Published October 21, 2014
A funky bassline is bumping out of KEX Hostel as I walk up to its patio. As I pass the window, I hear the horns and lyrics of Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope.” I picture her smooth moves in the song’s music video and I already feel like dancing. Once inside, I duck quickly through the door into Gym & Tonic, trying to let in as little light as possible in the process. No lights, no lycra, no lies: it is pitch black when the door closes. (I can’t actually confirm that there is no spandex, but I certainly can’t see any.) I take off my coat as I wait for my eyes to adjust.
“Hi!” a Scottish voice says as I feel a hand on my shoulder. It guides me to the dark blob of a coat-rack. “You can put your coat here.”
This is how a No Lights No Lycra event starts. The host has literally disappeared and I step-touch my way into the crowd. As my pupils dilate, I see the faintest greenish light shining from some electronic equipment. It is exactly enough light to see moving shapes and avoid bumping into them. I have no idea how many people are here, but I can feel that they are dancing. No one talks and we are alone together.
A long way from Australia
The concept began in Melbourne, Australia in 2009. Two dance students, Alice Glenn and Heidi Barrett, started with just themselves in their living room. It quickly grew to include their friends and a community was created. It spread to other cities in Australia and quickly around the world.
“At the heart of No Lights No Lycra (NLNL) is the belief that everyone can dance,” their story begins on the organization’s official website, “providing an inclusive and non-judgmental place for people to explore this notion.” It is further described as a “daggy, non-pretentious place to completely be yourself.”
Reykjavík is the first Nordic capital to join the NLNL community and only the second Nordic city after Aarhus, Denmark. Rik McNair, host of the local version of the event, booked the space and put together a playlist with the help of a few friends. “It isn’t supposed to be like a party,” he explained to me over a beer afterwards. “It’s not really about dancing with your mates; it’s just about you and the music.”
Feel the heat
After a few songs, a dreamy electro-pop mash-up of Kraftwerk and Whitney Houston comes on. By the time she sings, “I wanna feel the heat with somebody,” I am already feeling it. I want to take my boots off, but worry that that would be weird. It dawns on me that no one would even know, so I sidle to the wall and do The Running Man right out of them with sweaty glee.
The variety of both music and dance moves is impressive. There is R&B, classic rock, ’90s hip hop, ska, Latin pop, and everything in between, for about five decades’ worth of tunes. We instinctively snap along to doo-wop and stomp rhythmically in unison to some slower, pulse-y electronic beats. There is the occasional whoop or clap at the end of a song.
Clothes come off in the heat. I break out all kinds of otherwise embarrassing moves untouched since my high school musical days: The Egg-Beater, some tap dance, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and The Mashed Potato, which I never really figured out. What most everyone else is doing is still a mystery to me. Occasionally, there is a glimpse of a random limb. There is the shadow of at least one person splayed out and rolling slowly along the floor. I mentally dub it “The Starfish,” and vow to try it next week.
“Thanks for coming,” Rik says through the dark when the last song ends. There is cheering, clapping, and a lot of contented sighing. The lights come up slowly. People migrate toward the door and hover near the tables where pitchers of chilled water sit. People wipe the sweat from their faces and introduce themselves.
“I was going to go for a run tonight,” I overhear one woman saying. “But, whew, I don’t think I need to now! That was a workout!”
I ask how people were feeling. “Well, it has been a heavy few days—with work and everything,” says an attendee, “but after coming here, I feel,” he pauses for the right word, “liberated.”
No Lights No Lycra will be held every Monday at 20:00 in KEX’s Gym & Tonic room. There is talk of monthly theme nights for upcoming NLNL events, in addition to its usual variety of music genres. The group encourages attendees to request songs for the upcoming week via their Facebook page. I need to stipulate that the title is a slight misnomer, however. They have made it quite clear that you can actually wear as much or little lycra as you’d like.
If you follow No Lights, No Lycra’s facebook page you can keep up with their weekly events.