Schools Just dancing in the dark

Photos: Abigail Varney

If you went to school in the 80s and 90s, you (like me) may have fond memories of playground games such as elastics and skipping, or even that hallowed period when it became a thing to stand in a circle and take turns rap-dancing. Maybe I couldn’t body-pop like Baby Love in the Rock Steady Crew, but it didn’t matter. The joy was in the doing.

However, by Year 8, any urge to dance in public was quashed. To dance is fun and enlivening. It’s great for your mental health. But it also means drawing attention to yourself and your body; to invite scrutiny – and what teenager wants that?

Alice Glenn, co-founder of social enterprise No Lights No Lycra, has found a way to cut through this conundrum with an education program that teaches young people to run events where they can dance like no one’s watching. The results are moving, in all ways.

“Wear you PJs if you want – no one is looking.”

It’s a simple concept,” Glenn says. Were about taking away as many barriers as we can to get people up and dancing. ‘No lights’ is because the lights are out [though not so dark that you cant see whats going on]. ‘No lycra’ is because you dont have to dress like Jane Fonda. Wear you PJs if you want – no one is looking.”

No Lights No Lycra happened by accident. Back in 2009, Glenn, who had studied dance at university, was losing interest in attending classes as “it became more about body image than feeling”. One night, she and a friend hired a hall, and invited some like-minded souls. They turned off the lights and turned up the music, and the feeling came back.

The events multiplied, spreading to other cities and towns, to a movement app, a TED talk and a write-up in The New York Times; from gold-coin donation to the big-hearted small business it is today with ambassadors in 75 communities around the world

Glenn, who is also a registered teacher, has been honing the education program for the last few years. “It’s the perfect form of physical exercise for kids that dont want to be involved in competitive sport, or who might be self-conscious. And all the skills are transferable: students learn about marketing and communication, and how to create a safe and inclusive event, physically and emotionally. They learn how to choose music responsibly, and DJ tips.”

“It’s the perfect form of physical exercise for kids that don’t want to be involved in competitive sport, or who might be self-conscious.”

Schools that sign up to the program gain access to the No Lights No Lycra online hub, where students can learn everything they need to know about running a lunchtime event. To support the process, Glenn works with the schools in different capacities, from running face-to-face workshops with whole year levels, to training up smaller self-selecting groups to be ambassadors.

Ive worked with queer and feminist collectives and neurodivergent groups. It’s wonderful to see young people advocating for themselves, and collaborating on how they might set the room up and make it work for them.”

With inclusivity, autonomy and respect at its core, a No Lights No Lycra event fits what James Paul Gee called affinity spaces’ – locations where groups of people are drawn together through shared engagement in a common activity. Such spaces are built from the inside out.

Recently, Glenn worked with a group of Muslim girls at a regional high school. “I had put together a playlist, but it wasn’t working. Everyone was just standing around. Then, one of the girls came up and asked if she could choose something. She put on this amazing Iranian music, and the just room erupted into cultural dancing. It was such a beautiful moment of ‘Yes! This is actually just for you!”

Find out more about the No Lights No Lycra education program here.

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