Capital dancing – No Lights No Lycra Canberra

It’s natural to feel a bit awkward when dancing in public. Unless you’re actually a qualified dancer, or possess the sweet moves, dancing can feel at once natural and uncomfortable, especially if you think people are watching.

The No Lights No Lycra (NLNL) movement aims to prove that everyone can dance. The movement was founded in Melbourne in 2009 by dance students Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett, and ‘is a space where you can completely let go, shake out the stresses of the week, and lose yourself in the music and the physicality of your body’.

In laymen’s terms, NLNL is a dance party in total darkness, with awesome music and no judgement where people can dance like no one is watching – actually.

NLNL migrated to Canberra in July 2012 via Lucy Nelson and Lisa Sampson who started hosting the dance party at Corroboree Park in Ainslie. Recently, their team has expanded to include Fiona Harris who has set up NLNL Southside, at the Mount Mugga Scout hall in Red Hill.

I caught up with all three ladies to chat about NLNL, unpretentious exercise and carpets made of crepe paper.

No Lights No Lycra has interesting roots as a movement, and is all about embracing movement and dance without the trappings of ordinary dance culture. What drew you guys to it? 

Lucy: After childhood, it’s hard to find a place where you can dance without instruction, judgment, or gender politics in play. Everybody who loves NLNL goes along to dance for themselves and that is such a cathartic, open-ended experience (we should mention that it’s also a drug and alcohol free environment). It’s all the freedom of daggy dancing in your living room, but there’s 50 people doing it all at once and the energy is palpable.

Lisa: I love music and it’s often hard to share with people outside of the car stereo or a party-type situation.  NLNL is a way I get to share the music I love, all wrapped up in a joyous little parcel of a playlist to give to our punters. It also helps me to rediscover my music collection. I, like many my age, adored No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom when I was 12 years old. Couldn’t tell you the last time I’d listened to it though. Rather than pick the go-to “Just A Girl”, I thought I’d drop in “Sunday Morning” to a recent list instead. It went off and we were all rockstars for approximately four minutes that night. That is a great feeling to share.

Fiona:  Dancing in the dark is so much fun! It’s the definition of absolute physical freedom.

What made you decide to start NLNL up in Canberra? And what has been the response so far?

Lisa:  In early 2012 I read about NLNL in Frankie Magazine and decreed “I must bring this to Canberra”.  Then, I sat on the idea for six months.  After an epic “lose yourself to dance” moment during Bluejuice’s set at Groovin’ the Moo some years ago, I finally got in touch with the NLNL HQ in Melbourne who mentioned that their friend Lucy was starting to plan a Canberra NLNL.  We met, blind-date style at The Front and have made a great team ever since.  The response has been heartwarming.  A mix of old-faithfuls and first-timers every week, which continues to amaze us and make us grateful.

Lucy: Being relatively new to Canberra, I wanted to bring something playful. We’ve been incredibly grateful to have such strong support from the community and from some particularly dedicated regulars who have helped us by volunteering at special events etc. We’re thrilled by the diversity of the crowd.

Fiona: I wanted to start an NLNL on Friday nights. It’s the end of the week, you want to dance but don’t want to hit the clubs/gym. It’s a fun, physical release and gets your weekend off to a positive start.

A lot of people see NLNL as a great way to exercise, without having to deal with pretentious gyms – do you agree? 

Lucy: YES! I hate gyms. I think I like to exercise in private, which is why my regime consists almost exclusively of YouTube 80s aerobics in my room, and dancing in the dark.

NLNL is an excellent work out. Everyone emerges from the room squinting at the light AND covered in sweat.

Lisa: Agree, wholeheartedly. I find it’s a workout for my mind, too. Some weeks are cathartic, where I think things through and solve mine/the world’s problems in my head while I dance. Those are the best weeks. Other weeks, I find it hard to tune out, which sucks, but I know I’ve gotten a good workout – still a good result!

Fiona: I love the gym but NLNL offers a completely unique way to exercise. Firstly, it’s dark so you don’t have to worry about your size, shape or whether your leggings have holes in them. Secondly, the music we play is very accessible. You’re bound to know most of the songs we play. At last Friday’s NLNL, I played the Grease Mega-mix and everyone lost their MINDS. The whole room was shouting the lyrics! Try doing that in your spin class!

Take me through a typical NLNL night – how many people rock up, both southside and northside? What’s the vibe like? 

Lisa:  Around 50 people, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less join us in the green hall at Corroborree Park in Ainslie.  Lucy and I greet everyone at the door with a smile (and sometimes a daggy joke) and offer lolly snakes for energy.  Everyone is welcome!  We have DIY window coverings for the windows and beautiful wooden floors that are a joy to dance on, with shoes or without.  We often have people ask us to do guest playlists and we love the diversity this brings us.  A playlist by a 20 year old is different than by someone who is 30, 40 or 50.

The last Tuesday of every month is our dedicated theme night which is great fun.  One theme example was our night at the movies which included a red crappet (red carpet made from crepe paper).

Fiona: I run a Friday night NLNL in Red Hill. We dance at the Mount Mugga Scout hall, which is a rad old school hall with wooden floorboards. It’s super dark! About 30-40 dancers rock up each week to dance their tushes off. There’s lots of singing, clapping and stomping. It’s like a hyperactive aerobics class!

You get a lot of guest programmers – who has been a highlight so far? 

Lucy: It can be really surprising. We have this lovely regular who is so quiet and one day asked if she could put together a playlist for us. We try not to talk at NLNL, but halfway through her playlist, I think it was during a Bloodhound Gang song, Lisa and I sort of shimmied towards each other on the dancefloor and said “oh my goodness she’s smashing it!” We keep pestering her to do another one. The best playlists always have something from every decade and genre, and a little something from left field (‘Do the Bartman’ by Bart Simpson springs to mind).

Also, kudos to Brass Knuckle Brass Band who very impressively managed to play a super tight set for our punters without being able to see their instruments.

Fiona: I love it when people request their favourite songs! NLNL is an inclusive event which makes people feel good about themselves. I LOVE guest programmers who want to share their favourite songs with others. It creates a positive group energy that radiates through the dance floor!

Get your dancing in the dark fix at NLNL Canberra!
Tuesday nights, Corrobboree Park, Ainslie 7:45 – 9:15pm
Friday nights, Mount Mugga Scout Hall, Red Hill, 7 – 8:30pm
Stay in touch via Facebook.

Image: Paul Philipson

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