Dancing Outdoors: DiY Ethics and Democratised Practices of Well-Being on the UK Alternative Festival Circuit

  • Alice O'Grady University of Leeds
Keywords: Alternative festival, well-being, participation, environment


Focussing on the UK’s vibrant alternative festival scene, this article examines how traces of the free party movement in the late 1980s continue to pervade the ethos and aesthetic register of contemporary events. It considers the potent DiY ethic of the campsite that emerged as a result of the convergence of Travellers with sounds systems such as Spiral Tribe, Exodus and Bedlam. It examines how the aesthetics and ethics of these rural, grassroots gatherings hark back to a particular moment in British history and how the sights, sounds and cultures of the current festival circuit are intimately connected to the histories from which they grew. The article argues for a reading of outdoor space, as experienced within the frame of the alternative festival, as a locale for the performance of political and personal freedoms. It asks how the cultural legacy of opposition through dancing outdoors serves as an expression of democratic culture and as spatial practice of belonging. The article makes explicit the links between alternative forms of democratic participation and sensations of individual and collective well-being that arise from outdoor dance experiences. Finally, it considers the role of rurality in constructing a festival imaginary that promotes participation, agency and connectivity.