“How is he so free, so happy on the dance floor, sober, surrounded by alcohol?” These were the questions inside my head as I watched my buddy David, nearly 40 years old, twirling around with a smile on a dance floor packed with intoxicated 20 something’s. The year was 2011, I had come back to Ultra Music Festival, this time sober and with a sober friend. He was 18 months ahead of me in sober time but we were worlds apart in confidence. Two years prior, I attended the same music festival for the first time. I would leave Miami with alcohol poisoning, going in and out of consciousness as my body involuntarily purged. I could have been one of those “kids” you read about after a big festival, another one dead all for the pursuit of partying, all because he was too uncomfortable in his own skin to dance without intoxicants.
This month I will celebrate ten years of sobriety. I get emotional thinking about all the times I nearly lost my life; it makes me appreciate things on such a deeper level now. But this isn’t the story about how I wrecked my body and lost myself to alcohol. Nor is it the story about getting sober. It’s not a story about how substances are killing a music genre built around peace, love, unity and respect. Nor is it a story about how dance saved my life. Recovering from alcoholism saved my life, dancing is what got me comfortable in my skin. This is the story about how I came to love dancing sober, the lessons I learned from it, and where you can find your own community to experience it for yourself.
Back to my buddy David. “I go to ecstatic dance,” his response was my introduction to the term and the movement. A year later I found myself across the country, newly relocated to the new age headquarters of San Diego, “ecstatic dance” punched into my Google search. No talking, no substances, just a safe place to move to the music.
A few minutes into my first visit, it didn’t take me, a clean-cut dude from Texas, long to realize I would never out-weird anyone there. People dressed how they wanted, moved how they wanted, smiled a lot and gave good hugs. Their liberated movements inspired me to move a little deeper, the wild rhythms of musical genres I had never listened to pushed me out of my comfort zone. My own intuition could be heard over the speakers, “close your eyes and smile.” It was then I learned, “I can’t dance” is a fallacy, “I can’t dance without worrying how I look,” the more accurate statement. A few more visits and I realized we are all dancers, there is no wrong way to move, and dancing without a partner and without substances gave me a chance to grow out of my comfort zone and grow my relationship with myself. I consistently experienced a natural high, one that came with a smile and no hangover.
In the lobby the people were chatty, friendly and from many walks of life. I made friends who even though they didn’t have an addiction like me, excused alcohol from their lives in search of a higher frequency of existence. I got the low down on other sober dance communities. There was Dance Church on Sundays and my favorite midweek dance, Tuesday Dance Jam. Out of town I found myself at 5Rhythms, The Wave Silent Disco and Daybreaker.
At Daybreaker I felt like someone invented a business based off a dream I hadn’t had yet. A sober morning party, live musicians, blasting house music, eccentric themes, community gatherings and healthy treats. Now talking was allowed on the dance floor, the message was clear… have fun sober. Dancing without alcohol meant a time for exercise, a time for connection. The sober dance movement is here, and it is sexy AF.
Years without a drink and I finally felt comfortable in my skin, fun and sobriety were words I could now associate. Back at parties with alcohol I felt freer, more confident, the crippling fear of what others thought of me lost its control. At my best friend’s wedding I tore up the dance floor to whispers of, “yeah and he’s sober!” The shame and stigma were gone.
So let us open our search engines, find our tribes, and have our own experiences. Ask around for other sober dance events until you find your home. Get uncomfortable until your comfortable. For those who are not in a big city, remember all of these groups were started by normal people who, like you, just wanted to dance. All you need is some people, some music, some guidelines and an open mind. The beautiful thing now is that whether people are sober for an hour, a day, an addict or sober curious, the labels get dropped, we all become human again, dancing to beats in community to connect and relieve stress like we did eons before.
So when I was at Defected Croatia last year, dancing like a maniac, a young British raver nudged me and asked the question I get so frequently when I’m out in the club scene, “What are you on?” I smiled and told the truth, “Espresso.” He looked perplexed, his face said he wanted what the Americans had, some slang for an elusive drug he had never heard of.
“What’s that?” he inquired further.
“Umm, like coffee bro, I’m sober.” I smiled and gave him a friendly pat on the back. He laughed and yelled to his group of friends, “This guys f***in’ sober!” They laughed in adulation. I can’t go back and save my younger self from the pain, but I can be a better example now. Thank you dance. Thank you sobriety. Thank you community. Thank you self.
Check out the article on Elephant Journal:
How Sober Dancing Changed My Life https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/03/how-sober-dancing-changed-my-life