Masses of people decked out in vibrant colors, extravagant costumes, elaborate makeup, and platform shoes. An array of flow artists–poi spinners, fire dancers, glovers, and hoopers–showcasing their talent at every turn. Heavy electronic music sending dancers into trances of ecstatic movement.
Despite the negative stigma sometimes associated with rave culture, the following ravers at Arizona’s annual Dirty Disco are here to show you that ravers are just like everyone else—living normal lives and pursuing big dreams.
Click below to watch a clip of the phenomenal fire performers at Dirty Disco:
Video Credit: Brett Haehl
I had a chance to speak with Samantha, an 18-year-old raver whose style is characterized by heavy makeup, hyper-realistic fake blood painted on her face and body, six-inch platforms, and spiked jewelry. She is an awe-inspiring flow artist who captivates crowds with her hooping skills. She’s also a brainy high school student with a penchant for math and aspirations for a career in business administration and finance.
For Samantha, raving has been an outlet to escape the closed-mindedness of her small hometown. “In that environment,” Samantha explains, “I wasn’t accepted for who I was. The raving community gave me a chance to become who I wanted to be and express myself in a way that I couldn’t anywhere else. That’s really important to me. Through raving, I’ve found love and acceptance unlike anywhere else.”
Of course, rave culture is sometimes portrayed in a negative light. In reference to this stigma, Samantha comments, “Any negativity comes from a lack of understanding. Even if you dislike the raving community, learn more about it! The more you learn about something, the more you can come to understand it and accept it for what it is, even if you don’t agree with it.”
Autumn, a former electrician in the U.S. navy who worked on nuclear power reactors, is currently an electrical engineering student at Arizona State University. Autumn explains, “Ravers are just everyday people. We’re just like anyone else.” While Autumn tries to be a friendly person in all aspects of her life, this friendliness isn’t always reciprocated. “Outside of raves,” Autumn says, “people aren’t always so friendly. They tend to keep to themselves. Everyone here is so open.”
When asked what raving means to her, Autumn says, “I think raving is a way to express yourself. People don’t always get a chance to dress or act the way they do here. It’s a good way to step outside of your normal life, which can be boring sometimes!”
Next I encountered Jason. Dressed in neon yellow and happily dancing to the dubstep beats at Dirty Disco, you would never know this 27-year-old is the co-founder of a revolutionary company in the medical field. For the last 18 months, Jason has focused intensely on building his business, a startup that is already having a local impact and hopes to ultimately influence the global health care system.
“What I like most about rave culture,” explains Jason, “is the free form here. It’s a free-spirited culture. I would never dress like this anywhere else. I asked Desert Canvas co-founder Todd VanDuzer how I should dress, and he said to follow my calling, so I did! It feels great!”
What does Jason think about the negative stigma attached to rave culture?
“It’s up to you. There are people who can go crazy and wild. I know what I want. I know I am surrounded by good friends. I can say “yes” to some things, and a strict “no” to other things. People don’t force you to do anything. It’s your choice. It’s up to you how you want to have fun.”
Jackson, a young pharmacy technician with dreams of one day becoming a pharmacist, is proud to make good money in his line of work. When asked what has drawn him to rave culture, Jackson replies, “The love, and how everybody’s one big family.”
Tara, a 35-year-old nurse born and raised in Arizona, is the daughter of two physicians. After losing her young daughter to a rare muscular disease, Tara put herself through nursing school and now has a rewarding career as a pediatric nurse. Tara was drawn to rave culture by “the sense of community that brings everyone together. You don’t really find this anywhere else. There is so much love here and nothing else matters.”
Underneath the layers of makeup, bright colors and outlandish outfits, ravers are just like everyone else. Outsiders might be surprised by how many people attend raves for nothing other than the music, the sense of belonging, and the opportunity to engage in play.
After a night of getting to know lots of rave-goers and hearing their stories, one thing was clear to me: the raving community is one big, loving family. Age, race, occupation, sexual orientation, and other factors that tend to divide no longer matter. The things that plague us in the day-to-day life—stress, illness, debt, and the like—fall away and allow for the ultimate uplifting experience.
From the outside world to the rave world, judgment becomes acceptance. Strangers become family. Self-expression is at its finest, and people from all walks of life come together. The feeling of community in rave culture is unlike any other.
Are you a raver with big dreams outside of raving? Comment below to tell us your story!