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No Lights No Lycra Launches in Beijing: Shame-Free Dancing in the Name of Charity
Starting April 18, No Lights No Lycra (NLNL) comes to Beijing. The concept is very simple: you dance around in the dark for an hour, to a mixed playlist that includes classics and some cheesy favorites. It happens every fortnight, and you pay RMB 50 each time, which goes to benefit Pojie Arts.
Pojie Arts in Beijing runs two weekly movement workshops for adults with intellectual disabilities, offering a way out of social isolation for some, but also an opportunity to develop communication skills and confidence in a safe environment. These groups run off donations from events like NLNL.
NLNL is built on a belief that everyone can dance, and is a global movement providing an inclusive and non-judgmental place for people to explore this notion. The concept was first started in Melbourne in 2009.
“Many of the constraints of our modern society can be transcended through dancing in this environment, gender and sexuality become irrelevent, and space is negotiated without words or power struggle,” Laura Morgan, one of the NLNL dancers in Melbourne said.
If you’re ready to let go of your weekly stress and lose yourself in the music, here is the QR code for more information.
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Last night at 8pm I sat on a stage in a church basement in Greenpoint with Laura O’Neill, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and the delicious and handsome Balinese-inspired restaurant, Selamat Pagi; but, more importantly for those of us who spend Tuesday nights inside the Park Church Co-Op across the street from McGolrick Park, O’Neill is also known as the founder of a very different movement—No Lights No Lycra. And last night, this weekly gathering of people in their 20s and 30s who show up not to get drunk or to see and be seen, but only to utterly lose themselves to music in complete darkness, celebrated its sixth birthday.
As O’Neill and I sat and talked in a quiet basement cast in an unfortunate glow of overhead fluorescents, it was a little difficult to imagine how and why a dance gathering there would be such a success. “In the early days there were just a few of us,” says O’Neill, “but those were kind of the best of times; because of the nature of the event, it doesn’t really matter who else is here, just that it’s happening.” Because I had never attended one of these parties—and even though I personally love a dance floor—I still couldn’t quite understand what that meant; how the success of a social gathering might not be dependent on people actually attending. But then O’Neill told me about her first experience at a No Lights No Lycra gathering, and I understood it a little better.
It was six years ago in Melbourne, Australia, where O’Neill is from, and where the NLNL movement was started by her friends Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett, both of whom are dancers. “They had been to a lot of classes and things, but never found anywhere where you could get pure release,” O’Neill tells me. “The first one I did was not even dark at all”—daylight savings had taken effect, and it was not in a basement—“but everyone was so used to it that they were dancing as though it were dark,” O’Neill explains. “And maybe like seven minutes in, I totally lost myself. After that, I thought I would really love this to be a part of my life back in Brooklyn.”
Today, in Melbourne, NLNL dance parties happen five days a week; in Sydney gatherings attract over 100 people. It’s spread to Europe, too, and now the weekly Greenpoint parties attract not just four people, but more like 40. And after hearing those magic words—pure release—I understood why it might hold such great appeal. Still, as O’Neill points out, the number one thing you might fear about a no-lights, booze- and drug-free dance party, done in the wrong spirit, is that it would manifest as a “dorky wedding.” I agreed.
So in order to find out why O’Neill’s NLNL parties were not dorky weddings but instead devoted gatherings of normal people who just wanna dance, I stayed and danced.
I wanted my first impression of the party to be in its fully and organically operating form, so I left and returned about three songs in. Sometimes I like to think about the world like I’m an alien, visiting humans for the first time. That was the mindset I’d turned to when I walked back inside. What I saw was fascinating.
It was, indeed, very dark, save for tiny green dots that emitted from one of those party light makers meant more to give a party-time effect than to illuminate anything. Spread throughout the floor there were some clusters of two or three people, and others who had obviously come alone. But even those with buddies weren’t dancing with each other so much as by them. Most were looking straight ahead, as if at a wall, but actually at nothing, because there was nothing to really look at; they were vibrating, or gyrating, or swerving hips and squiggling arms in an irregular fashion. These were not dance moves typically made in public. These were moves of the unselfconscious zone.
