As the freelance Family Events Critic for The Independent for over ten years, Nikki Spencer visited thousands of gigs and festivals. This turned out to be the perfect training ground for running her own events. Her business card now boldly states Director at D.I.S.C.O. and she is living the best years of her life, at 58.
Getting the party started
Nikki always loved dancing, but finding a place suitable for women in their late forties was not easy: most clubs made Nikki feel like she was crashing one of her teenage daughters’ parties. One evening in 2010 she was talking about the issue with her friends and decided to create the perfect place herself. “We wanted to go out dancing somewhere we felt comfortable and where they played the music we loved: 70s & 80s soul, funk and disco. When I heard the 70s tune -Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet- by Gonzales, I thought – that’s what I will call it”.
Even though Nikki had organised fundraising events in the past, she found the preparations for the first event nerve-racking. She booked a beautiful old ballroom in Greenwich, got a friend of a friend to DJ and another friend helped out by making flyers and posters. The main idea was to provide a welcoming place where everyone, groups of friends, couples, people on their own, could just come and dance. The first night attracted over 250 people and was absolutely fantastic and it’s been like that ever since. “If you could bottle the atmosphere at Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet (HSDY), you’d have the perfect cocktail for world peace”. Nikki boldly states.
Dancing cures at all ages
As one of the participants at Nikki’s events put it, “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet makes you feel so good, it should be on the National Health Service”. There have been numerous studies that show how good dancing makes people feel, especially in midlife, and HSDY bears that out. Everyone leaves the venue with great big smiles on their faces.
More and more people are finding out about HSDY and they often make a point of coming to find Nikki during the night to personally say “thank you”. Nikki always knew middle-aged women would enjoy having a dance, but didn’t realise quite how good it would make them feel, herself included. Organising HSDY is now her main job and although it is hard and stressful work at times, it also fills her with sheer joy. “At one point during every event, I stop for a moment at the back of the room and just watch everyone partying. I can’t help but grin from ear to ear”, Nikki happily recounts.
HSDY has changed Nikki’s life in many ways. During her years as a freelance journalist, she really missed being part of a team. Now her team of freelance DJs, dancers, glitter face-painters and designers is mainly made up of women in their forties and fifties and they often bounce ideas off each other and help each other out. Her daughters who are now in their twenties are great support too. At first, they were a bit embarrassed by their mum dressing up in silver shorts and platforms, but now they often give a hand at the door or the cloakroom and bring their friends to have a boogie. “HSDY has improved my social life hugely: not only do I have a place where I can dance, but I have met so many amazing people and get lots of invitations to parties and gigs organized by others – Nikki adds.- And my wardrobe certainly has got more sparkly and has more shoulder pads!”
Overcoming fears on the dance floor
It can be tough to get out on the dance floor if you haven’t done it for a decade or two, but Nikki’s team makes it easier for everyone to overcome their fear and shyness by having dance ‘line- ups’. It’s like a great big flash mob led by a dancer and done at the start of the dance night and then again halfway through. People can get up and join in without having to think about it – and once they are up, they just keep dancing and loving it.
Women love HSDY and come in groups to celebrate birthdays and hen nights. The ratio at the events is usually about 70 female – 30 male, but groups of men love it too, last year Nikki had a group of American G.I.s who’d come to London for the weekend and another night they had two stag parties. HSDY really works for all genders and ages. Although the main audience is in their forties and fifties, Nikki gets quite a few 20-somethings too, who love the music and the vibe. This means it’s perfect for a big family birthday party or a work get-together, too. “We’ve had visitors from all around the UK and Europe who make a weekend of it and we even had one woman from Australia who scheduled a trip around one of our nights after finding us online”, Nikki explains.
Hazel, a friend who was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer came to the first-ever HSDY night and a few years later, dressed up in her favourite colour purple, she left the local hospice to come and have one last dance. “It is one of many reasons we give 10 percent of profits for HSDY nights to Cancer Research UK”, says Nikki.
Dancing boldly through midlife
Nikki says that midlife can be tough at times with elderly parents, illnesses and family stuff to deal with, but HSDY has given her more confidence and energy, and she is learning to live in the moment as much as possible. When working in the TV in her twenties, she used to shy away from doing anything “live”, but this year HSDY was booked to do a series of pre-Spice Girls 90’s pop parties for over two thousand people every night. When they asked Nikki to MC the nights at the last minute, she just got on and did it. “I think when you get older you lose your inhibitions – and I had a blast”, Nikki smiles.
People often tell Nikki that they were much more self-conscious about dancing and going to clubs and worried about what people would think when they were younger. At midlife, we just say “whatever” and do what makes us feel good.
Nikki is busy planning future events and right now it’s all about Xmas and New Year. HSDY has two big Xmas parties – Dec 7th in Blackheath & Dec 14th in Islington and they are organizing their first-ever New Year’s Eve party at Stanley Halls in South Norwood. “Next year is a big one for us as it’s our 10th birthday- Nikki proudly tells- We’ll be back in the ballroom at The Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich where it all began and then we are off to Leeds on March 28th.”
Nikki thinks every town or city around the world should have a HSDY and she is spreading the disco love wherever she can. Together with her team she also does private parties and events all around the UK and next year ‘s calendar is already pretty busy on that front too. The plan is certainly not to stop dancing anytime soon.