No booze, no lights, just dance: Montreal event offers new way to let loose

Fancy a dance? How about one with no alcohol, touching, or talking? Danser Dans l'Noir is a new kind of dance party in Montreal, and it's hoping to offer a safe space to dance in as an alternative to the city's club scene.

A new 75-minute event wants to help people dance like nobody's watching, and feel safe while they're doing it

Danser Dans l'Noir co-founders Anne Isabelle Leonard and Steve Day got the idea for the event while living abroad in Australia and Europe, and experiencing a similar dance party called "No Lights, No Lycra." (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

After a few years of club-hopping in Montreal, you're almost guaranteed to have a next-day horror story — whether it involves a steep bar tab, or an unwanted dance partner who wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

Now, a weekly event called Danser Dans l'Noir is offering a new take on a night of dance: there's no alcohol, no touching, and no lights. It's all meant to remove inhibitions and create a safe environment for participants, like student Molly Picone.

"I always feel unsafe in clubs, but here, I feel exceptionally safe. Nobody's going to touch me in a weird way or be creepy, everyone just wants to dance in the dark together," said Picone, who has attended Danser Dans l'Noir several times.

How it works

The sparsely appointed studio is quiet as 20 people shuffle onto the dance floor in their stocking feet. Many participants arrive alone, and the event's organizers want people to know that's OK. 

"You can come by yourself and dance by yourself, and go home and not talk to anybody. Just show up, dance and leave," said Steve Day, who co-founded Danser Dans l'Noir with fellow Montrealer Anne Isabelle Leonard. 

Danser Dans l'Noir bills its 75-minute dance sessions as "a safe space to dance where nobody's watching." (Danser Dans l'Noir/CBC)

When everyone's ready, the lights are slowly dimmed to near-total darkness. Then, the music starts, with an eclectic playlist that ranges from Beyoncé to Canadian fiddle music.

In line with the no touching rule, everyone keeps their distance. With dancers visible only as shadow figures, people begin to let loose and the dancing goes from restrained to downright wild.

"My favourite thing was listening to a song I've heard before, but doing something that I've never been able to do before, and just like, being free," said Nicholas Raffoul, an economics student and Danser Dans l'Noir first-timer.

More than just dancing

More than an hour later, the lights are cranked back up, and a roomful of smiling, sweaty dancers erupts into applause. It's a good workout, but for some dancers, Danser Dans l'Noir is much more.

People like Picone are reassured to know that dancers are asked to keep their hands to themselves. 

"[Here], there's anonymity, because the room is dark, you're dancing, and nobody knows where anybody is.... The anonymity creates more safety, almost."

Molly Picone and Nicholas Raffoul are students who love the freedom and anonymity Danser Dans l'Noir provides. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)
Another dancer at the event, John Jacob Courtney, said they have also experienced sexual harassment at other dance events. Danser Dans l'Noir helps Courtney work through that trauma, even when dancing brings back painful memories.

"When that frustration crossed me when I was dancing tonight, I had this feeling of 'Oh God, I am experiencing this pain again?' But also, the song is here, I can't see anything, I'm just moving, and I'll just keep moving. And I'm going to rewrite, in some way, [that] pattern of pain," said Courtney.

How can you boogie down?

The sessions only started about a month ago, but the 20 available spots are often booked in advance so it's a good idea to RSVP online. There's a suggested donation of $5, or pay what you can.

As of Oct. 31, Danser Dans l'Noir will hold larger-capacity classes once a week on Tuesdays, starting at 7 p.m. at the L'Association Récréative Milton-Parc, with more classes and locations in the works.


Rebecca Ugolini

CBC Montreal radio producer

Rebecca Ugolini is a born-and-raised Montrealer who loves covering the city. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaUgolini.