How to Dance Punk

Words and illustrations by Antigone

We’re fucking with you. Punks don’t dance much. They mosh.

How to Mosh like a True Punk

It looks easy, eh? You throw yourself around inna pit fulla other punks.

There’s some points to consider here.

A mosh pit isn’t about violence, it isn’t about getting hurt or hurting other people. It’s about slamming around and having fun without actually breaking bones or skin too much. It may sound wussy to talk about ’safe mosh’, but when Bruno the seven-foot spike-covered three-hundred-pound wannabe smashes you, you’ll think about it. Even if the person you’re planning on smacking around isn’t huge, he or she may have friends. A friend of mine tells about a time, back at a goth/punk/industrial club he used to frequent:

This trio of Dockers-wearing preps and yuppies came in from the chic restaurant nearby. They quickly jumped into the pit, oblivious to the stares and glares they were attracting, and proceeded to flail their arms (and fists) around and generally act like stupid mundane gits who thought moshing meant “I get to hit people and they have to take it.” Within five minutes, a few of the regulars who all scored high on size, attitude, or both showed them what happened to people who tried that kind of thing. They left with bruises, and the rest of the club got back to real moshing instead of idiocy.

Don’t be the idiot. If you want a fight, start a freekin’ fight, but don’t mess up people’s dancing for it.

Don’t do this...
loser flailing arms and whacking punks

Firstly, dress the part. Consider your comfort and safety, and that of others. While pits can get hot and sweaty, keeping something with sleeves on is preferable. You’re less likely to get injured, and it keeps other people from having to have excessive up-close-and-personal contact with your sweat-greased bod. (Yeah, there’s gonna be sweat. We know. But you don’t want your face to end up in Bruno’s naked armpit, do you? Do what you want others to do.)

A jacket is recommended. (You can take your shirt off under your jacket.) Thick sleeves (leather, flannel, sweatshirt, coat, whatever) will protect you from those stray spikes. Most mosh contact is upper-body, especially the shoulder area — so you want that part well-protected. Experienced moshers frequently choose to ditch the jacket so they don’t sweat to death; this is one of those calls you have to make for yourself, and it varies depending on pit conditions. I recommend at least bringing sleeves and having the option. leads to this.
punks stomping on loser

Boots are totally recommended. Reinforced toes and ankle support are your friend. Docs, combat boots, shit-kickers, your fashion statement, whatever. As long as it’ll give you some support. You’re gonna be pounding your feet all night. (Consider arch supports and extra padding — come on, you know you live in those damn boots, you might as well make ’em comfortable.) Lace-ups tend to give more ankle support, which is good for when half the crowd spontaneously loses its balance and you take a dive or land wrong. Reinforced toes — you don’t really need me to explain this do you? I personally prefer ’reinforced’ over ’steel’ ’cos steel’s so damn heavy, but it also depends on how thick the pit’s expected to be.

Pants and all that might want to be the sorts of things you aren’t worried about damaging. There’s nothing sucks like having someone’s spike gash your new leather jeans (or go right through your spandex and fishnets). Combat pants and denim are always good, and usually washable. Leather’s not washable, but nobody cares.

Consider the jacket again. Do you have too much dangly crap hanging off of it that’s gonna get torn off? Three-inch spikes that’ll take an eye out? A prized Freak Nation button you don’t want to lose? Wear the other jacket, or take some of the stuff off. And don’t, just don’t, put anything dangerous on your upper arms (or the arms of your jacket), like a bicep band of three-inch spikes. The upper arm and shoulders are where most of the mosh contact happens, and you’ll hurt somebody. Eventually somebody and their friends will come back and body-slam your lamer ass into the floor if you keep up this kind of stupidity, so don’t start. Flat metal, chains, blunt pyramid spikes and dome-shaped studs are all cool.

Take out any dangling jewelry or piercings, and wear studs or hoops if you must wear anything. Having your earlobe ripped in half is kind of cool when it happens, but you’ll be pissed for weeks afterward.

And, for fuck’s sake, don’t do stupid shit like carry lit cigarettes in the pit! Drinks are kind of bad too. If it’s the kind of show where the guitarist is practically hosing down the pit with his drinks, then it’s probably okay to pack some water in (especially if it’s a big crowded pit that’s a bitch to get in and out of). If it’s a club or smaller pit and the floor’s still dry enough to have traction, don’t be the first butthead to spill water or beer on it. If the floor’s already wet with nameless fluids, your water bottle’s probably okay. People may even cope (crankily) with getting some butthead’s plastic cup of beer spilled on them — but don’t bring in any glass!

