A crowd gathers inside Grey Lynn Hall, a few dozen strong. It comprises of mainly twenty and thirtysomethings, but a handful of baby boomers also make up the group. There is an energy, a buzz. Some stand silently around the edges of the room, others defiantly stake their claim on a centre space. Some stretch. Some look nervous, others excited. I notice that a lady’s shoelace is undone. I tell her. Her husband comes over to thank me. He shakes my hand. His name is Nick. This is serious stuff. The lights cut, a cheer rises and the bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” thunders through the opaque black. The floor pulsates to the rhythm of dancing feet. Even in the darkness, I am transfixed.
No Lights No Lycra is a global dance community founded by a couple of dance students in Melbourne six years ago. The concept is simple. Turn off the lights, turn up the music, lose your inhibitions and dance in any and every way you like. Filmmaker Rowen Baines’ documentary Dancing in the Dark follows a regular No Lights No Lycra goer. “It’s the healthiest thing you can do to just allow your body to let loose,” says the director. “As we grow up, the freedom of movement is trained out of us, but to just move freely like a kid again releases so much physical and emotional stress.”
“Within society, there are so many rules that create so much tension in the body that they can really remove you from feeling who you are,” says Peter Vosper whom the documentary mainly follows. “It builds up and either you release it with drugs or alcohol or whatever, of you can do it in a healthy, positive way such as dancing.”
At No Lights no Lycra, you can do whatever you want, without judgment.
Another regular No Lights No Lycra attendee is actually a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Clean now for seven years he told the Rowena of how No Lights No Lycra gave him the confidence to go back out partying, but sober. “It was the only place he could go and be safe and not be judged, there was no need to have a few drinks beforehand,” says the director. “It acted as a bridge for him, it gave him the courage to see that he could still go out and do it straight.”
It also, of course, gives the typical Kiwi guy the chance to let loose, free from the restraints of much of society’s expectation. “Growing up in New Zealand makes you quite conservative I guess,” says Peter, who also dances for a living. “Especially if you want to do something that isn’t deemed masculine. If you do find another outlet, but have to suppress it, it’s unhealthy. At No Lights no Lycra, you can do whatever you want, without judgment.”
Rowena is a former Latin dance teacher. Another of her films, The Contract, also a dance-orientated documentary, was filmed in Rio de Janeiro and will be screened at the Documentary Edge Film Festival later this month. As for Dancing in the Dark it was funded by Loading Docs and selected as one of their ten shorts for the year. They’re exciting times ahead for one of New Zealand’s most promising new filmmakers.
“It’s not about dancing with someone,” adds Rowena. “It’s about an inner connection. To lose track of everything.To lose track of yourself. People come out as these euphoric, sweaty beings with their hair glued to their faces. I wanted to capture the transformation that occurs during that one hour. I want to encourage people to dance.”