The joy of queer dance floors in Manchester

There is something magical about the dance floor of a club. From the early days of house music in Chicago, techno clubs in Detroit and Berlin, and the UK’s rave scene in the ‘90s, comes a well-documented narrative of love, joy and euphoria.

The dance floor is a space synonymous with the gathering of queer bodies; people whose lives are often spent trying to find a sense of family and belonging beyond the traditional understanding of ‘home’. Historically, the nightclub has been one of the limited spaces where being openly queer was not merely tolerated, but celebrated. The club became a site of queer community — a place people could go to feel acceptance alongside others in search of the same thing.

Tough Act | Photo: Mia Nowill

This continues today and Manchester is no exception. Each week, the city hosts numerous specifically queer events. In advertising these events as such, organisers hope to continue the tradition of giving individuals space to feel like part of a majority in a world where a person’s gender of sexual identity sits uncomfortably within the norms of wider society. It must be acknowledged, however, that sadly most of these spaces are still unrepresentative of racial diversity within the queer world. 

I feel at home in the sweaty basement of a club. You are anonymous, immersed in a group of people experiencing various manifestations of euphoria. I wanted to seek out these spaces in Manchester and speak to the organisers and club-goers who make them special.

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Josie is a dancer, care worker and activist who enjoys and contributes to Manchester’s queer party scene. “The way people dance is just that moment where your mind and your body are one and you’re just moving,” Josie says. “You’re not seeing yourself from the outside so much, and I think that kind of freedom happens because everyone contributes to that — everyone proper goes for it.”

The dance floor offers a brief escape into a dimly lit world where everyone is preoccupied with the music and dancing to it. How a person might be visually stereotyped or categorised in the outside world and the assumptions afforded to that person become secondary. It’s an environment that welcomes experimentation with gender and sexuality and challenges the belief that these are fixed.

Tough Act | Photo: Mia Nowill

Mia, one of the organisers of Tough Act, a queer event at The White Hotel, likened the idea of being able to experiment or embrace parts of your identity within the club as being able to try on different hats, without necessarily having to commit to any one hat after the light comes on.

Mia also told me that being surrounded by gender non-conforming people in a club offers people an opportunity to explore feelings related to their own gender identity. Suddenly, feelings about yourself that may have felt imagined or unjustified are validated through seeing them being lived out by the club-goers around you.

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This inspired the creation of Tough Act which began with the intention of centring gender non-conforming people on a dance floor with the music remaining the core focus. Being aware of the importance of opening up spaces to trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people, who are a minority even within the queer community, care is taken to make sure the lineups appeal to this audience with a focus on trans and non-binary DJs.

As a site of queer community, the sensory overload of a sweaty basement club does not always cater to everyone searching for that sense of belonging. Events such as Fatty Acid aim to create a space for queer people to come together beyond the dance floor. I spoke to Viv, one of the event’s organisers, before the most recent event held at Partisan in Salford.

Tough Act | Photo: Mia Nowill

“The difference between this event and something else is that the cabaret is the main event and the DJ is just the extra bit,” Viv says. The event is planned with people typically anxious in social spaces in mind and the event starts with community building activities such as speed-friending. The event was a proud celebration of queer difference; an opportunity for people to exist unashamedly as they are. It’s a result of having a community space such as Partisan that is home to so many queer people.

Both Tough Act and Fatty Acid, and many others around Manchester, are testament to the importance of queer community spaces. They are welcoming spaces that lend themselves to transgressions of normative sexual and gendered stereotypes. Whether through escape from the outside world, or because you are surrounded by people who reflect your experiences, the queer dance floor is a place where communal joy is felt.

Keep up to date with the latest upcoming events from Tough Act and Fatty Acid by following them on Instagram.