Dancing in the dark

It’s 7.30pm on a Monday night, and you’re standing in a church hall filled with strangers.

Suddenly the lights go out, music blares from all corners of the room and people everywhere start dancing like nobody’s watching.

You can’t see anyone, only movements and shapes. It’s enveloping, intense.

Ever so slowly, music seeps into you like ink on paper and your mind goes blank but for one pure feeling; bliss.

This is No Lights No Lycra, and it is something radically different.

Since its creation in June 2009 by Melbourne dance students Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett, NLNL has exploded in popularity not only across Australia but across the world.

Dancing in the dark. Photo by No Lights No Lycra Perth

Dancing in the dark. Image courtesy of NLNL Perth.

The sessions focus on creating judgement free spaces for people from all walks of life to express themselves through movement.

Currently, there are an estimated 60 venues internationally, with branches in cities including Hong Kong, Paris, Toronto, Wellington, New York and Tel-Aviv.

No Lights No Lycra is growing steadily in Perth, with venues up and running in Belmont, Fremantle, West Leederville and Wangara.

There are also regional chapters in Margaret River, Esperance and Albany.

Although the movement is relatively new, it already has a hugely dedicated community behind it.

Bryony Calendar, Ambassador for the Perth chapter of NLNL, says the West Leederville venue attracts between 60 and 80 people per week, and attributes its growing success to the sense of freedom it gives; a point of difference in the usual nightlife scene.

“There’s no space for pretence at No Lights No Lycra. You’re not showing off or wearing fancy outfits and makeup, and you’re not comparing yourself to anyone,” Ms Calendar says.

Belmont NLNL Co-founders Lauren Hunter and Phillip Healey at Forster Park Community Hall. Photo By Lauren Hunter.

Belmont NLNL Co-founders Phillip Healey and Lauren Hunter at Forster Park Community Hall in Belmont. Photo courtesy of Lauren Hunter.

“It’s drug and alcohol free, so it’s a safe environment in which to explore your body through dance without any of the aggression.”

There are no age restrictions for NLNL, with the only official rule being that you must wear clothes and shoes.

“Our dancers are made up of all genders, a wide age range and people with different abilities including people with disabilities,” Calendar says.

Typical attendees range from mid 20s to early 60s, though everyone is welcome.

This strong ethos of acceptance and freedom draws groups from around the world together; creating a global network of people with similar interests and values.

Trent Matthews, a regular at NLNL Northbridge, says the sense of community is an organic one, constructed non-verbally and built upon each session.

Trent Matthews at NLNL Northbridge

Trent Matthews. Photo by: Tarquin Bateman

“You’re dancing and you’re not interacting with anyone, but by virtue of being in a room full of people you are interacting with each other,” Mr Matthews says.

“There’s this communal energy that just brings people together on a deeper level than it would if you could actually see them.”

Matthews also talked about the way that NLNL represents different things to everyone who attends.

Many people consider the sessions as an alternative form of exercise, while others use it as a form of ‘active meditation’.

“When you’re dancing here, you’re not conscious of the fact that you’re dancing,” he says.

“An hour later you just snap back into consciousness, you’re totally chill and all the thoughts are removed from your mind.”

Lauren Hunter, co-founder of the Belmont venue, says the movement also functions as a means of overcoming body image problems.

Lauren Hunter in Saint Brigid's Parish Hall for NLNL Northbridge

Lauren Hunter at NLNL Northbridge. Photo by: Tarquin Bateman

“We do actually get a lot more of the older people, or the heavier set people, than you would perhaps in a traditional dance club because they feel a lot more comfortable here,” Hunter says.

“I think, because it’s not about looking good on the dance floor you can lose yourself and get used to your own body.

“It taught me to maybe not hate my body as much.”

No Lights No Lycra is also a great way for shy dancers to ‘ease in’ to dancing in public spaces.

There’s an incredibly welcoming air to every session, and regular dancers are always happy to see new faces.

Calendar encourages everyone to come along and give NLNL a try.

“This is the best chance you will ever take,” she says.

“It’s just 75 minutes of your time.

“At worst you’ll have an interesting story. At best you’ll discover something you’ll love for the rest of your life.”

Sessions are between $5-7, and run week-nights across Perth.

You can find more information about No Lights No Lycra on their website, or on the NLNL Perth Facebook page.

Categories: Arts, Entertainment, Health, Music

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