ‘Look at his feet! Look at his feet!” Maria said in her account. “He had one foot with a hoof and the other was a chicken leg, and where he had touched her, it was burned.”
A fair number of the accounts Glazer collected doubt the story.
“I was told the story by the maid when I was a little boy,” Rolando, a Mission man wrote. “She told it to me so I would behave.”
In 1979, Boccaccio was the kind of place where an underage high school kid could score a drink, patrons recalled. Pictures from the club are even included in high school yearbooks. The club shared its named with the early Renaissance Italian poet, Giovanni Boccaccio, whose seminal work “Decameron” overtly references premarital sex and adultery.
Perhaps the rumor of the devil’s cameo was spread by parents hoping to scare children from the nightlife scene. It might also be a reaction to the darker decadence at the end of the glitzy disco era — casual sex, cocaine and excessive drinking.
Glazer sees the incident as the end of the old Valley, when the area would forget folklore traditions and embrace the more modern concept of the urban legend.
“The Valley was about to change drastically. When I got there in 1977, McAllen had a population of 33,000 and now it’s over 100,000,” Glazer said. “So you have all these major changes which took place and one could say that this was the very last period of the old traditional Valley.”
Nava hints at another possibility. After retelling the devil story, Nava recalled how years later at a club in San Antonio, the staff turned an accidental fire into a promotional event. Perhaps, Boccaccio also capitalized on something unforeseen.
“After that business kind of welled up,” Nava said. “We had lines all around the club for people wanting to see where the devil was at.”
And then there’s another odd coincidence that further enshrouds the tale in mystery. The company that owned the club, Edwin-Bush Inc., shared its name with a confessed murderer.
In March 1961, a 21-year-old man named Edwin Bush stabbed an assistant to a London antiques dealer three times, leaving the ivory handled dagger buried 8 inches into the woman’s chest. He would be one of the final criminals executed in the United Kingdom and the first captured with the help of the revolutionary American facial composite software, the Identikit system.
In a written confession, Bush wrote, “Speaking personally the world is better off without me.”
The club is no longer standing. The lot just south of Nolana along the west side of N. 10th Street is vacant, except for overgrown grass, a paved driveway and a decrepit sign for a Fajita Fiesta restaurant. Other signs warn visitors against trespassing.
On a recent blustery night, Nava returned to the old site. The burly man imagined the club’s walls and recalled the night he saw the devil with fondness.
“If somebody would actually build a club there, I think it would last,” Nava said. “And I would (advertise) that the devil was here.”