Dancing in the dark with No Lights, No Lycra

The community dance craze is the perfect pre-exam stress reliever


YOU can dance! YOU can ji-ive! Having the time of your li-i-ife…

Is there anything more electrifying than a room full of strangers, dancing in the dark, belting out every word to Dancing Queen along with you? You catch the flash of a white-soled sneaker and the glint of a smile as its wearer bops past before being swallowed by the darkness once more. Any other time, they would be a stranger. But tonight, you are united by the same rhythm—the same irrepressible urge to just dance.

The applause is thunderous. It lifts you up on its wings and carries you to the opening bars of Don’t Cha, where it starts all over again.

This is an average night at No Lights No Lycra (NLNL), a dance community started in 2009 by two university students in inner-city Melbourne. Its premise is simple: there is no light, teacher or technique.

Marketed as a “casual free-form dance class”, NLNL aims to remove the exclusionary elements of dance: competitive pressures, the restriction of performing to entertain an audience and overall, the self-consciousness of being watched. Instead, NLNL wants to tap into everyone’s ability to just move. And when you can barely make out the mass of flailing outlines around you, it’s a lot easier to put your faith in the adage of ‘dancing like nobody’s watching’—because nobody is!

What began as five people boogying in the dark has burgeoned into a global dance movement where people gather every week in cities across Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe to shimmy their troubles away.

Alice Glenn, one of the founders of NLNL, maintains that, despite spreading across the globe, the movement’s key  aim is to promote accessibility and inclusivity.

“Each location is unique in terms of music, location and dancers. However the core values and concept remain the same. It is always drug and alcohol free, all ages and genders, accessible financially and a clear focus on joy.”

At first glance, NLNL appears to be the perfect, wholesome alternative to clubbing. There are no sleazy drunk guys, no age barrier and no need to jostle with a rowdy, sweaty moshpit for some breathing room.

With five locations across Sydney and with entry fees of only $7–10, NLNL also makes for a much more affordable alternative to a night out.

But is an hour of cardio before and bed by 10pm really what people want?

Despite slower growth in recent years due to lock-out laws and declining alcohol consumption, the Sydney nightlife scene is, believe it or not, still alive and kicking. Indeed, a 2017 Australia Market Research Report estimated that the pubs, bars and nightclubs industry generated revenue of $17.2 billion over 2017–2018.

Yet NLNL doesn’t appear to be cutting too deeply into that market.

The movement’s focus on promoting mental and physical wellbeing seems at odds with a student culture that often centres on drinking, partying and sexual encounters.

“Often times [the clubbing scene] is about more than dancing and enjoying music;” says Alice, “It’s about rebelling and finding their independence.”

NLNL appeals more to the gap in this market—to those who might be uncomfortable, anxious or just fed up in the typical clubbing setting, and feel as if nightlife as it stands today doesn’t really cater to their needs. These weekly dance nights offer an attractive halfway point between a low-key Netflix binge at home and a full-blown night out on the town.

Although NLNL undeniably offers a refreshing alternative to the regular nightlife scene, the movement is seeking to grow through its philanthropic appeal and potential. Alice envisions integrating the concept into schools through programs which encourage teenagers to “switch[…] off from social media” and express themselves freely through movement. Perhaps, in the future, university campuses will also be on the menu.

The organisation also offers the opportunity for individuals to become ambassadors and run dance sessions in their own communities. This will allow students looking to earn an income alongside study to develop business acumen and make a contribution to their local area. NLNL’s nearest venue is on Church Street in Newtown, only minutes from USyd’s main campus.

Hitting the town fuelled by Passion Pop or rum and cokes is hardwired into the Australian psyche, and it’s a big step to reject your normal social scene in favour of NLNL.

But the emotional and physical benefits of dancing cannot be underestimated: the rush of endorphins and euphoria that comes from finally letting go of your insecurities speak for themselves. With exams around the corner, the best way to unwind is in a safe space, pulling your best moves without fear or judgement.

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