The Importance of Dark, Sweaty, Foggy Dance Floors

“Dance is a real form of therapy.”
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Dance against the dying of the light. Photo: Romano Santos

“When I’m feeling sad and lonely / I know what to do / I go out and find some music / and begin to move” goes the 1984 tune by International Music System called “Dancing Therapy.” 

If you’ve never spent 12 hours on a dark, crowded, sweaty dance floor, it can be difficult to imagine why anyone would. But any club kid, festival-chaser, or raver will tell you that there’s something about the anonymity by darkness, the shameless sweating, and the collective energy that lends itself to a kind of freedom and, indeed, therapy, that’s hard to find anywhere else. 


Dance floors represent a relief from a world increasingly driven by productivity and competition, image, and hyper-individuality. When the fluorescent lights of towering office floors finally go off at the end of a work week, the speakers, laser lights, and fog machines of a handful of basement clubs and traveling raves turn on. For a fraction of the time people spend facing their jobs and other mundane realities, they get to go out, find some music, and move.

“Dancing is a workout,” Hadrien Aujoulat-Mendez, a movement and massage therapist and dance floor patron based in Marseille, France, told VICE. As with other forms of exercise, dancing targets different parts of the body, engages functions like balance and coordination, and makes you sweat, so it should come as no surprise that it feels so good. 

But for Aujoulat-Mendez, dancing is also an art, and its other benefit is defined by what it doesn’t do. 

“We tend to see the body as a machine that we can use, that we can exploit, so dancing in that sense is an act of rebellion towards industrial societies. As in you can use your body not to produce anything, not to have a market value. [You can] use your body just for the sake of it, just for the simple gracefulness of moving and making art. So that’s why I think dancing is so good for people and so good for society as a whole,” he said.

Dance floors typically thump from midnight to dawn. Because the time is outside of what many would call “work hours,” it comes with a sense of wonder, possibility, and freedom. People are liberated, said Aujoulat-Mendez, from the rules they usually play by. They don’t have to be defined by their jobs, small talk, or even the languages they speak. 


“Dancing is a language and that’s what’s amazing about dance floors…you can have a conversation through movement. You can have a conversation with yourself, you can have a conversation with other people through dance, through movement, through that amazing expression of moving through the beat.”

Sometimes the language can be light and fun, like a flirty grind over a sexy track. Other times the language is political, like in the ballroom or voguing scene that continues to be a protest against prejudice and violence toward LGBTQ people of color.  

Dancing is also a way to express emotions, something Aujoulat-Mendez said many adults have lost much of the ability to do. While the popularity of looking after one’s mental health has encouraged people to articulate their emotions through things like talk therapy and journaling, dance floors invite people to metabolize their emotions. According to Aujoulat-Mendez, that means living their emotions through the body. Dancing lets people go through a whole range of emotions, be it joy or sadness or rage, through movement. 

“What happens eventually if you don’t metabolize your emotions is when neurosis actually begins. Dance is a real form of therapy,” said Aujoulat-Mendez. 

Sometimes, however, dancing and dance floors allow people to forget their emotions. For many ravers, a multi-sensory dance floor is the only place their minds can stop running. It’s not connecting to their emotions that makes dancing feel so good, but the rare occasion of connecting to the moment. 


“I feel one with the crowd of energy and lose my sense of self. I don’t feel myself as expressing anything in particular on the dance floor, I’m doing the opposite—I’m just being present in the moment, dancing, being a part of the greater whole of the night. I’m able to do this because I become engulfed in the intense sensations from the music, lights, and the energies that reverberate from the rest of those dancing,” said Jason Friedlander, another dance floor patron from Manila, Philippines. 

For Friedlander, dance floors are a place where differences dissipate, conflict seizes, and equality reigns. 

“On the dance floor socio-economic hierarchies are leveled and each becomes equally subject to the wonders of melody and rhythm. Unlike other communities fostered through sports teams or most organized religions, the cult of music is neither founded on conflict nor opposition, but on harmony.”

For Hideki Ito, a DJ based in Pampanga, Philippines, dance floors are “gateways to experience and learn about people and different cultures that are often inaccurately represented or unsung in our society.” Every time he’s on the decks is an opportunity to ground himself in what is happening in the world through the people on the dance floor. 

Brazil’s Batekoo, for example, is a party that started in Salvador, Bahia. A large part of the region’s population is of African descent, but that was not reflected in its nightlife, which Batekoo’s project director told DJ Mag was “very white” and “very straight normative.” Now more than just a party, Batekoo also supports low-income members of the black LGBTQ community through vocational training programs. They train people in nightlife event production—things like sound systems, lighting, and DJing—so they and other party organizers can hire them later on.  


“It goes without saying that people tend to seek escape and refuge by expressing themselves through dancing and connecting to music but more than that, these are avenues to ruminate about the struggles, frustrations, and issues that are likely adjacent to the narrative of an average citizen,” said Ito.

Dance floors are perhaps where all of these benefits become most visceral and obvious. But Aujoulat-Mendez, the movement and massage therapist, said that dance does not have to be limited to raves and clubs. It doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the consumption of legal or illegal substances either. For him, people should also try dancing while sober, and dancing in any and all places.  

“Dance everywhere,” he said. 

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