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Sports & Fitness
August 03, 2018

Dance In The Dark With ‘No Lights No Lycra’

Text by Shubham Ladha

This unconventional workout movement from Melbourne comes to Mumbai

The small choreography room is covered with black curtains all around. It’s pitch black. The seven of us – the only takers for this session tonight – find our spaces on the floor. Estelle’s raspy American Boy floods the room. Even in the dark, it takes me a moment to move more than just side-to-side, but soon, my body’s letting loose. Even though I can see only hazy outlines of people around, the energy in the room is palpable. And yet, there are no distractions. I know my friends are there somewhere, but it’s all about me.

Most of us have danced with our reflections in the mirror but stopped short if anyone walks into the room. It takes heaps of confidence (or intoxication) for most, to dance freely with people watching. That’s the idea behind No Lights No Lycra (NLNL), a free-form dance/exercise movement, which was started in Melbourne by two university students in 2009. A relatively niche concept, it doesn’t require any technique, teachers or lights.

33-year-old media executive Yooti Bhansali, heads the Indian chapter of NLNL. I spoke to her before my session, “I’m not one for going to the gym and working out. While the music is usually bad anyway, I can’t deal with people gazing. It makes me uncomfortable and I clam up. I was complaining about this to a friend in Australia, who then mentioned NLNL and what it stood for. That’s what inspired me to bring that culture to Mumbai.”

Bhansali instructed us that while it would feel awkward at first, our vision would eventually adjust to the darkness and that the hour spent inside would be free of physical, verbal or cellular communication. Also, it’s an absolutely sober space.

Interestingly, the music is an eclectic mix, as compared to most nightclubs which play mostly mainstream music. I had no idea what to expect but find my body grooving effortlessly to whatever is being played, ranging from Lebanese techno, Arabic pop and more.

Compared to the parties I’ve been to, the experience here is elevated because there is no pressure of any kind to perform. At clubs, the music is usually remixed and the floor, a mosh pit where dance moves become vital to socially bond with one another. NLNL’s premise is more therapeutic, in the way that it makes this recreational activity accessible to introverts or jaded clubbers who’re tired of the same old scene.

Bhansali, through NLNL is trying to build a safe space and community for all kinds of people through dance. And in as large a city as Bombay, she’s hoping to hold NLNL on a regular basis in different parts of it — especially areas densely populated with offices — as she believes that, “This is an ideal workout session or a way to unwind for people right after work. There’s no hassle of changing clothes like it is while going to the gym. People can wear whatever they like, so don’t take the name too seriously”, she said.

I was surprised to realise that we’d managed to dance non-stop for an hour. It’s because the playlist wasn’t remixed and I’d been dancing to entire songs. I asked Bhansali what’s been one of her most memorable NLNL’s. She described the first session she held, which was attended by around 15 people in a tight space in Bandra. Towards the end, while a relatively popular song was playing, everyone was clapping to its beats. “It’s that spontaneity between strangers, which felt great to be part of.”

Learn more about NLNL’s forthcoming sessions in Mumbai at No Lights No Lycra Bombay.

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