So you’ve managed to dress yourself. Good start. Here’s how one actually moshes.

The Edge of the Pit

This is a good place to be to get the feel of a pit, or to back off to when you want a little air and rest. You’ve still gotta be alert, though.

The edge of the pit usually consists of a buncha not-currently-hyper punks standing in a ring around the pit. They’re holding more still, and basically acting like the edges of the Moon Bounce: they shove people back into the pit when they get bounced out, keep the pit kind of contained so people don’t end up trying to mosh in the freakin’ seats or tables or whatever (which hurts), and if they’re feeling kindly, making sure crowd-surfers land safely.

So basically what you do is stand there about an arm’s length away from the edge of the pit with your feet well planted, and when people bang out towards the edges, you shove them back in, either with your shoulder or your hands. A sharp shove is kind of bad; these people are generally already off-balance, and you don’t want to knock them under the feet of the pit. Just keep ’em from bouncing right out of it. A steady, not-too-hard shove to get them about arm’s length away is ideal. If someone is being a pinhead and a flailing danger to his comrades, or smacking onto you way harder than necessary, feel free to shove a little harder and give ’em a lesson. Shove straight out, though; don’t shove down or up unless you really are trying to make this person land on their face.

The Pit

Here’s the hard-core.

Step 1: You and your buddy.
punks side-by-side

How you mosh: You stand pretty straight, feet recommended about shoulder-width or a little further apart, hands at your sides or bent up from the elbows so your fists are up around your collarbone or chin area (those punks with nipple rings, sensitive tits, et cetera tend to prefer the chest-protected option, especially in a crowded pit). Then you kind of lean and jump a little, target your bud’s upper arm with yours, and make impact. Bounce off, land safely. Get bounced by someone else. The basics are simple. If you’re a total virgin, practice with your friends as you’re going to the show. But remember, there’s a world of difference between practice and the Real Pit. Smacking your buddy in the shoulder, landing, and getting smacked by him is okay. Being in a pit with a hundred other people, any of whom may mosh either of you in the process, is very different.

Step 2: Thud.
upper arms/shoulders are main area of contact

How crowded a pit is makes a lot of difference. If there’s barely room to move, a simple sideways shuffle-and-bang is about all one can sometimes safely manage. Ideal pits have enough room for you to actually move a foot or two and smack someone.

Choosing your target; mostly, it’s who’s in range. But don’t throw your two-fifty-pounds of self quite as hard at the skinny kids as you do at Big Bruno, you know? Knocking people down is NOT the goal here. You just want to bang them a bit. If you’re near the edge and your intended target is at the edge, don’t slam them so hard that the catchers at the edge will get knocked over. Mostly, in an average-density pit, people won’t fall too badly if you catch them wrong, they’ll just bounce off the next person and recover. If it’s thin, though, be a little more careful. In a thin pit you and your best mate can catch each other’s eye and do a flying three-yard bang-into-each other and not worry about knocking or being knocked down. Flying leaps in a real crowded pit are bad. You can catch your balance when you get hit and you’re on the ground or near it, but if you’re in midair going south and get slammed west, your odds of landing safely decrease exponentially.

Try to keep your legs relatively straight and under you. Flailing around is just gonna trip someone else up and fuck with your balance.

Watch out for people much shorter than you are; going for a shoulder hit and getting someone’s head is not cool. Also, shorter folks sometimes will hit you in the freekin’ ribs or kidneys instead. (All-ages shows especially beware the youth.)

And remember, keep those arms still! Moshing doesn’t involve arm movements. You’re really not trying to hit people. This is supposed to be fun — and not just fun for you, you fuck, but for all your fellow punks and freaks in the pit, too. A pit is about community and comradeship, not violence or aggression. Seriously. (This is one other reason why the regulars at my friend’s club took it upon themselves to show those yuppie interlopers what the consequences of their “moshing style” was.)


When you’re on the ground and someone’s up, firstly, watch out for your own safety. Don’t catch a boot-to-the-head. Don’t get landed on. Help support the surfer or get out of the way. Try to hold people mostly level, and when you lower them at the edge, for Chrissake lower them feet first (or at least not head first).

