Dance academy

The golden days of Plymouth Dance Academy when it was ‘more than just a nightclub’

“It was so welcoming to go to a club where everyone was so accepting of my image. You could wear anything and talk to anyone without judgement.”

For nearly 10 years you couldn’t plan a night out in Plymouth without mentioning The Dance Academy. Located in the city’s iconic Palace Theatre, the famous nightclub was the largest and most popular venue in the South West between 1997 and 2006.

But, following a police raid a little less than 16 years ago, the place was forcibly closed, never to reopen. Owner Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh was later arrested and imprisoned for allowing the sale of drugs at the club.

The Dance Academy remains one of Plymouth’s lost gems in the eyes of many. In its heyday, it attracted superstar trance and hard house DJs such as Judge Jules, Lisa Lashes and Sasha to the decks. Unsurprisingly, thousands of Plymothians fondly remember The Dance Academy.

Read more: The whole untold story of the Dance Academy and its closure

Among that number is Sophia Lowndes, who met husband Paul at the nightclub in 2006. What she cherishes most about the now-abandoned club is more than the music.

“It was more than a club,” she said. “It was a beautiful building with a huge community that brought people together, no matter where you were from or where you were from.

“Paul and I are both DJs and have been on the scene for so long. We are still friends with the resident DJs at The Dance Academy.”

Speaking to PlymouthLive in 2021, Sophia explained that the defining characteristic of The Dance Academy was its open nature. Where other nightclubs might have welcomed the judgment and ostracism of those who didn’t fit in, ‘anything goes’ was the mantra inside the bustling walls of Plymouth’s Palace Theatre.

Sophia said: “It was the best feeling in the world walking up the stairs for the first time, opening the doors to the main room and the bass was pounding your stomach. The room was just a sea. of people dancing in the weirdest and most wonderful cyber UV clothes.

“I was a cyber-gothic teenager when I first went there and I got a lot of sticking from people if I went socially to anywhere other than a rock club. So it was so welcoming to going to a club where everyone was so accepting of my image.

“You can wear anything and talk to anyone without judgement. I met all my closest friends again today there less than a year after going to Eyecon on Saturday night.”

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Naturally, Sophia has fond memories of The Dance Academy. Even amid the building’s troubled history, she admits it’s been difficult to find a replacement for the now closed venue.

“My favorite memory was when a Dance Academy message board meeting was held,” she said. “We met at an Eddie Halliwell party.

“It took place at the upstairs bar on the balcony, we all got hand-made badges with our usernames (nicknames) on them…and that was the first night I met Paul sitting on the bar, good times.”

“As DJs and music enthusiasts, Paul and I have traveled the world going to clubs and events and nothing has compared to The Dance Academy community.”

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Since 2006, the Palace Theater building that once housed the famous club has stood empty. In 2019, Plymouth City Council ordered repair work to take place on the premises and there were long-term concerns over the intrusion of so-called ‘urban explorers’ into the building.

“Ghosts” have even been reported inside. We’ll leave that part to your imagination though.

The Palace Theater has been “in danger” for over a decade now. Memories of what once was are all people like Sophia and her husband left behind from The Dance Academy.

And you can also enjoy it by scrolling below to see some incredible photos of the nightclub in its heyday. Have you ever visited the place? You might even spot yourself or some of your friends in these timeless snaps.

We also recently aired a report on life at the Palace Theater before The Dance Academy. First completed in September 1898, the building went through various lives before becoming Plymouth’s most iconic 1990s nightclub in 1997, which you can read more about here.

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