CHICAGO — Ellie Barker’s first experiences in Chicago were on the dance floor. Now, she’s making that experience safer for all women-identifying people. 

Barker and her co-founders, Devin Dalakouras and Tania Hernandez, launched EDM Ladies of Chicago in 2017. Barker first came to town for a show and decided to stay, but felt that there was a lack of safe spaces for women in the dance and EDM scene here. 

“[We thought] it’d be nice if there was a space that was just for women to meet up at and to feel safe and to feel comfortable,” she said. “As a woman, it’s sometimes hard to go online and be like, ‘Hey, I’m a woman, I’m by myself, I want to meet some new friends. I’ll be out at night. I don’t know anyone in the city.’ That’s not always the safest thing to do. So that’s how the group started.”

Initially, EDM Ladies of Chicago was solely a Chicago-based group. Most of the communication happened over Facebook with regular in-person meetups and events. 

“And then I thought it’d be really cool to create a larger network where people can meet entirely across the country,” Barker said. “And now it’s in several different countries.” 

The national page, Female Ravers United (FRU), has over 33,000 followers on Facebook. And although meetups and group events are still a huge part of the core mission, safety education and harm reduction have also become central to the work at EDM Ladies of Chicago and the national group.

After seeing public announcements from the Chicago Department of Public Health about carrying Narcan — a medication that reverses opioid overdoses — Barker saw an opportunity to expand their work.

“A lot of people don’t understand what that means. Like, what is Narcan? What is harm reduction?” Barker said. “If we break this down to its barest bones, I feel like we’ll be able to reach more people and have more people understand what’s going on and what’s happening.” 

This led collaborations with public health department, the Chicago Recovery Alliance and DanceSafe to spread information to the group’s followers about how to access and use Narcan, alongside other harm reduction techniques. 

“Harm reduction isn’t just taking Narcan. It’s making sure you’re protective of your ears, it’s making sure you’re drinking water,” Barker said. “Making sure you’re not caught in an aggressive crowd, that’s been really big, but there are a lot of components to it.” 

As the group has expanded, diversity and intersectionality have remained a core tenant of the group’s identity and mission. 

“Gender is a spectrum. We have a lot of gender non-conforming people, a lot of people who are gender fluid,” Barker said. “If you feel like this group is your safe space, you belong here.” 

Going forward, she hopes that the group can continue to be a space for friendship and safety while also serving as an important platform for marginalized voices in the electronic music and dance space. 

“It’s about maintaining who we are at our core, which is about meet-ups, education, safety and harm reduction,” she said. “But also, even if we can only do it on a little bit of a scale, amplifying the voices of different marginalized communities in the music scene.” 

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