When you’re surfing: First, gauge the mood of the crowd. Don’t surf if it’s not safe and friendly-like. If some bozo just boosted himself and kicked someone’s girlfriend in the head, don’t follow his act. If you’re way heavier than the crowd average, don’t do it.

Get boosted by a lifter, not someone who’s gonna launch you into orbit. Don’t use people around you as climbing objects without permission, or they will drop you or hurt you. Get a friendly face or faces (teamwork is best) to boost you.

Hold still, for fuck’s sake. You don’t have to be as rigid as a goth on a board, in fact you’re probably better off to relax some. Stay alert and ready to cope if you start to slide, and enjoy the ride. You don’t have to keep your arms inside the car at all times, although it’s best to keep your legs kind of together unless you want someone grabbing your crotch. Arms out for balance and safety.

don't flail your arms around when crowd-surfing

Stage Diving

Only do this with a friendly crowd and where the bouncers won’t eat you alive for it. And try not to fuck with the band while you’re doing it. If the band is cool with divers and the venue allows it, it’s probably okay, but people have gotten arrested for it, so consider carefully whether you really want to dive.

Make sure — damn sure — that the crowd will catch you. If you weigh more than about two hundred and twenty pounds or a hundred kilos, don’t do it. Try not to kick and flail too much. Consider just falling forward instead of actually jumping and bringing all your weight on the crowd. I have seen a crowd simply melt away from under someone who shouldn’t have jumped; he met the floor with a sickening thud. Be good to the crowd who is holding you up, or they’ll drop you.

Safety Tips (Blood and Bones)

Learn how to fall. If you do take a bad hit or get dropped while surfing, don’t stick out your hand — you’ll break your freekin’ wrist if you’re not careful, or get stepped on. Tuck and roll as much as you can. If you don’t know how to fall and not get hurt, get some homie who does know how (martial artists are a good pick) to teach you the falling basics; it’ll save you a lot of injuries. If you’re liable to get stepped on, protect your head and your guts until someone helps you up or you can manage on your own.

If your bud (or anyone) goes down, clear space and get them up. If they’re hurt, get them out. If it’s a head shot, check to make sure their pupils match — even on drugs the pupils are usually the same distorted size; if not, it may be a concussion. Concussions are bad because they make people even stupider and less prone to self-preservation; they may want to get right back in the pit. Get them out and get them help. Medical help is preferred; at least, keep them away from alcohol and make sure they don’t try to sleep. They could go into a coma and not wake up. Even a slight boot-to-the-head can cause serious damage — your brain is more fragile than you think, punk, so take care of it.

If you do get hurt, evacuate immediately. Even if it feels okay, take a break for a minute and be sure. The adrenaline high and the endorphins (and any other drugs you may be on) may be disguising something that’s gonna alert your fuzzed brain to a lot of pain as soon as it figures out where your brain is. Give yourself a brief break to make sure it’s nothing serious. If it’s a cut, make sure it stops bleeding (and try to cover it with something; even a dirty T-shirt shred is better than an open wound). If it feels like a break or a sprain, take a load off it and quit using it! Consider getting it checked out tomorrow. If it’s bad, go to the emergency room tonight. Sometimes bouncers or venue staff know first aid; let them help.

Remember to re-hydrate occasionally. Water will keep you healthier and may make you smell less gross, if you care. Alcohol dehydrates, remember, as do a lot of drugs, and if you’re sweating off liters in the pit, you’re gonna feel it tomorrow. Consider for once in your life taking a freekin’ vitamin or two; the pit is hard work. Attempt to remember to eat beforehand. Passing out in the pit is so not recommended.

Consider taking some aspirin/ibuprofen/over-the-counter painkiller before the show; it’ll help with the aches and pains. And take a little before you crash that night, so you won’t wake up feeling like a bunch of guys with sledgehammers beat you up (unless they did, but this is mosh safety here, guys with sledges are your own problem).

If you’re not having fun, back out. Not wanting to be there seems to be a kind of trouble magnet; you’ll get stepped on for sure.

To sum up: Do what you wish other people would do, and don’t do the stuff you cuss out other people for doing. Have fun, and don’t be a butthead.

Antigone is a day-job-holding sellout, but still listens to old-school punk, has funny-looking hair, and knows how to mosh.