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Pitch black dance party allows Austinites to groove like no one's watching

No Lights No Lycra's motto is 'We dance in the dark.' (No Lights No Lycra)

At the Austin chapter of No Lights No Lycra, you can truly dance like nobody's watching—even if you have two left feet.

Started in Australia, No Lights No Lycra is a pitch black, sober dance party that has attracted at least 500,000 dancers across worldwide chapters since 2009. There’s one chapter in Austin, held every other Tuesday by couple Leila Sales and Brian Pennington at West China Tea House.

Sales and Pennington, a dancing lover who could go out “five nights a week” and a 20-year DJ, respectively, found out about the event through a recently sober friend and became regulars at their local chapter back when the pair lived in Brooklyn, New York City.

When they grew tired of the Big Apple, Sales and Pennington did extensive research to find a city that would accommodate their love for entertainment and landed in Austin in 2018.

“The thing about Austin that sealed the deal was how much was going on here nightlife-wise,” Pennington said. “It's something that we thought was really important about moving to a new city after living in New York—which just has a lot of activity—we wanted to move somewhere that had a lot going on.”

Shortly after their arrival, the pair started their own chapter to showcase Pennington's DJ skills and felt that the Austin community would be uniquely excited to try it out.

So what should you expect?

It's so dark in the room, an infrared camera is needed to capture the dancers. (Art Island)

For starters, you won’t be able to see anyone around you save for some glow sticks, so feel free to move and groove as you see fit. Sales said many NLNL-goers, including herself, view the event as a workout and an exercise in self-expression.

Leila added that with Pennington’s eclectic music taste as DJ Brian Blackout, creating choreography on the fly is an exciting challenge.

“Sometimes it's trying different movements that I'm not very good at or not terribly flattering, like ‘this is what my body is feeling like right now,’” Sales said. “You can do that for as long as you want without getting self-conscious. And there's nothing performative about it.”

DJ Brian Blackout will have all kinds of different tunes to dance to. (Art Island)

Jason Callahan, a professor at St. Edwards University who frequents the event, originally heard about it from someone who had been in Australia. Callahan arrives wearing gym clothes and advises not to knock it until you try it.

“I may be a little more silly and playful and would do things that would probably make me look crazy, if people could see me. It allows me to be a little more experimental or playful or silly,” Callahan said. “It's kind of one of those things that you have to try to fully appreciate because I mean, it sounds simple enough, but since it's not an experience we typically do.”

Inside, everyone is required to go barefoot so no one gets hurt. (Art Island)

As for the sober aspect, an original NLNL rule, Sales and Pennington said they’re not “teetotallers” and still enjoy going dancing at bars. However, the pair invites attendees to try dancing just for the fun of it.

“People often balk at the concept—they're like, ‘Oh, I don't dance sober.’ But I think when you get into the dark, if you give it a shot, you probably will feel a lot more comfortable than you imagined,” Sales said. “Personally, I really like going out dancing for the sake of going out dancing.”

Admission is a suggested $10 donation, half of which goes to the venue and the other half to fund their “main expense,” glowsticks. The event runs from 8-9:30 p.m. every other Tuesday at 4706 N Interstate Hwy 35.


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