Dance: The Drop – The Art and Act of Dancefloor Comfort Through Safe Space Policies

by Niamh Dolfi-McCool

A brief look into the shift towards harm reduction and safety in the dance music community, focusing on the emergence of ‘safe space policies’

It’s a mild summer night, the stars are bright, the faces familiar and smiling. Free from thoughts and worries of how I may be perceived. A warm sense of togetherness and peace, feels like cotton out of the dryer. This is (my personal) feeling of ‘dancefloor comfort’.

A couple of years ago, when I first started frequenting dancefloors and becoming immersed in dance music, this feeling of ‘dancefloor comfort’ was pretty foreign to me. The vibe was very much ‘look out for yourself’. And while personal responsibility is a huge part of harm reduction (AKA don’t do anything incredibly stupid) the attitude on dancefloors has definitely changed.

There is a move for promoters and event organisers to provide appropriate measures to make their events safer. This cultural shift is likely due to a greater awareness of issues such as discrimination and harassment, as well as the teaching of harm reduction in and out of the dance music community.  

You can see this change in a more concrete way with the emergence of ‘safe space policies’. 

A ‘safe policy’ is a kind of code of conduct that punters must adhere to; no discrimination and harassment, no predatory or coercive behaviour, no anti-social or dangerous behaviour, etc. Typically, promoters will post their ‘safe space policies’ on event descriptions. Venues like sideway, have a clear and accessible ‘safe space policy’ physically displayed inside the venue. Before even opening, sideway made clear what their expectations for behaviour were, setting the bar for future and current venues.  

So. What do ‘safe space policies’ actually do? Well, an effective policy should: 

  1. Make clear what type of behaviour is not acceptable 
  2. Outline the consequences of unacceptable behaviour (typically being booted out) and, 
  3. Perhaps most important of all, detail who to talk to if you run into any trouble

This is where posting a ‘safety number’ – a mobile number of a (preferably sober) event organiser – can be useful. And if you are running a renegade/doof, wearing a fluro-tradie vest can do wonders for letting people know who to go to.

When I was younger, the thought of going to the organiser of an event with an issue was pretty unlikely. There was a power imbalance and a lack of information which I can now see slowly shifting. I think there is more of a dialogue between organisers and punters now.

I’m not the only one that holds a similar opinion. Le Doof organiser Clem eloquently states that the most important thing for running an event is, Communicating expectations ahead of the event:repeatedly, clearly, respectfully“. I can personally vouch that the most recent Le Doof was the most comfortable I’ve been on a dancefloor in Canberra. There’s more compassion on the dancefloor; punters and organisers are listening to each other and that’s changing how we go about creating and attending events.  

Headlining harm reduction are the crop-up of groups that are making waves in the event organising and promotion space. Groups such as Cool Room – a Melbourne-based collective and event series focused on representation and safety through parties, panels, and showcases.

Then there’s Nectar (Syd), who have run an Ear Health Workshop and a Safe Spaces Panel with Sniff Off. Run by the Greens, Sniff Off is doing big things for harm reduction.

And finally, Canberra’s very own home grown group, and personal project and passion, Vessel. Vessel is a DJ Collective, founded by Johanne (aka Blanket), Dot (aka Justharry) and myself (aka il Vampiro), that runs events, workshops, and recently a panel discussion on running Safer Events. You can expect a Safer Space Zine from us very soon, jam packed with helpful hints, tips, and guides. 

The more conversations we have, the more we grow. There are many things to consider, and safety and comfort are multi-facetted, multi-layered, and different for everyone. Being aware and listening to people, especially to marginalised voices is really important. As a community we still have a long way to go. There is a lot of potential for creative and inventive ways to make events safer and more comfortable.

Escape Ferocity’s ‘chill out zone’ had furry walls, making the space an engaging tactile experience, and Terminal 2 provided bean bags to melt into and water light features to get lost watching. In the future, I expect to see a lot more of this creative use of space.

Finally, let me introduce this issue’s Artist Of The Month:

This is where I shout out an artist that I’ve seen doing some really great work around CBR and I think deserve a wee bit of recognition.

This month: Genie!

Genie, in the process of conjuring more sonic magic

Genie has been devoted to Canberra music community for some time now. Recently she DJed at Luen’s Canberra and Sydney EP launch, mixed recently on Skylab, mentored at Vessel DJing Workshops, runs Dazed, Orbit, and n10. as a Montreal-based radio station that has set up shop in CBR. And she is also a producer. Genie is truly helping the Canberra music scene grow! 

That’s all for this month. Party hard; party safe.

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