As mentioned, I like to dance. But I was tired from a day filled with things. So even though under normal circumstance I am fine being the first person on a dance floor—and even though I knew everyone else getting down to George Harrison’s “What Is Life?” didn’t care I was there, because they could not really see me—I was far from a state of pure release. I looked to the front of the room though and spotted O’Neill. She had changed into gym shorts and a T-shirt and sneakers. Her moves were spunky, athletic, crazy. It was full-on abandon. Pure-releasing. It looked incredible.
Then, came TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Admittedly, I don’t like this song. I think the beat is strange and awkward. But all of the sudden, I didn’t hate that song. During “What Is Life?” I had been forcing myself to move, and had a little momentum going. So when TLC’s first down-beat dropped, I dropped with it. I forgot that others were near me, because they already had forgotten about me, and the sound of something I usually find annoying became joyous. Like a celebration of the weird melody itself and the time in history—1999—when it was made. The sound, the darkness, and a room filled with people who were there to do absolutely nothing but let loose, in short, created a worm hole to a magical and illusive place known as the present. Of being in the moment. Just like that, I was also pure-releasing, and very happy.
This just kept happening. With weird random song, after weird random song—Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird,” George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You,” Green Day’s “Basket Case,” Rihanna’s “Umbrella,”—I kept feeling it, nothing but the beat and the moment. By the time Grimes’s “Genesis” played, I gave into it on a whole new level. I’ve never done MDMA, but I think it might feel like that. And maybe it felt better, because I was wholly with myself, and thoroughly lucid.
Just after 9:30, O’Neill put on some warm-down songs. The first was Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien.” I kind of swayed to it, and definitely did not regret a thing.
When we sat on the stage I had said to O’Neill: You are a busy and successful entrepreneur; and in addition to her businesses, I was surprised to learn, she also has a band, Laura and Greg. How on earth does she find the energy and time to do this every single week? “You put time into the things that are important to you,” she said. “Having a stressful lifestyle and being a business owner, it’s often the nights I don’t feel like it that are kind of the most important to come here, and have that release.” She went so far as to say, “I can’t imagine life without it.”
Which, of course, I now understand. Living here is hard. Relaxing here is hard. A weekly way into doing that is priceless. One time, she said, she got a card from a guy who had come to a number of NLNL parties. He told her, “I discovered this at a time in my life when I really needed it, and I wanted to let you know what it means to me.” O’Neill recalled. “Hopefully, wherever he ended up, he was able to start a No Lights No Lycra community over there.”
And what if O’Neill leaves town? Will the party go on? “I think if I ever left the city, someone would probably take it over,” she said. But for the time being, it is not going anywhere. O’Neill lives really close to the church, and, as mentioned, it’s important to her. “It’s actually just so easy for me to do it—it’s easier for me to do it, than not to,” she says.
This made me happy, and it also made me imagine that in six more years from now I might still have the chance to be pure-releasing, with O’Neill, in a dark church basement in Greenpoint.
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Fitness Cheats for the Colder Months
12TH MAY 2016 BY HOLLY BODEKER-SMITH
NO LIGHTS NO LYCRA
It’s said that dance is the purest form of expression, but what about dancing in a pitch-black room full of strangers? That’s an entirely different realm. No Lights No Lycra fosters exactly that – it doesn’t ask you to follow a teacher or technique, just to revel in free movement in the dark. It is a testament to Adelaide’s fostering of self expression, a self-proclaimed “daggy, non-pretentious place to completely be yourself.” We’re all going to be facing the dark for the next few months; we might as well dance while we do it.
No Lights No Lycra is held at various locations across Adelaide, find your local spot here.
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DANCERS who want to let loose without being judged are flocking to a church hall in Newtown for an event called No Lights No Lycra.
The event was started in Melbourne, before being brought to Sydney just over a year ago by ambassadors Ash Maher and Jodie Fisher.
