Winter 2023 In Dance


T HERE IS A SENSE of belonging felt deep in my bones that only the dance of a nightclub can bring. As the bass thunders its hypnotic hymn and sweat drips down my gyrating chest, boundaries between myself and the bodies around me begin to disappear. We vibrate as cells in the same large organism; sacks of fluid swimming in a sea of plasma. The plea- sure we feel fulfills our deepest human instincts – it digs into a primal rever- ence towards a higher power, a loss of self in the pursuit of something greater. We leave our social inhibitions behind and for a moment we pulse with col- lective purpose. Nightlife has always ignited me with its luscious, alchemical energy. But seven years ago, I began to experience chronic pain and mobility loss in my ankles and feet that made it harder and harder to access these spaces where I thrived. If I wanted to go to a party, I had to scope out seating that was hard to find, or bring a mobility device of my own that wound up crammed into the corner of a crowded dance floor. Once I did find a place to sit, it was often set far away from where my non-disabled friends wanted to dance, which could feel isolat- ing and awkward. Some venues required mile-long walks through uneven terrain to access, or multiple flights of stairs that weren’t advertised in event descriptions. I often found myself needing to leave parties early because I was in too much discomfort, or I simply stayed home and avoided them all together.

I knew I wasn’t the only one who had these experiences, and I started connecting with others who felt similarly. For some, strobe lights and dry ice fog could cause seizures or sensory processing overload. For others, there wasn’t a space at parties to unwind and de-stress when faced with too much stimulation and loud noise. And as the Covid pandemic took hold, access barriers became more and more prevalent for friends who couldn’t risk attending tightly packed, unmasked in-person events. Through all of this, I began to see the gaps in the structure of a world that prides itself on welcoming difference, but fails to make space for so many in its universe. Truthfully, I might not have considered these issues myself if I hadn’t begun to have my own experience with physical impair- ment – which showed me just how important it is for a cul- tural shift in nightlife to take place. How, I wondered, can queer clubs be more welcoming to the disability commu- nity? How can disability culture take the lead in re-imagin- ing these spaces? As I began to ask these questions, I learned about disabled artists across the world who were conjuring their own acces- sible nightlife magic. In Toronto, Crip Rave Collective was throwing parties that started early in the evening with comfy seating, heated blankets, and an anti-inflammatory hydration station. In New York City, events organized by artists includ- ing Jerron Herman and Kevin Gotkin included ASL interpre- tation and SUBPAC wearable music technology for D/deaf patrons, as well as Audio Description for blind and low- vision patrons. In the Bay Area, the drag festival Oaklash recently launched a Disability Grant fund for chronically ill and disabled queer performance makers. And throughout the pandemic, the Remote Access collective has hosted events that harness the power of the virtual realm as a space for dis- abled joy, pleasure activism and access intimacy. Inspired by these organizers and my own research into nightlife choreography, I began to dream up Crip Ecstasy: An immersive nightlife experience that centers accessibility from the ground up . How could I produce a party where I and others like me could feel comfortable, safe and cared for? Instead of accommodations being made for us, how could we create an environment that is truly designed for our needs, dreams and desires?

Planned for Saturday, June 3rd, 2023 at CounterPulse in San Francisco, Crip Ecstasy aims to work with a cast of disabled performance artists, DJs, ASL Interpreters and Audio Describers to conjure new blueprints for what a club space can be. NIGHTLIFE CULTURE has always held an important place in the queer social world –– from the gender experimen- tation of 19th century masquerade balls, to the invention of techno and house music in Black, gay communities of 1980s Detroit and Chicago, to the thriving international rave scenes of today. Throughout history and in the pres- ent moment, nightclubs and bars are often the only spaces that exist specifically for gay, lesbian, trans and queer folks in many communities. As spaces to dress up, dance, hook up and meet new people, nightclubs offer pleasure, release and connection in a world that so often tries to deny queer people this right. In their messy, hedonistic and imperfect way, they serve as a lifeline for people who otherwise have nowhere to be their authentic selves. In my own experience, nightlife was the first place I felt fully embodied as a gay and gender-expansive person; one of the

first cultural spaces where I felt like I had something to contribute. In the rural Vermont town where I went to college, friends and I orga- nized parties and performances where we could let go of the con- servative culture around us and find new pathways towards self-re- invention. For one project, I threw a house party and then began a

A space can be beautiful, provocative and intriguing, but for whom and how?

spontaneous performance of high-camp drag in the middle of the dance floor. For another, I produced a nightlife installation that prophesied networks of apocalyptic survival in an under- ground world of biological mutation. At the end of the choreo- graphed presentation, audience members were invited on stage for a series of high-energy aerobic exercises that devolved into a club night of euphoric abandon. When I graduated and returned to my hometown in the Bay Area, I was welcomed into a thriving underground world of raves under freeways and in vacated buildings that


in dance WINTER 2023 42

WINTER 2023 in dance 43

In Dance | May 2014 |

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