Fandangoe Discoteca — Shaking out your grief

Annie Frost Nicholson dressed in black standing next to Fandangoe Discoteca, a pink cube which is a mobile disco. Credit: Joe Clark

Four minute read

If you were in London’s Canary Wharf in the summer of 2023, you might have spotted something unusual — a bright pink kiosk hosting a mini-disco, inviting you to ‘shake out your grief’. This is the Fandangoe Discoteca — a touring installation created by artist Annie Frost Nicholson in collaboration with the Loss Project.

Annie talked to us about what inspired her to create the discoteca; the power of music and dance; and the importance of talking openly about grief and death.

“I had a dream not so long ago, before I started working on the discoteca,” Annie explains. “I was in one of my favourite places in London having a drink, and I could see all my living interacting with all my dead. I was watching people I know and love dancing, their faces full of emotion. I didn’t want to wake up, it was a beautiful dream.

“When I think about my dead, I think about them as living people. They are vibrant, there is nothing sombre about them.”

Dancing and listening to music have always been places of connection for Annie, with some of her best moments having been spent on the dance floor.

“Music to me is a direct line to my sister who I lost,” she says. “It’s a faster, more vicarious way to get there, although that’s not the same for everyone I’ve lost.

“It’s a very sensory thing for me music conjures moments, scenes and feelings. I can listen to music, cry and release my grief.”

Movement as therapy

Annie Frost Nicholson has been creating art which focuses on life, death, and grief since the death of four close family members when she was in her twenties.

Before creating the discoteca, she toured the UK with a specially-designed ice-cream van – the Fandangoe Whip. She opened up conversations about life and loss with people while serving them ice-cream, and what she heard set the direction for her next project.

“I’ve been in the public realm around death and dying for a long time. I’ve found recently that people are saying, we don’t want to talk so much, movement as therapy is more powerful.”

While the idea of movement — shaking or dancing out your grief — underpins the concept of the discoteca, Annie is keen to emphasise that there is nothing prescriptive about how or why people can interact with it.

Releasing the weight of loss

“Loss is not just about bereavement. There are different kinds of grief and loss, including facing significant changes. We are all carrying different weights at the moment. There are things we hold in balance every day — political grief, climate grief. This is a space to come and release that weight.

“There are different ways that people can use the discoteca. There are workshops and programmes that happen outside, but inside has its own intimacy. No one can see from the outside when you are inside, but you can see out. People can come in by themselves or with others. You can be alone but together in the discoteca.”

The workshops and programmes, which include hip hop, street dance and carnival-style dance workshops; yoga; and DJ sets, are curated by the Loss Project. In each place that the discoteca visits, local practitioners are involved in delivering a unique set of events.

We need new language

The Fandangoe Discoteca makes loss and grief visible in a public space in a way which is impossible to ignore. It’s a deliberate challenge to the idea that death is a private matter, which shouldn’t be talked about openly.

“Fear of what might be coming can make us block off death and isolate it at one end of the emotional spectrum,” reflects Annie. “But devastating loss and vulnerability are part of the human condition. They are as valid and important as joy and birth. If you cut that experience off and isolate it from language, you get unstuck at a time which is hard anyway.

“Death is inevitable for everyone, so we need language for and around us that’s helpful to support others, and which introduces death to children. We need more fluid language that links the living and the dead.

“Not everyone responds to the complex, unwieldy reality of grief in the same way,” she concludes. “We invite people to step into the discoteca as they are on any given day. We don’t say you must dance, you must have an ice cream, but we do know grief inside out. We are not telling you how to grieve.”

Find out where the Fandangoe Discoteca is visiting next and discover more about Annie Frost Nicholson’s work.

Read more Talking Death interviews — hear from the founders of Tooting Festival of the Dead and discover Ten things I've learnt about grief from Jane Harris of the Good Grief Project.

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Picture credit: Joe Clark

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