Let The People Dance22/07/2020
Image courtesy Antoine Julien
Let the People Dance
For as long as I can remember I have loved to dance. Not in any formal way but that feeling you get from dancing your heart out at the front of a rave is part of me. A feeling of freedom, living from moment to moment, held by the music, connected to it. When it moves you move. Dance replenishes a sense of self that not many other activities do. Dance, in the company of others, connects us to our communities, forms bonds around shared joy, cultural expression, known gestures and postures, pushing boundaries, trying out new yous, from beat to break.As a young teen, my summers were filled with festivals, camps and long stays in fields with friends. In Wales, in the 90s these were not licenced events delivered with corporate precision, but perennial, evolving gatherings that would welcome generations of families with a sense of community, freedom, creativity — incense making, cinnamon doughnuts, a healing field — diablos and fire sticks twirling through the air, and all kinds of dance.
As we pass midsummer’s eve the UK media has warned of a “summer of rave”, with Helen Pidd of the Guardian suggesting this rave renaissance will be: “of proportions not seen for 30 years because the government has failed to give young people clarity over when they can party legally once again”.As lockdown eases, bars and eateries are open, giving us all a glimpse of what together once meant. Yet as nightclubs remain closed and the festival season cancelled we must find ways to let the people dance, as the urge to throw caution to the wind and wine up yourself intensifies.
The wellspring of gatherings of people to socialise and dance during the Covid-19 outbreak, for me, signals the innate human need for self-expression through movement and connection with others. Yes, we are in the midst of a global pandemic in which keeping our distance is critical. It is also troubling to read that a handful of these ‘lockdown raves’ have become unsafe. I don’t condone this. But can we find ways to distance and dance?Manchester is suggesting we ‘rave in a box’ for short bursts — 90mins with people already in our social bubble. While in Germany they are trialling the world’s first drive-thru raves. Somehow rows of stationary cars with people sitting inside look a bit dystopian, and there’s not a shoulder shimmy in sight.People need dance — it feeds the heart and fuels the imagination. Let’s not demonise such a powerful expression of what it means to be alive. My Nan, who is just shy of 100 tells me when she closes her eyes, she is still dancing.
While my Nan hit the ballrooms, circle dance and Five Rhythms were big for our parents. Our summers of dance would involve a hip-hop routine learned by everyone on camp, and always a ‘rave night’. It was generally a family thing too, we’d get dressed up in camo-print cargos and crop tops, UV face-paint and glitter. We’d dance the night away, with mums and dads, and sisters and cousins.In rural Wales pre-Millenium, our social networks were friends sprinkled around villages and towns, spread over miles and miles of hedgerow and track. Mobile phones only hit towards my mid-teens. Not many people had them at first and you’d need to walk to the middle of the village and stand on the rock by the phone box to get signal. Failing that, a drive into the nearest town might get you a few bars. So news of a rave spread word of mouth, along landlines.The Internet — an essential tool to today’s lockdown raves — was not yet part of this picture, and in many ways, I’m grateful to have lived these years of my life away from the bright lights of social media, and under the UV lights instead.
Raves filled our summers and sometimes winters too. In fields, in barns, in houses or farms. By the side of lakes and deep in the forest. There was so much beauty here, but darkness too. We would pile into cars and vans and drive in convoy in the pitch dark. Sometimes with only a scribbled address, few road signs and no GPS. We would listen out for the repetitive beat music or flashing lights in the distance to find our way.
In 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act further criminalized the UK’s Free Party culture and includes “Powers to remove persons attending or preparing for a rave” and it singles out “ ‘music’ that includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” (source)Despite this, the first wave of rave culture has partied on in the UK, finding new enclaves in which to flourish, to break free, drop out and dance to beats and bass. We have also experienced the commodification of free-spirited gatherings through the explosion of mainstream, licenced festivals.
Now everyone and their neighbour’s Aunt can walk barefooted on the grass, don a synthetic flower garland and dance to live music. And if this makes us as a society a little happier, more carefree and connected, I’m all for it.
Rather than criminalising this positive human desire for connection with the self and others, can we find ways to make it safe and acknowledge how important it is for our collective wellbeing to come together and dance?
While I may have enjoyed that last few years of Glastonbury Festival from the comfort of my sofa, I always maintain that my best raving days are ahead of me.
Read her further thoughts on Medium