This International Women’s Day weekend will see a number of events sweep across the UK and beyond in support and celebration of the achievements women have made in the fight for gender equality. The day will also serve as a reminder of the necessary action required to advance gender parity and encourage recognition and discussion regarding the intersectionality of the challenges women still face. One such collective that will be using the day to shed light on an important issue is Dance For Refuge, a team of London DJs, promoters and volunteers utilising the dancefloor as a platform to raise money for those affected by the refugee crisis. This coming Friday (8th March) will see them raising money and awareness for Women For Refugee Women, a charity that specialise in helping refugee women both in and outside of the UK.

With events taking place in London and Manchester respectively, the nights will see a stellar all-female lineup with the likes of Solid Blake, Kiara Scuro, Imogen and the B.L.O.O.M. DJs heating things up at Manchester’s The White Hotel and Gwenan, Nite Fleit, Danielle, Liv Ayers and a very secret, very special guest throwing it down at East London’s Fold.

This may be their first event of the year but Dance For Refuge have been throwing parties and raising much needed money for a short while now. Formed by Max Sztyber and Tim Hinson, the concept was born out of a direct response to the refugee crisis in Calais throughout 2015. “There was a group of South London promoters, booking agents and DJs that just came together when the crisis got incredibly bad and decided to do a Sunday party.” Tim explains, “We ran the party at Bussey Building and raised about £3,000 and loads of equipment; we prioritised that because we had someone that was able to ship it to Calais so like tents, sleeping bags, clothes etcetera. Then (after that) everything kind of stopped for Dance For Refuge but I said to Max we should do something again and it’s kind of gone from there.” Since that initial party they have raised over £25,000 and supported the likes of Warchild, Refugees at Home and The Worldwide Tribe, seeing support from artists such as Eclair Fifi, Mall Grab, Peach and Lone along the way.

The collective has now grown to involve a core team of ten or so individuals, as well as expanding their operations. “We’ve broadened where we can raise money and also do other things,” Natasha, one of these core members explains. “So for our International Women’s Day event we are putting on some workshops with Native Instruments specifically for women to get them into music production. And we’ve created some bespoke prints with some women designers that we’re going to sell which will raise even more money. And it also gives an opportunity I think to people who maybe don’t want to go clubbing but want to support the cause in another way.”

The cause that Dance For Refuge are championing this International Women’s Day is the plight of refugee women, many of whom face gender-specific struggles throughout the migration process relating to areas such as sexual and physical violence and human trafficking. Women For Refugee Women is one of the vital charities established to address these issues and many more and have been doing meaningful work since its formation. “We just wanted to do something special for International Women’s Day and it seems like the perfect charity. They do such amazing work to help women who seek asylum in the UK,” Natasha explains. “They do loads of things like they give advice to these women and encourage them to speak up and help them directly but they also work in public events and work to campaign for change and help inform politicians with what is going on in women’s real lives that have tried to seek asylum in the UK. Yeah, they’re an amazing charity.”

Alongside teaming up with Women For Refugee Women for the event, Dance For Refuge are also partnering with Manchester based collective B.L.O.O.M. who have taken reign over the northern operation. Established in 2017, B.L.O.O.M. are Kitty Bartlett and Phoebe Valentine, the DJ collective pushing for gender equality by encouraging and supporting women both in front and behind the scenes of the music industry. We just wanted to make a space that promotes women and non-binary artists across all aspects of running events” Kitty defines, ”So not just the artists but everything that is done for B.L.O.O.M. is done by women or non-binary individuals so our art, our promo, all of the logistics and operations. Obviously sometimes when we work with venues we can’t control who their staff is but everything that we can control we make sure it’s done by women and non-binary people.”

Born out of frustration regarding how they’d been treated in male-dominated collectives and a lack of female representation, Phoebe and Kitty make sure to prioritise female involvement, hosting an increasing number of empowering workshops across Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. ”We try to encourage as many people as possible, so if anyone ever was to message us we always try and answer as many of their questions and get them involved if they want to or point them in the right direction. We’re quite good with responding. I think that’s one of the hardest things (for women), just knowing who to talk to about how to get involved. It can be so daunting and you don’t want to message a group of guys that you don’t feel comfortable with.”

Certain areas within music are still lagging behind without a doubt, but despite this, Kitty recognises progress has been made in the Manchester scene. She notes that it’s “really encouraging to see” an increase in female involvement and collectives, crediting Manchester’s welcoming mentality as a significant factor. It’s part of what she’ll be celebrating this International Women’s Day, which she views as a great springboard for more people to join in on the discussion. “I think it is a really good thing. For us it’s no different to any of our other shows because we do only book women or non-binary artists so in terms of this show with Dance For Refuge it’s not different for us but teaming up with them will be the first charity party that we’ve done which is really exciting and being able to use this to support other women in other aspects of life as well is really exciting”

And exciting it no doubt will be. When asked what we can look forward to from the Manchester event, Kitty big ups the venue: “The White Hotel is I think my favourite venue in the entire country. If you’ve not been, definitely go. It’ll just be an amazing night of – and this is so cheesy…” she  laughs “…but really good music.” The London event at Fold promises to be just as impressive, with a secret headliner adding an element of intrigue. “There is one final act that we cannot announce until you enter the venue basically,” Tim says. “That’s how tied up they are with London so we’re very lucky to have got them so yeah we won’t be able to say anything until you actually enter Fold.” Natasha also chimes in, adding that the importance of the event being a safe space is a big priority for them. “I think that’s really important, especially for this event. We want as many women and non binary people to come and feel comfortable and the venue Fold which it’s held at also operates that sort of policy. That’s one thing that’s important to us – making sure on the night that everyone is happy and safe.”

March 8th means many things to many people but for anyone spending the night with the Dance For Refuge and B.L.O.O.M crews, it won’t just be a night of great, well-curated music but a chance to support a very righteous cause, while potentially making room for similar events to take place in future. Natasha certainly believes there is room for more in a similar vein, adding “I definitely think that more people are realising where there money is going and if they can spend £10 on a night out and that money goes directly to the charity rather than a big corporation or big production company then I think a lot more people are aware of their decisions.”

Dance For Refuge and B.L.O.O.M. take over the White Hotel (Manchester) and Fold (London) on March 8th – buy tickets here.

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