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Searching for meaning on the dance floor


Zoe Satherley
11 July 2007
Far from being a vehicle for wild, individual expression, dance parties may be more an opportunity to experience unity, according to a Southern Cross University researcher.

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) candidate Al Marshall is winding up his research into why people attend dance parties and what they take away from the experience. And many may be surprised by his findings.

“There is a strong ambition among dance party goers not to transform themselves and escape for the night but to seek unity, to enjoy the group experience,” said Al, who is a full-time lecturer in marketing at the Australian Catholic University and completing his DBA externally through Southern Cross University’s Tweed Gold Coast campus.

“My research suggests that dance parties are all about being with friends, meeting acquaintances or even talking to strangers on the dance floor because party-goers are in such a good mood. A bond develops with the people that you go to the party with.”

Al’s research grew out of his personal passion for dance parties. “I have been on the dance floor at 4 a.m. in the morning and looked around and wondered what has brought people here and what is going through their minds?” he said. “I knew that dance parties had to reveal something interesting about consumer behaviour.”

So he set about delving into the Sydney dance scene, one of the largest in Australia. Although dance party attendance is declining, hundreds of young people still gather each week or fortnight in what Al describes as the ‘dying stages of an historic phenomenon’. He found that people attend dance parties largely for the group experience, to experience ‘the vibe’, to hear a disk-jockey (DJ) and a variety of music, and to take drugs.

“But compared to young people in the 1970s, and early 1980s, when I was part of the dance party scene, party goers today are far more conservative,” Al said. “We were more politically active and doing much wilder things in my day.”

Still, Al says his findings reveal much about youth culture and its values, and offer marketing specialists insights into the consumer expectations of young Australians.

Photo: Southern Cross University researcher Al Marshall thinks young people attend dance parties to experience group unity.