In this fascinating interview, Claudia Colvin tells us how she moved from a work that did no longer satisfy her, to a project that makes her (and us) happy.
Claudia was born in Italy, but moved to England at the age of 3. When she was 10, the family relocated to Rome, where she grew up and completed her studies. When the time to start working came, she moved to London, a city she considers far more open and full of opportunities.
Where and how did your working life begin?
I worked a lot in peace building projects with young people, especially from Israel and Palestine. A fascinating job, since I have always been passionate about human relationships and interactions, especially when they involve facing difference and bridging gaps.
I worked for a number of different NGOs and charities, including Generation Global, Seeds of Peace and 3FF. After three years in this sector I decided it was time for a new challenge so I quit my job and moved to work on a social mobility project for Parliamentary Assistants. In the UK there is a big class problem. The family in which you are born defines the opportunities you will have far more than in any other country in Europe. People from lower income families struggle to access certain careers, and working in Parliament is one of these. I recruited people from less advantaged backgrounds to work as Parliamentary Assistants to an MP. I took care of interviewing, selecting and matching them with the right MP, and I was also their life coach during the whole project, which lasted 9 months. I worked there for two years.
While I really enjoyed this job, I was conscious of the fact that I’d been filling notebooks with different business ideas for the past 5 years, ever since I first I discovered the world of start-ups. Something inside me pushed to be turned into something concrete. London is the right place to put your ideas into action, there is a lot of flexibility, new ideas find space to flourish, and nobody judges you.
So you had many ideas…how did you focus on one and which one is it?
Yes, I had many ideas and passions, and it was hard for me to find the one I wanted to follow. I decided that by the end of my contract in Parliament I would start my own business. I had four different business ideas: one related to food, two related to language teaching and one related to dance. I thought long and hard about which one to pick and what helped me decide was asking myself this question: starting a business is very hard work and sooner or later I’m going to lose my sleep on it. Which of these business ideas do I want to lose my sleep on? And that’s how I picked the silent disco idea. It was the one that I was most passionate about and that would have been the most fun.
I have always been passionate about dancing. I did ballet for 13 years, and when I lived in Greece for a time, I discovered and loved popular Greece dances. However, I have rarely been able to find the right places to dance. I never liked dance classes where you have to learn someone else’s choreography and can’t express yourself, but I also don’t really enjoy clubbing, where there isn’t enough room to move, and it’s often full of people that need to drink and get high to be able to dance. I then went to a festival for outdoor adventures called Yestival, where silent disco was one of the morning activities. I had so much fun and was left in such a good mood that I realised this was the kind of dancing there needed to be more of. So I started a business doing more of it.
There are loads of silent disco events in London, but they are always very big, and in the setting of a night out, so it’s a similar experience to a club. I saw an opportunity there. Nobody was doing it on a more intimate scale, where it would be comfortable for people coming by themselves to take part.
How? What exactly is the silent disco?
In silent disco, participants dance to music coming from headphones rather than speakers. The headphones pick up the radio signal coming from transmitters, and the trasmitters can be attached to anything: a dj set, or an ipod or phone! When I use them, I just use 2 ipods with some playlists I prepare in advance on Spotify. Each ipod has one transmitter attached, and each transmitter plays a channel to the headphones, so there are two channels. The headphones have two channels, so people can pick the music they want to listen to, in a similar way in which they would change rooms if they were in a club. For example, one channel can be hip-hop and the other can be 70s disco music.
What’s great about silent disco is that the headphones create a sense of isolation from the outside world, and make you feel like you are in a little bubble. This makes people feel more comfortable to let lose, and it’s great for people who are a bit nervous about dancing. But it’s also a shared experience, because there will be other people in the same room listening to your song if you are on the same channel as them. If a really good song comes up on one of the channels, you can see people getting sucked in: they see people dance like crazy on the other channel, so they switch channels because they are curious and then they dance to the other genre as well.
This sounds really fun! How did you go about it to launch your project?
I created my own website, Nobody’s watching (https://www.nobodyswatching.co/) and linked the events I organised to the fitness world. The lunch-break sessions for employees have proven very successful: I have seen people entering the event room with a gloomy face and leaving it smiling. It is indeed a moment of great relax.
I can see that in the silent disco like in all the other projects you worked on before, the element of human relationships is very strong. Would you say that dancing with people makes you happy in the first place?
100%. Dancing makes me happy and when it becomes a shared experience with other people the happiness triples. But I don’t think it’s just me who feels this way. I genuinely believe that dancing to fun songs that we love has the power to make us feel happy, and that’s why I stared this business: to spread more happiness and mental wellbeing. The feedback I get from my silent disco sessions is the proof of it. At the end of every session, I ask people to write down in one word how the feel at the end of the session. This is a photo from the session I did most recently at Yestival, the festival that triggered the idea:
They invited me to come back this year and lead the silent disco session. As you can see, the words speak for themselves. Dancing makes people feel happy, energised, and, as someone wrote, included. This word is important to me and is what really ties the knots between all my experiences. Inclusion. When we work in peacebuilding, we include people very different to us in our own world, and we allow them to include us in a world that without them would feel strange and uncomfortable. When we recruit people who are different we are including them in a world that might not welcome them otherwise. And when we dance with strangers to songs we all recognize, when we all dance with the same energy and freedom, we share a funny and unusual experience that makes us feel included in a new group; a group that is all in on the same secret. And the secret is that life is a lot more fun if you take it less seriously, if you learn to laugh at yourself, to meet new people, try new things and stop worrying about who is watching you and what they think. At the end of the day, what we’ll be left with when we’re old isn’t a collection of people’s opinions about us, but a collection of memories. It’s our job in life to make sure that collection will be worth remembering!