Dancing in the dark

In the many hours of training or waiting around to train at the Icehouse, I’ve long admired the skills of the figure skaters. I think I’ve written before about their amazing edge-work, their flawless backward crossovers and the sheer courage of attempting some of the spins and tricks they pull off, without a helmet or anything else of substance protecting them from a nasty concussion if the move goes wrong.

When you think about it, the bottom line is that skating is bloody difficult – I remember coach Lliam Webster saying in one of our first ever classes years ago, that it is a completely unnatural, ‘learned’ skill – and so to actually dance on ice is kind of nuts.

Foot speed and co-ordination is obviously a key for great skating as well as for wider sporting proficiency, and so learning dance can help. A lot of AFL footballers (including, most famously, James Hird when he was still playing and was still the League’s golden boy) train in dancing to help their balance and core strength, for example.

So, in summary, being a better dancer could help me be a better skater. And I need to be a better skater.

But, also in summary, there’s no way in Hell I’m about to try that shit out on the ice and while standing on thin blades of steel.

Chloé came up with a plan.

And so last night the two of us approached a towering yet forbidding church hall in Brunswick East. There was no entrance from Nicholson Street, but we spotted a shadowy figure scurrying across a lawn on the southside of the building. We gave chase, tried to keep her in sight, and picked our way past a grave – I couldn’t make out who it was for in the gathering gloom – before we found ourselves treading carefully down a steep slope so that we were well below street level. Already lined up to get into the dark hall were a gathering of people in hoodies and street clothes, big coats buffering the cold. You would have sworn it was a cult. Nobody was talking much and, if so, any voices were a quiet murmur. There was a sense of anticipation, possibly of nerves. The building itself was completely dark. Mostly women, either alone or in pairs, the line disappeared one by one through the door and into the darkness.

And then it was our turn, paying seven bucks at the door, squinting as our eyes tried to adjust to the lack of light, but being drawn into the music, a cool beat-driven remix of a Sixties classic, as we entered the cavernous, dark hall.

We peeled off our outer clothing. We tentatively moved past swaying silhouettes to find space on the floor.

And then we danced.

The founders of No Lights No Lycra, doing what they do.

The founders of No Lights No Lycra, doing what they do. (Pic: NLNL website)

And so I made my debut at No Lights No Lycra (http://nolightsnolycra.com/), a crazy brilliant concept that was invented in Fitzroy before making its way around the world. If you’re reading this in Berlin or Fremantle, Shanghai, Paris or Whanganui, there’s one near you. Check out their locations list (http://nolightsnolycra.com/location/). If there isn’t, they invite you to create your own.

No Lights No Lycra was created in 2009 by a couple of dance students, Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett , with the aim of creating a non-judgmental, daggy, be-free dance space for anybody and everybody. Their concept was that if the lights were turned off, people could relax about being ‘cool’, about how they looked, about whether they were even moving in time. They could just dance. This dancing self-consciousness is something I have spent my life battling, so amen to Heidi and Alice. On their website, they have a Jerry Lee Lewis quote, which is perfectly chosen: ‘All you gotta do honey is kinda stand in one spot, Wiggle around just a little bit, That’s what you gotta do, yeah Oh babe whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.’

Making my debut, along with Chloé who has been to a few sessions, it really felt like that: just have fun. Nobody is watching. Or judging. Or sneering. Or laughing. Or … anything. There’s just you, in the dark, with great music. Go for it.

The whole idea is not to dance for show, or to be seen, but instead to do exactly the opposite: dance in a dark room so that nobody can see what you’re doing. Pull off whatever moves you like. There were just enough people there to feel like you were part of a crowd you couldn’t quite see, but with enough space on the dance floor so that the better, or more expressive dancers could go nuts without taking out their neighbour.

Dance like nobody's watching.

Dance like nobody’s watching.

As far as I could tell anyway, in the murky quarter-light. A woman just behind Chloé seemed to have amazing moves, all angles and elbows and shimmy. Another woman close to me chose to just sway and rock. I didn’t focus for long. In fact, I closed my eyes for minutes at a time, just letting in the music. Chloé told me later that in summer, when there’s more natural daylight in the evening, the room is nowhere near as dark, but even then, I think it would work, because it’s an unwritten but understood code not to pay too much attention to the dancers around you, visible or not.

By the second half hour, as the beats picked up and drove through Kylie and through Lou Bega (Mambo No. 5: a little bit of …)  and Elvis, through some borderline doof doof I didn’t know, and then all the way to a remix of eighties techno classic Pump Up The Jam, which took me way back, I had a decent sweat worked up and was deeply regretting not bringing a water bottle.

All around me, human shapes were moving. Occasionally somebody would fly past, whirling or leaping, even running around the room as they danced. At the end of each song, applause would break out and then we were off again. You could dance to raise a serious sweat or you could dance to release stress, or maybe you could just dance because, fuck it, dancing can be fun. Especially when you turn off the self-conscious and internal critic.

Given my hood, you’d think No Lights No Lycra would be a hipster paradise, but it actually seems to draw a diverse crowd, from what I could sort of make out, peering vaguely around the dark room. I had expected the dancers to be almost entirely in the under 35 demographic, but I wasn’t the only person blowing that statistic out. When the music finally slowed, and somebody in the darkness yelled: ‘Last song!’ and then the music stopped and the lights were finally turned on, so we could safely make our way out, I was surprised by the mix of body shapes, ages and fashions.

We all dispersed back into the night, grinning and sweating and ready for dinner. Was this a first step to dancing my way to hockey skating proficiency? It’s a long shot but, having done it, who cares? It was so much fun to watch the dark shape of Chloé busting moves and letting herself go. She dances with such joy. And there was her hockey player husband, experimenting with just how crazily he could move to a Jacksons remix, while simultaneously working various muscle groups.

Same time next week? Why not?

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