GIVE ME THE NIGHTLIFE: Coming out of the pandemic and coming together on the dancefloor

Despite the return of most ‘normal’ pre-pandemic aspects of life, the closest attempt at channelling nightlife right now translates to music at ambient levels, decidedly no dancing, and an end to the night within an hour of sunset. This type of night seems foreign considering the eardrum-shattering, high heel breaking, post-disco nap commencing and sunrise welcoming memories of the past. Before we can fully immerse ourselves in Szentek’s fun times made in Fife beyond the socially distanced safety of museum exhibitions, the late hours leave an opportunity to reflect on what it is that we miss so desperately from our nights out. 

The nature of music and dance is inherently relational; it is a way to connect with something that we find valuable-- this could be our community, supernatural entities, or desires. As such, it is “essential to our survival as human beings” due to our need to bond with others, writes K. LaMothe in her book Why we dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming

Mesolithic depictions of everyday life found in Bhimbetka show people hunting, gathering, and dancing 9000 years ago. It is fascinating how of all the many things that have advanced us from ancient civilizations, dancing survives. Many years after the novelty of stone tools has worn off, music and dance became accessible through the internet. Fortunately, unlike the people who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic before the internet, TV, and even commercial radio, this time around we had virtual spaces as an antidote to the introduction of social distancing measures.  

While we may not have had to isolate in complete silence, a study on virtual raves confirms the obvious: “a rave is fundamentally about physical engagement, when this is removed, its essence is lost.” As Zoomers, shouldn’t we be able to adapt quickly to technological changes and digitalization? Though digital natives, many of us still feel the urge to pace the room during a phone call, subconsciously looking for physical feedback to accompany the voice. It seems our experience is incomplete without diving into the physical world. 

Nights out also serve as a form of escapism, harmful in excess like most things of course, but otherwise incredibly productive for disconnection from everyday stress and worries. Being locked in our homes to study and work from morning until night amplifies the need to get out and detach at the end of the day. While in the pandemic socially distant walks provided relief, the Scottish winter looms and a sticky sweaty indoor event suddenly seems even more attractive than usual. For the more hygienically inclined, this may sound unconvincing, but there is some hope that sanitary measures such as hand sanitizing and disinfecting habits may stick around post-Covid.  

In the 2021 documentary Clubbing is culture, Irish writer and activist Una Mullalley describes nightlife as an ecosystem where creative ideas; artwork, fashion and other ventures are fostered. Here in St Andrews, students ensure that unlike other sleepy seaside towns* there is reason to stay awake and experience our multifaceted ecosystem through nights out! In the same documentary, Dublin’s Lord Mayor Hazel Chu paints a different picture to the general perception of nightlife as uninhibited hedonism, by acknowledging its value for creativity, business, and most importantly diversity and connection.  

The importance of supporting such spaces is especially evident in the outbreak of a Covid cluster in Seoul’s gay clubs last summer. Clubgoers were between two fires: face LGBTQ+ discrimination by outing themselves or staying silent, without getting tested or isolating, and thereby potentially spreading the virus. In London, Sadiq Khan has allocated culture support funds to LGBTQ+ venues in recognition of their value as safe havens for diverse communities. However, the sector was hit harder than others by the pandemic; first to close and last to open means that more financial support is vital to save the industry according to the Night Time Industries Association. On a related note, our partner charity Variety Scotland describes how their work has become even more important now:

The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate social, emotional, and academic impact on all children and young people. However, for the one million disabled children in the UK, as well as the four million children living in poverty, the blow has been particularly severe.

After over a year of unclarity, we finally have a date: the 9th of August will mark the end of all major Covid restrictions in Scotland. The virus remains unpredictable, and we have learnt to expect regulations to be lifted slowly and unsurely. But with the UK’s high-intensity vaccine rollout, there is a case for hope that we’ll have significant immunity just in time for the autumn semester. 

* Not so fast... Nearby “sleepy seaside town” Anstruther hosted the 18th-century erotic order “The Beggar’s Benison” at the Castle of Dreel! How vibrant! (Sex and Subversion, Fantasy & Power: The Beggar’s Benison Club Exhibition at the Wardlaw museum)


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Music never lets you down
Puts a smile on your face
Anytime, any place
Dancing helps relieve the pain
Soothes your mind, makes you happy again
Listen to those dancing feet
Close your eyes and let go
But it don't mean a thing
If it ain't got that swing
Bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa

Chic - Everybody Dance from the album: Chic (1977)