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I’m Dancing as Far As I Can! - Jorge Socarras

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Dance clubs from Shanghai to Berlin are rethinking how people go dancing

Around the world, for months dance floors stayed empty where normally people would not only be dancing, but sharing drinks, substances, hugs, kisses and more through the night and into the morning. Being part of a pulsing crowd of hundreds, sometimes thousands, all moving rhythmically to the beat while playing with the boundaries of personal space is a kind of peak experience. How to approximate that experience within the limitations of the “new normal” is now the challenge, with clubs trying to come up with ways of sharing the dance floor while maintaining social distance.

In Berlin, arguably the world capital of dance-club culture, during lockdown some DJs started live streaming. Instead of clubs, live-stream dance parties were soon happening in living rooms and bedrooms across borders. Two that took off were United We Stream and Social Disdance, which by using Zoom as a platform allowed lock-downers globally to simultaneously share the party screen. Online electronic music platform Resident Advisor joined forces with YouTube to create Club Quarantine, a streaming music experience accompanying an explorable digital club. Participants even had to wait in a virtual line, facing possible rejection by the digital door-bot.  

While virtual dance parties certainly helped lift people’s feet and spirits during lockdown, they’re not likely to suffice once people can actually go out again after being cooped up so long. In the case of Berlin, where an estimated 30% of its visitors come for the nightlife, and some 9,000 people work in clubs, the lockdown has proven especially hard for clubs to survive. With dancing currently prohibited, limited capacity, early closing times and obligatory masks, some clubs are reopening as beer gardens. One of Berlin’s most popular dance clubs, Paloma Bar, started online sales of branded products as well as a fundraising campaign to help cover expenses until reopening.

The city of Münster, meanwhile, where restrictions are not quite as strict as Berlin’s, held possibly the world’s first social-distancing dance party on May 22 at the Coconut Beach Club. The DJ played to a 100 people in a space that can normally hold 2,000, with circles painted 6 feet apart across the floor for individuals to dance in. In Schüttorf, promoters threw a drive-in rave where everyone stayed in their cars, honking horns and flashing headlights in lieu of dancing and applauding. Bonn has also been holding car concerts called "BonnLive Autokonzerte." The US is seeing its own versions, with Chandler, Arizona having recently hosted a drive-in electronic dance music fest called Road Rave.

One of the Netherland’s first attempts to resume nightlife was in the city of Nijmegen, where on June 6 Club Doornroosje (“Sleeping Beauty") reopened its doors for an afternoon electronic dance event billed as “corona-proof.” Their solution: all dancing was done sitting in chairs 5 feet apart. The promoter’s original plan was to have participants dance standing in place, but the local authorities insisted that they sit in chairs, and so a new kind of dance event was born. So far only 30 guests are allowed per event, but the club hopes to soon expand to 100.

In post-lockdown Spain, indoor venues can operate with reduced capacity, and attendees must wear masks, but so far dancing is still prohibited, and while outdoor venues can have up to 800 people, it’s still up in the air when dancing might resume. Ibiza, global hotspot for electronica clubs and DJs, is not reopening dance clubs this summer, a huge setback for the international dance scene. The Balearic government has postponed their opening possibly until a coronavirus vaccine is available. Meanwhile, many European cities are forming night councils to address the challenges of keeping the nightlife sector alive. They know that saving clubs means saving urban culture.  

 

In the People’s Republic of China, reopened clubs require all guests wear masks. Before entering, temperature checks are done at the door, much as clubs elsewhere do security checks, and not only do they check guest IDs; they register the information in case contact tracing becomes necessary. Shanghai’s 44KW, a popular electronica club that was among the first to reopen, requires masks and temperature checks, only uses disposable cups, disinfects bathrooms hourly and the entire space before and after opening hours. The crowd seems to take it all in stride and is back to pre-pandemic numbers.

Looking into the future, LA-based studio Production Club has conceived the Micrashell, an airtight, protective upper-body suit and helmet with built-in N95 particle filtration as well as speakers. The suit even has canisters for drinks, yet is light enough to be worn over clothes. One can imagine a club where everyone wears one being something like Tron.

Micrashell, Production Club, Inc.

For now, the dance clubs with the best shot at thriving are likely open open-air venues, with other clubs opening more gradually as they find ways to make dance floors safe. One segment of club culture that is historically familiar with issues of health and safety is the LGBTQ faction. Having once been nearly decimated by the HIV/AIDS crisis, gay dance culture has already proven hearty at resuscitating. Wearing masks and dancing six feet apart is unlikely to bring it to a halt. Brooklyn DJs Ron Like Hell and Ryan Smith, known for their underground gay dance parties, are thinking of staging them in band shells at New York parks. While the environment would be different, they believe the sexy, joyous vibe that is the essence of the gay dance scene is adaptable.

Generally speaking, until a coronavirus vaccine become widely available, most club dancing will, effectively speaking, be done alone, which really isn’t something new. Dancing alone has been a trend since disco days. While a majority of people at Studio 54 may have been hustling, there were always dancers who, whether out of sheer exhibitionism or cocaine-infused pleasure, preferred to be their own show. In the early 80s at the Roxy Club in New York, a relatively unknown Madonna used to require six-feet clearance on the dance floor to practice her kicks and choreographic moves. At the Sound Factory in the 90s, with a good part of the crowd on ecstasy it hardly mattered if you were dancing with anyone or no one because it felt like you were dancing with everyone.

Studio 54 fixture Rollerena would have no trouble maintaining social distance today.

In 2005, as a solution to city noise restrictions, the first “silent disco” event was held in Glastonbury, England. Silent discos have continued to proliferate in popularity since, both indoors and outdoors, now with the added novelty of light-up headphones. It’s an amusing spectacle to watch, especially without hearing the music, because with everybody wearing headsets, each dancer really is dancing alone. In that light, the main difference in post-pandemic dance events is that social distance is consistently maintained, often with a mask. And in the bigger cosmic picture, the great god Shiva, who constantly dances the universe in and out of existence, is always dancing alone.

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