Widely regarded as one of the best rock venues in the world, First Avenue is celebrating another side of its storied past for its 53rd anniversary this week.

It's actually a pretty great dance club, too.

"The sound system in there has always been killer," said DJ Dean Vaccaro, "and for many years off and on, the lights and production have been pretty state-of-the-art."

"Great sound, great staff, tons of character," added DJ Peter Lansky. "On a full night, I don't think anyone would disagree."

Both veteran spinners who have put in hundreds of hours behind the turntables at First Ave, Vaccaro and Lansky (aka Sovietpanda) will return to the Minneapolis music hub's Mainroom on Saturday for a 53rd anniversary party being billed as "Danceteria Through the Decades."

Six different DJs have been tasked with representing the different decades since First Ave opened under its first name, the Depot, on April 3, 1970.

Each turntablist will represent one decade at the party, starting with Roy Freedom for the 1970s and ending with Lizzo's DJ and hypewoman Sophia Eris for the 2010s and hip-hop mainstay DJ Keezy for the 2020s.

Freedom — aka Roy Freid, the club's longest-tenured employee — was around when the term "Danceteria" was first co-opted for dance nights around 1980 from a New York club of the same name. At the time, the venue was transitioning from being part of a national chain of disco clubs called Uncle Sam's to an independent, more underground-oriented music hall just called Sam's.

Freid said he liked the idea of serving a "cafeteria"-style menu of music: "We're going to play everything," he recounted. "We're going to play rock, we're going to play Madonna, we're going to play the [Top 40] tunes, whatever."

Since that changeover from Uncle Sam's to Sam's and eventually First Avenue in 1982, dance nights have played a key role in the club's identity — and in its survival.

During its many different periods of financial strain, First Ave relied on dance nights for steady revenue. There are much fewer overhead costs in hiring a DJ compared with several bands. There's also often a greater profit from bar sales.

Between weekend duties and themed weekly dance parties such as More Funk and Sex-o-Rama, Freedom co-helmed those '80s dance nights alongside Paul Spangrud and Kevin Cole, the latter now an influential FM radio programmer at KEXP in Seattle.

"They really helped shape the identity of that room," said Vaccaro, who started attending dance nights as a teen in the early '80s before becoming a DJ at other downtown clubs, including Graffiti's and Schiek's.

From the late '80s through the '90s, dance nights at First Ave veered all over the map with themes like the R&B-centric Beatopia and the more house- and techno-oriented System 33. That era will be represented at Saturday's party by Bryan Gerrard — who now owns and operates the chic wilderness getaway Poplar Haus along the Gunflint Trail — and by the Prince-savvy Vaccaro.

"By the '90s, the flashiness of the place had kind of worn off, and I think they weren't doing as well," Vaccaro said. "But DJs could still pack that room on a Friday or Saturday night, which probably went a long way in keeping the place afloat."

In the 2000s and 2010s, dance nights more heavily competed with live bands for attention and space. More and more, the DJs were relegated to the club's upstairs Record Room (aka the VIP Room, now used as office space).

Still, Lansky fondly remembers that era as the internet's freeing impact on music was starting to be felt.

"What an exciting time it was for music," said Lansky, who helmed the Too Much Love dance parties.

"YouTube was new, file-sharing was prevalent, and streaming didn't [yet] exist. For the first time, you could go out and hear artists and DJs play music without regard for genre or time period. It's hard to comprehend now, but it was a new concept."

In recent years, dance nights have been making a comeback at First Ave.

One reason is that First Avenue Productions now owns and/or manages five other venues of varying size around town. So bands that used to pack the Mainroom's calendar are now spread between the Palace and Fitzgerald theaters or Fine Line, leaving more room for dance events in the Mainroom.

First Ave also has made a point of using dance nights to celebrate inclusivity and equality in recent years. The first full-capacity events held in the Mainroom after COVID-19 restrictions ended were drag-show promoters Flip Phone's parties during Pride weekend.

On Saturday, the venue will pay homage to this tradition with Sophia Eris and DJ Keezy representing Grrrl Prty and the Klituation, respectively — the former an early '00s all-female hip-hop group with Lizzo and Shannon Blowtorch, and the latter all-female hip-hop dance parties that started in 2016.

Dance events in the Mainroom also have served to celebrate an even broader sense of togetherness.

"There certainly is a revival since reopening," said Ashley Ryan, First Ave's marketing director. "We're doing discos, raves and themed dance parties nearly weekly. And as we're seeing in live music, the lines between genres have become more blurred."

Last month, the club hosted a "Shrek Rave" with hordes of green-faced dancers as well as an "80s vs. 90s" dance night. On April 15, it will celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Transmission, DJ Jake Rudh's dance parties built around Gen-X-era new wave, post-punk, pop and indie-rock.

Also, look for a 65th birthday dance party on June 7 honoring Prince, who used to be a regular on dance nights in the early '80s. He would even bring in unreleased songs for the DJs to try out on the checkered dance floor.

"There are huge parts of First Avenue's history that were established because of dance nights, something we continue to honor," Ryan said. "Tastes, trends and style of music evolve, but the desire to get in a room with other people to dance and express yourself never seems to fade."

Danceteria Through the Decades

When: 7 p.m. Sat.

Where: First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: $15, first-avenue.com.