The event provides a space where people can come and escape that sense of judgment many face a lot of the time, Ms Maher said.
“We do live in an image-focused society and it’s that selfie culture. We’ve created a space where people can escape that and not worry about what people are thinking and they can just dance for the fun of it,” she said.
“You don’t have to be able to dance — it’s just about free movement. No Lights No Lycra allows people to have that experience of where you get to on the dance floor at 4am on a Saturday night and it’s great to watch people letting loose sober on a Thursday night.”
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The range of music played on the night is diverse, including hip hop, techno, rock and roll, current hits, diva tunes from Kylie Minogue, Beyonce, Madonna or Rihanna as well as up and coming Sydney and Australian artists — and changes every week.
“It’s important that anyone can walk into the room and have a song that they connect with and love,” Ms Maher said.
MARRICKVILLE RESIDENT MR POLE DANCE FINALIST
PRAWN STAR COMES OUT OF HER SHELL FOR BURLESQUE
But there is no rule that people can’t rock up wearing Lycra, it is merely a metaphor for the experience in that is not a formal dance class, Ms Maher said.
“The concept is no lights and it’s not a dance class, so there are no mirrors or steps to learn. Sometimes people come in their suits from work or in their running shorts,” she said.
For those worried about bumping into people, Ms Maher said there eyes will adjust after a couple of songs.
Ms Fisher, 24, said it was a privilege to see people so happy after dancing for an hour and said the neighbours were particularly amazing to allow the event flourish.
The ambassadors are planning a third night for the event, which is also held in Bondi on Mondays and collaborations this year.
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No Lights No Lycra in Perth is THE place to go to truly dance like no one is watching—because it’s pitch black and no one is watching! Every Monday night at Leederville Town Hall you can put on your dancing shoes and dance the night away—alcohol free and judgment free. While it might take a song or two to get into it the first couple of times you go, by the end of the party you’ll be counting down the days until the next week!
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NO LIGHTS, NO LYCRA IS THE PLACE WHERE THE GANGNAM STYLE, THE RUNNING MAN AND SELF-TAUGHT BALLET STEPS ARE WELCOME. THE NON-JUDGMENTAL DANCE CLASSES HAVE FILLED VENUES ACROSS THE WORLD WITH ZEALOUS PEOPLE, UNCOORDINATED MOVEMENTS AND CATCHY TUNES TO PROMOTE UNREPRESSED SELF-EXPRESSION. WHAT’S THE SECRET TO HAVING THE CONFIDENCE TO JOIN SUCH AN EVENT? THESE ONE-HOUR DANCE BINGES ARE HELD IN THE DARK
A group of 20-somethings arrive for the dance class held in the basement of the Premium Sofa Club in Hong Kong. Their glamorous attire is more appropriate for the late-night parties the venue usually hosts; contrasting heavily with the loose-fitting joggers worn by other attendees. “Newcomers,” my guide for the night whispers. It is still early and we are resting against the wall waiting for the last guests to be greeted with a breakdown of the rules. No photos, no substances, no onlookers and all inhibitions are to be left outside.
The dancing in the dark craze – known to regulars as simply ‘NLNL’ – started in Melbourne seven years ago by students. It has since spread to New Zealand, Paris, Germany and is slowly gravitating towards the UK. The free-form class promotes positivity and identifies itself as “a daggy, non-pretentious place to completely be yourself”. It is also geared towards philanthropic giving, supporting several causes internationally. The Hong Kong edition is run by volunteers who donate the profits to Tiny Toones, a charity in Cambodia for street children.
My guide had heard about these classes through her friends. “First time I went I felt ridiculous,” she recalls. “The second time I felt like I might actually be an amazing dancer and just never realized it. That could have been the endorphins from twirling around so much though.”
