Dancing in the dark

Tonight I went to a place where the dancing only starts when the disco ball disappears and the lights go out…

THE year is 1998. Careless in the throes of youth, you dance around the lounge room as Saturday morning’s Rage plays the bubblegum pop hits that defined the decade as substantially as grunge.

While your body swings to the Vengaboys, Aqua or the Spice Girls, your parents sneak in with a handheld home video camera, capturing your every move.

The footage lies dormant until the late noughties or early 2010s, when as a special 21st “gift”, it erupts onto the screen in front of dozens of your friends and relatives with the help of the last surviving VCR within a five kilometre radius of the RSL club.

Horror-struck though you may be at your uncoordinated early primary school self singing and jumping around, and that your friends now know your seven-year-old self lacked the sophistication to appreciate the depth of Pink Floyd’s music, deep within you rumbles a strange sense of admiration.

Pictured before you is someone who danced blissfully without care of convention, social expectation or self-consciousness.

Before dancing turned into primary school’s mechanical, militarised march known as the Macarena.

Before you risked cooties to hold the hand of the opposite sex (shock, horror!) in mandatory year 7 ballroom dancing class.

Before you joined those same members of the opposite sex in awkward adolescent experimentation at the Hot House Party or Blue Light Disco.

Before you paid the local pub’s cover charge for the privilege of overpriced booze and grinding on a sticky dancefloor surrounded by thirsty packs of gym junkies as the DJ-cum-barista played the Grease megamix for the second time in a night.

The child of 1998 is almost a source of envy, so governed by others’ expectations has dancing become, at least while sober. But tonight I discovered a place where the spirit of that child can be revived, devoid of social anxiety, romantic pursuit or a terrified urge to run for the bar.

Enter No Lights, No Lycra. Every week, people in their gym gear gather in a near-pitch-black room and freestyle for an hour.

When my friend told me of this place, two thoughts entered my mind.
1. “Of course it’s in West End.”
2. “Wouldn’t that be claustrophobic? What if I hit someone?”

Thankfully, my two worries were alleviated with one solution. As mentioned above, the hall isn’t in complete darkness as you groove away; the main sources of light, apart from the mobile phones of people trying to find the bathrooms, are the exit signs. This means you know you can escape if necessary, and you aren’t in complete darkness. You can’t make out faces, but you can tell if somebody’s getting too close with the dimmed green of the signs.

So, once again, dancing becomes an individual, carefree pursuit. You don’t need to try and look good, there’s no risk of anyone laughing at you, and any thirsty guys are practically wearing a blindfold.

For someone who, when not Peter Garrett dancing before a safe crowd, can get intense shyness and social anxiety/exhaustion, it’s amazing how liberating the absence of light can be. Nobody can see that I resemble a velociraptor jumping on hot coals; I can be me with no consequences.

Plus, pre-teen you would even recognise some of the songs. Vengaboys and Aqua play alongside Justin Timberlake and Skrillex beats that would have accompanied your year 12 formal or university balls.

The extra enthusiasm that comes from dancing without social boundaries means it’s also a great form of exercise, and a hell of a lot cheaper than the gym or yoga.

No Lights, No Lycra events are popping up all over the country. While I’m disappointed I’ve only discovered the idea in my second last week in Brisbane, it turns out there’s another one in Canberra. Perhaps I’ll see you there. Actually, I probably won’t.