Feature: New platforms for dance

Friday 9 April 2010

Canary Wharf mobile clubbing

*Chances are you travel through one of London’s latest dance venues everyday.
Performances are free – and if you feel the urge to join in, you can.*

So how to find out where and when?

Georgina Harper has been in search of the mobile clubbers..

( And click here *_for Georgina’s first experience of mobile clubbing at Liverpool Street on 2
June 2005_* )

Scanning the train station concourse, there is no sign of anything out of the ordinary. Men in suits stare at the departures board, commuters pour down the escalators into the space. Unbeknownst to them, something is about to happen. A young man begins the nod along to his personal stereo and a couple of moments later his toe tapping has crossed the invisible line into dancing. People look bemused, embarrassed and then unnerved as they realise he isn’t the only one. The space is suddenly teeming with dancers, moving and grooving to their own silent soundtrack, seemingly oblivious to the unspoken codes of behaviour we all abide by each day. Some onlookers give up trying to fathom what is going on and join in. According to the 100 or so people dancing amongst the crowd, this isn’t a train station. It is a club.

Mobile clubbing, Hong Kong style Bizarre and strangely liberating to watch, mobile clubbing is a concept which has attracted a cult following and that is rapidly sweeping the globe. ‘Mobile clubs’ are organised through the internet and word of mouth and attract a range of people, from suited city workers to old age pensioners, in numbers ranging from 3 to 150. At first glance these events seem like a light hearted bit of fun aimed at little more than bringing a smile to a commuter’s face. The organisers have publicly said very little about their intent, keeping a low profile and refusing to align mobile clubbing with any particular artistic or political ideology. The website, mobile-clubbing.com, features minimal instructions to would-be ‘clubbers’ and no names, email addresses or phone numbers. Intrigued by these events, I decided to try and discover more about this strange phenomenon: what is the point of mobile clubbing, why are people drawn to it and who are the people behind it all?

After trawling the internet, my search took me to Brighton, to learn more about “The Pillow Fight Club”:, a similar concept to mobile clubbing involving pillow fighting in public places. Pillow fights are promoted on the mobile clubbing website and the next one was to be held in Brighton. After asking around in arty cafes and local theatres I took a rest on a bench on the sea front. Just as I was ready to give up, I spotted a young man with a pillow under his arm walking towards me. Fate or coincidence, this was Ben Cummins.

crowd clubbing

Alongside fellow artist Emma Davies, Ben devised the concept back in 2003. A 30 year old with a degree in Music and Visual Performance from Brighton University and a job as a lighting designer for dance performances, Ben has devoted his time to setting up a network of mobile clubbing organisers across the world. If you are interested in bringing mobile clubbing to your part of the world, you can sign up on the website and the information feeds into a database. This means Ben can map the hubs of interest across the world.

It has been exceptionally popular in Israel, where young people do two years compulsory military service. *“Mobile clubbing makes you realise you still have power. If we say a station is not a station it is a club – we have collectively created a new reality. That is powerful”*.

There are clusters of activity across Europe in cities with a large population of office-based workers. Perhaps this is due to office workers increased access to the internet and people forwarding each other emails about events. On another level, it could be more to do with the fact that the impulse to use you body and stand out from the crowd hits home hardest with those people stuck behind a desk all day.

London Bridge

Watching dance in the context of a train station feels strange. A surreal, dreamlike atmosphere settles across the space and it is unclear who is the performer and who is the audience. Dance is usually contained within venues like theatres or clubs, with all the conventions and structures of ‘performance’ and we rarely come face to face with it in any other contexts. There is a deep seated fear of dancing in public, as if is says something dangerous about us: either, ‘I am drunk’ or ‘I am insane’.

Ben regularly sets out to confront his own fear: _*“I’ve danced everywhere now, not just mobile clubbing, but on my own around the city. I just like to prove to myself I can do it. I want to explore the point at which dancing to your stereo becomes a statement.”* _

Within a nightclub, dance is easily categorised as a leisure activity or as entertainment, but against the architecture of the station dancing takes on a new meaning. Ben is reluctant to assign a ‘meaning’ to mobile clubbing: _*“As soon as it is defined it will be dis-guarded. When people see protestors, they just take one look and think, ‘oh, they are just protesting’ and the activity has no meaning further than that definition. It can be understood and therefore loses its power. People are still surprised and even shocked by the sight of people dancing in a train station. They try to pin it down but I don’t want it to be limited. It’s amazing how easily the essence of it can be removed.”* _

Crowd clubbing

However ‘essence-removing’ it might be, the phenomenon of mobile clubbing makes you think about what it all means, and each spectator sees something different in this strange event. The visceral energy of the ‘clubbers’ seems to highlight an exuberance that is lacking in the passers by. The flow of commuters suddenly seems robotic and banal, and you search the faces of each individual for signs of the secret clubber, hidden beneath the suit and tie.

As a Londoner, Ben feels that a train station can be more than just a transitional space: “People come to London to make money, and many of them go back to the suburbs everyday. I live here and I wanted to make people stop and encounter the space they are flowing through.” He noticed that when architects plan the design of urban spaces, they refer to people as ‘units’ and create flow maps to illustrate the flow of these ‘units’ through the space. The nameless, faceless flow of commuters is disrupted by dancing and the individual is revealed in the crowd, each dancing to their own tune and the fragmentation and alienation of city dwellers is temporarily suspended. Whatever your musical tastes, salary band or dress sense, this club is open to all.

By dancing in public with no explanations, mobile clubbers take a moment of pleasure and enjoyment that celebrates the individual and reclaims urban spaces. By inhabiting the transient spaces outside the theatre and the club, mobile clubbing undercuts our expectations and offers spectators a dance experience like no other, defying and exploring the boundaries between social and ‘art’ dance with a vigour and buzz that is as transient as the commuter to which it plays.

Mobile clubbing

Links

“www.mobile-clubbing.com”:

So did you take part in this event, or have you been mobile clubbing on another occasion? We want to hear your experiences. Use the feedback form below – and we’ll include …

And here’s Georgina’s report on Liverpool St, 2 June, 19.22pm. Read on

Feedback

_’having just come back from the deptford even that happened today – all i can say is that it is random.its a multcultural event that allows any who wants to- to come and join in and enjoy themselves. in that respect its one of a kind.’ P_ete, 10 Aug 05

‘Mobile Clubbing Feedback – here’s my own mobile clubbing experience, echoing much of what you’ve noted: http://oldrottenhat.typepad.com/oldrottenhat/2004/07/eoghan_highligh.html Luke, 27 July 05

Article posted June 2005

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