Deciding I would grab an alcoholic drink to calm my stage fright of dancing in public, I appeal to the unattended bar. Apparently there is yet another rule, no drinking before or during the dance class. Instead I take a gulp from the water bottle that I had been warned to bring. “Are you nervous?” the girl next to me enquires, seeing my dissatisfaction with this substitution.
To ease my tension, the girl demonstrates her favorite dance move: the ‘hand pistol’, which is essentially pretending to shoot at the sky while animating her body like a western, cartoon cowboy. “I have upgraded version called the ‘shotgun’, but I don’t have the guts to do that while the lights are still on.”
Thanks to social media and the NLNL Dance Break app (dancebreak.com.au), the basement is filled with dancers. The improvised routines emerging from this event will not join any classical canon, but they will fuel the modern shift away from the rigid formality of choreographed dance classes. Unlike many new crazes – where an embarrassing YouTube dance video can transform into a viral meme – it is easy to see these nights are held completely without irony. Attendees are an eclectic mix, comprised of aspiring dancers, calorie-counting women looking for a workout and teenaged girls enjoying time with their friends.
The lights go down, the music climaxes and the atmosphere quickly hits fever pitch, despite a few resistant boyfriends who have been dragged to the event begrudgingly. There is the smell of sweat and the room vibrates. Respecting the No Lights No Lycra rule that participation is mandatory, I awkwardly begin by waving my arms. The silhouette of my new friend, recognizable only through the motion of gun-shaped hand gestures, grabs me enthusiastically. To appease her, I tap my feet and sway until she disappears back into the darkness.
Three songs in and I forget my fear of hitting a neighboring dancer with my frying limps. Almost involuntarily, after hearing the opening rift of a popular track, my own signature move takes hold – out-of-time, manic jumping. By the chorus, my inner exhibitionist has been released.
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We’ve found a way to exercise while having fun. You heard right – an intense cardio workout that has you smiling the whole time. An excuse to put your dancing shoes on and not feel guilty for going out.
No Lights No Lycra (NLNL) is a community that is dancing its way around the world, after taking its first steps in Melbourne in 2009. It’s an hour of free-form dancing, but there are no lights, no lycra, no teacher, no steps to learn, no technique – just free movement. NLNL is a space where you can completely let go, shake out the stresses of your week and lose yourself in the music.
Leanne Vuong, a NLNL Ambassador in Adelaide, first got involved when she heard about NLNL through a friend, and so decided to try it out for a birthday celebration, instead of the usual night in town.
“It didn’t take long to get addicted to NLNL. At that first session, I realised how self conscious I was, even in the dark,” Leanne says. “I looked around the room to see silhouette of people dancing freely and asked myself, ‘why can’t I do that?’ and since then, I rarely miss a night.”
“It’s a safe environment where people can let loose for an hour, without worrying about how they look, what they are wearing, being harassed or having drinks spilt on them. The music is different every week. Playlists are rotated between volunteers and we often spend hours selecting songs that reflect a variety of genres that cater to a wide audience.”
“And just to make you feel better about taking part, proceeds are donated to different charities with our most recent donation going towards the Pinery Fire appeal. This is a fairly unique aspect of the way we run and something that our dancers can be proud of.”
The best part is that you don’t have to worry about impressing anyone. NLNL is a non-pretentious place to completely be yourself. And it’s fun too. How do I know? I went to my first NLNL last week. It felt strange at first, to be dancing in the dark on a Monday night, with comfortable sneakers on and no bar in sight. But after the hour, I could only keep wondering why I hadn’t tried NLNL sooner!
Try a NLNL session in Adelaide at Kick ‘n’ Box in Stepney, or most recently at their new location in Henley Beach. Check the Facebook page for regular updates and playlist hints.
