At No Lights No Lycra, You Really Can Dance Like No One's Watching
Since this weekly sober dance party happens in the dark, you're free to move without worry over how you look
Reviewed by Erica Lies, Fri., Feb. 21, 2020
Entering No Lights No Lycra – Austin's weekly sober dance party in the dark – feels at first like you're in a sensory deprivation chamber. Walking into the community room at Guan Yin Tea House, NLNL's home for the last year, you feel a sense of the space's expanse, but until your eyes adjust, it's hard to tell how many people are in the room.
No Lights No Lycra is a DJ night that's sonically loud but visually quiet. As the name suggests, there are no lights allowed (though I spied plenty of workout clothes). Talking is highly discouraged, as are phones. There's only music and moving. And without eyes to judge, how you dance is entirely up to – and for – you.
As an event, NLNL is hard to categorize. It offers a workout minus the gym membership and a dance night without all the things that can make going out exhausting: no club, no alcohol, and no creeps. With just enough light to keep from bumping into others or walking into a wall, the dance floor has a meditative feel. It's even held at the reasonable hour of 8:30pm on a Monday. If you like to move your body but don't care for seeing and being seen, NLNL is a welcome reprieve.
Started in Melbourne, Australia, a decade ago, NLNL now has chapters in over 50 cities around the globe. But within the U.S., it can be found only in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin. NLNL's local chapter started in early 2019 when Brooklyn transplants Leila Sales and Brian Pennington thought it might make a novel contribution to the Austin scene.
Sales, an author of young adult books, had regularly attended the Brooklyn chapter, finding the lack of judgment freeing. "I liked it because I could just dance all over the place and go absolutely nuts without worrying that anybody would stare or laugh or comment," she told me. "Because there is nothing to do other than dance at NLNL – you can't go to the bar or chat with your friends – it also made me figure out how to move to pretty much any type of music." Sales' dedication to dance parties runs deep – she even wrote a book, This Song Will Save Your Life, about a teenage DJ.
Pennington had DJ'd in Brooklyn under the name DJ Brian Blackout, though he played more traditional parties and venues. When he was looking for ways to start DJ'ing in Austin, Sales' experience with NLNL appealed to him. For one thing, it was different. Though Austin once boasted a dance party in the dark in Dance Dance Party Party, the chapter here appears to have stopped operating in 2018.
So far, NLNL has grown primarily by word of mouth, but audiences who discover it are responding enthusiastically. "It represents many things to many people," Pennington says. "We've spoken to new mothers who find it a great way to get out of the house, folks who find it a great replacement for a traditional exercise class, dancers who find that the music and the dark combine in a way that's meditative, and people who just love being able to express themselves without feeling watched."
While Brian Blackout is NLNL's anchor DJ, the night also features guest sets from Sales and others from around the city, such as DJ Phildoesit. Attendees can expect to hear a mix of crowd-pleasing hits right alongside deeper cuts that would impress even the snobbiest music aficionado. They mix it up between genres and tempos so there's a little something for everyone to love, but always add "at least one song you'd be embarrassed to dance to if the lights were on," Pennington says.
Unfortunately, just as NLNL Austin is marking its first anniversary, it's losing its home. Guan Yin will be closing its doors March 1. But that doesn't mean NLNL will be stopping, too. It's actively seeking out a new spot and will be posting information about future chances to shake it on its events newsletter, Lite + Brite (www.liteandbriteatx.com). DJ Brian Blackout's past sets are also available to stream on MixCloud (www.mixcloud.com/brianblackout), though it's not quite the same as going in person to hear a disco rendition of Dolly Parton while a room full of people loses its collective mind.