Body Politic

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Don’t Drink and Dance

Photo by    Olivia Paschkes

We all start out innately knowing how to dance. Just watch a toddler who has finally mastered standing. Shortly after, usually while holding a nearby object for balance, if the music is bumping, you better believe that little diaper butt is bouncing. Yet, somewhere along the way—for some of us it’s during our teen years, and for others it’s once we reach the age of maturity—it becomes harder and harder to dance  just for the sake of dancing.

So, we reach for a cocktail, a few beers, some shots, or any of the plethora of “party drugs” circulating in the club scene these days. Nights out can turn into messy mornings and ultimately–for some–can do more damage than good—often more than just physically.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it states that “an estimated 88,0008 people (approximately 62,000 male-identifying and 26,000 female-identifying people) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and femmes and female identifying people suffer more, with about 50% of sexual assaults on college campuses involving alcohol, according to Alcohol.org, an American Addiction Centers Resource online.

It’s no wonder, then, that there’s been a renaissance of sorts in the clubbing community–especially in major cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Sober or “alcohol-lite” dance communities like The Get Down Party, Daybreaker, and Ecstatic Dance provide the release humans experience when we’re given permission to move freely without the pressure to drink that has become so synonymous with nightlife and club culture.

There’s good, scientific evidence that supports dancing sober too. During a Daybreaker party I attended one early morning in NYC (the party goes from 6:00 am until 9:00 am and starts with a yoga class), one of the speakers who closed out the event mentioned a study that had been recently released. According to the scientists who conducted the  research, when we dance sober, our body releases seven “feel good” chemicals (including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins). They affectionately referred to this combination as a “love wash.”

The benefits of dancing sober are four-fold: “Dancing stimulates us physically and emotionally while there are also cognitive and social elements to it,” dance psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt of the University of Hertfordshire told the Telegraph.

“You appear to get a much bigger release of endorphins when you dance than during other forms of exercise; it also connects with the emotional centres in the brain. For many people, dancing prompts an emotional release – often that’s uncomplicated happiness, while for some it can make them cry. It’s cathartic – a letting go of pent-up emotions.”

On top of that, Lovatt explains that dancing is also proven to aid in social bonding, noting that moving in sync with others to a shared beat is a powerful way for humans to connect. We can go back thousands of years and see how monumental this was for our primitive ancestors who painted scenes of humans dancing on the walls of caves millennia ago. And there are cognitive benefits, too. These include improved memory, creativity, problem-solving skills, relaxation, and overall happiness.

Photo by    Olivia Paschkes

Another factor at play, is that we’re in the height of the digital age. Technology seems to bring us closer, allowing family and friends to stay connected from all over the world. But conversing through texts and DMs actually decreases our ability to connect emotionally with our fellow humans, according to Dan Silvestre, author of the piece, Digital Minimalism.

Events where we are given permission to dance uninhibited, simply by experiencing others doing the same, allow us to let loose in a way that we don’t get to experience elsewhere. During fitness classes or workouts such as running or HIIT, there’s a prescribed “right way” to do things. Whereas, with dancing, there’s no right or wrong—there’s only expression through movement, whatever that means to you.

If you’re looking to ease into the sober dancing scene, The Get Down is the perfect place to start. Captained by DJ Tasha Blank and the Get Down Crew, the party travels between a few popular venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn (including the famed House of Yes) every other Thursday. This means there are still the creature comforts of your typical nightlife scene, however, the party starts at 6:00 pm and ends at 10:00 pm (so you can dance like there’s no tomorrow and still get up early the next day).

While drinks are still available at the bar, the party has three rules:

  1. No drinks on the dance floor.

  2. No phones anywhere.

  3. Respect and make space for each other.

And the effect is tremendous. My own personal dance awakening happened during one of Tasha Blank’s sets. Coming together with a group of familiar and new faces every two weeks is one of the most powerful healing activities I’ve experienced in the last five years – more so than meditation, therapy, hypnosis, yoga, Reiki and a few other modalities I’ve dabbled in. Beyond my personal transformation, my social circle completely transformed, for the better. I cultivated a group of wellness-minded, emotionally-intelligent, supportive friends and even partners, all of whom I met on the dance floor.

My life has improved beyond measure from rediscovering the child-like freedom of sober-dancing. I believe in its power so strongly that if you called me a “born again” dancer, I’d have to agree. The decision to join this community has supported the personal renaissances of so many people I’ve met over the last five years. The book Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington and The New York Times piece about sober curious movements is making a sober lifestyle a little more mainstream.. I’ve got a feeling that sober dancing might be just what we need. In the midst and tumult of a chaotic world, a return to uninhibited motion may actually bring us a little closer to center–not to mention being an excellent option for those who just want to dance. 

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Allie Mason is a writer, yoga practitioner, and entrepreneur living in Brooklyn, NY. Her business, Something Greater Social, supports mission-based entrepreneurs who want to make a difference on social media, and she teaches vinyasa and specialty bodywork classes at Shaktibarre in Williamsburg.

Olivia Paschkes is a New York based photographer. You can find Olivia’s work with via Instagram @oliviapaschkes and/or website, livpaschkes.nyc.