Photography by Paul Philipson for NLNL
VIEW WEBSITE HERE
Dancing in the Dark
No Lights No Lycra
Theres no better feeling than putting on your favourite song and dancing like no-ones
watching. Free of criticism, technique and self-consciousness, you can twist and shout the
Back in 2009, trained dancers Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett did exactly that. One quiet
weeknight, they pushed open the doors to their local church hall in Fitzroy, lined up some of
their all-time favourite tracks and danced in the dark. After years of formal training, it was the
perfect release from choreography and critique; a chance to express themselves without
inhibition. It was also a remedy to the judgement and unwelcome attention of dancing in
The duo realised that they were not the only ones who wanted a safe space to dance just for
the fun of it, so they started dancing-in- the-dark nights, No Lights No Lycra. In just four years,
the demand has driven six dance-nights a week in Melbourne and more than 70 communities
of No Lights No Lycra dancers worldwide, a testament to the concepts universal appeal.
Heidi and Alice have sought to create a welcoming space where anything goes – all thats
needed is a love of music and an open mind. Whatever your gender, age, body worries or co-
ordination levels, youll get in touch with your inner rhythm. Pull out your most embarrassing
moves, whether it be Hugh Grants Love Actually hip wiggle or Tom Cruises Risky Business
The benefits of dance arent limited to the post-boogie buzz – dancing regularly increases
flexibility, muscle tone and co-ordination, as well as endurance and cardiovascular strength.
For the elderly, exercise fights osteoporosis and assists with better balance. Busting a move is
an instant mood booster, working to combat stress, anxiety and depression, as well as
contributing to better self-esteem and body image.
With so many positive effects, its no surprise that VicHealth has teamed up with No Lights No
Lycra to release a free mobile app, Dance Break. The app is designed to bring more dance into
everyday lives, overriding your phone for a few minutes each day with an upbeat song, so you
can drop everything for a spontaneous jive. You wont be alone: the same track is played
across the world and as the song ends youll be able to see how many people were dancing
with you. Its a great way to loosen up your joints, lift your mood and return to your daily
grind with increased energy, focus and creativity.
The No Lights No Lycra movement doesnt stop there: regional tours are bringing the joy of
dance to rural town halls all around Australia, while Heidi and Alice are taking their fun,
carefree concept into schools to encourage confidence and creativity. The team has also set up
Trundle – a portable solo dance space, perfect for rocking out in splendid isolation.
Since they first boogied barefoot in a local hall many years ago, Heidi and Alice have turned
their love of dance into a global movement, inspiring thousands of people to get up and
moving. With No Lights No Lycra nights all over the world, theres never been a better time to
start dancing your way to health and happiness.
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Welcome to cool Melbourne – your guide to the cutting edge of cool around town
FROM bars, boutiques, a bookstore and a barber shop to a dance class with a difference, we’ve tracked down 25 gems you’re unlikely to find in the guide books but will have you on the cutting edge of cool.
NO LIGHTS, NO LYCRA
Various locations (city and inner north) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. nolightsnolycra.com
DANCE like no one’s watching. It’s a self-help aphorism that’s twee in the saying but is undeniably good in the doing. It’s easy to be self-conscious on a dance floor, or to dance only after a few drinks. The brainchild of Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett, NLNL is a weekly dance session without teacher, without set moves, without inhibitions. The music starts pumping and you’re dancing as though no one is watching because no one is – you’re dancing in the dark.
From humble beginnings in Melbourne in 2009, NLNL dance nights are now held around Australia and the world, including Berlin, Glasgow and London. It’s unashamedly daggy, undoubtedly fun and a damn good workout to boot. With music that can swing from Grandmaster Flash to Grease, from Beyonce to the Beach Boys and back via hip-hop and some Springsteen for good measure (yes, that song), it’s a feel-good soundtrack to good moving that’s a brilliant way to shake away the midweek blues!
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Thankyou Amy Strano for this moving talk on NLNL
In early April, NLNL flew to Darwin for National Youth Week. We ran workshops and discussions over four nights with youth aged between 15 – 25. Thankyou so much to City of Darwin for having us, for all the Launch Youth Volunteers who organised the whole event, and to all the young people who came and danced their hearts out at our workshops – you guys are awesome!!!
love nLnL x
p.s we are currently looking for someone in Darwin to run NLNL. Get in contact if that person is you!