I'm reading
Heidi and Alice dance in the dark
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Heidi and Alice dance in the dark
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Heidi and Alice dance in the dark
Pass it on
Pass it on
21 January 2014

Heidi and Alice dance in the dark

It doesn’t matter what you look like. You’re doing it just for the feeling.

Written by Livia Albeck-Ripka

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

Discussed in this Story

Heidi Barrett and Alice Glenn were disenchanted dance students when they started No Lights No Lycra. Sick of looking nothing like Beyoncé, they’d come home after joyless days of training, switch off the lights in their living room and dance.

Soon, they’d invited five friends, and then 50, to a church 
in Melbourne, where the lights were off, the music was pumping, and no one gave a damn how you looked. It was an antidote to the structured, judgmental worlds of stages and clubs; it was a place to play.

Four years later, NLNL has become a global phenomenon. From Berlin to Shanghai, people meet to shake out the stresses of the week and the girls are bringing NLNL into schools and rural communities. We asked them, who are you dancing for when you dance like no one is watching?

Alice: We are dancing for ourselves. That’s the beauty of it. You’re not alone, you’ve got this community and energy around you. But there’s no one watching, no one judging.

Heidi: It’s like having your eyes shut and just feeling where your body wants to move in space. It’s a completely different experience.

Alice: Or to standing in front of a mirror and trying to imitate the teacher or the best dancer in the class. No Lights is an opportunity for us to fall in love with dancing again…

Heidi: Exactly. I just studied dancing to death. I’d lost all the joy and forgot the reason why I began doing it in the first place.

And what was that reason?

Heidi: Well my parents always say that they’d sit me on top of the piano, and my arms and legs would just go like this! [Swings arms about].

Alice: Most people go into professional dance because they do love dancing. But that process of learning how to dance and being molded, and being so self-critical, takes a lot of the joy out of movement. No Lights is wonderful because 
it doesn’t matter what you look like. You’re doing it just for the feeling. I did ballet when I was young and was always pretty bad when it came to exam time. But the teachers always said I thrived on improvisation. I did it a lot when I was young, in my kitchen. I’ve always loved that freedom of throwing my arms around. When I was younger I imagined myself on stage. I imagined that everyone was watching me and that it felt amazing. I’ve lost that now… but the best dances I have at No Lights are when I’m truly just doing it for myself.

It’s not always easy though, to let go of your ego…

Alice: We’re often our biggest critics. Even if you’re just dancing for yourself in the dark, being able to let go of that self-criticism is a big thing. Just realising that no one’s watching you, no one cares. Just ignore yourself and move. Just let the music take over for a while. We’re so overwhelmed with images of amazing pop stars and professional dancers and hot people moving, that you feel like you have to look like that. But actually, we believe that every single body has its own way of moving.

You were recently in Darwin running NLNL with youth. How was the experience of doing it with an age group for whom play is more natural?

Heidi: Part of me was thinking, Is this even necessary for these young kids? They dance so freely anyway.

Alice: When Heidi spoke at the end of the class about
 the philosophy of No Lights she said, “Does anyone feel uncomfortable dancing?” And a little 10-year-old put his hand up and said, “Nah! I love dancing publicly!” It’s like, Oh, there goes the whole workshop!

How would you describe the feeling of dancing in the dark?

Alice: Joyful.

Heidi: Liberating, free, experimental…

Alice: Energising… We’ve always struggled to articulate 
this but there is a spiritual aspect to the experience. Often everyone ends up clapping or cheering. Everyone sort of, meets the soul, and there’s something really powerful about that energy in the room. Particularly when you play a really powerful, cheesy ballad or…

Heidi: An African tribal track! It’s definitely therapeutic. It’s like total release. The best nights are when there are
 no thoughts coming into your head… It’s like a meditation.

Alice: We’ve also always said that the nights where you really can’t find the energy to go and you’ve had a really crap day, they’re always the best dances. When you’ve had a bad day…

Heidi: You push yourself through it.

Alice: When a song comes on that just, fills you with bubbles, that you just cannot resist, it’s an amazing explosion of limbs and energy! You watch a child’s dancing to music. That’s exactly what you should look like on the dance floor at No Lights. Just limbs and hips. There’s no style going on there, it’s just a natural reaction to the rhythm.

Heidi: It feels funny saying it, but so many people who have come to NLNL have said that it’s changed their lives.

Alice: Just that self-confidence, that body awareness. A lot of people aren’t happy in their bodies so they carry them in an uncomfortable way. No Lights gives you a place to really enjoy your body as it is. Often, when you’re trying to dance like everyone else and it doesn’t work, you just feel so crap about yourself. Like, I look nothing like Beyoncé. But, when you find the way that your body moves, it’s like enlightenment.

Alice Glenn is a filmmaker, artist and dancer. She is the co-founder of No Lights No Lycra and Melbourne’s not-for- profit arts organisation, Schoolhouse Studios. Heidi Barrett is an artist, dancer and choreographer. She co-founded No Lights No Lycra and runs Little Lights dance-yoga-play for children.

Livia Albeck-Ripka

Livia Albeck-Ripka is an Australian journalist in NYC. She has had bylines at The Atlantic, Quartz, VICE, Haaretz, Tablet & others. Livia is a former fellow at Fabrica & previous Deputy Editor at Dumbo Feather, covering culture, identity, politics & environment.

Image: supplied by No Lights No Lycra

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