Zurich’s Longest Running Feminist Party

34 years of the feminist turn-up.

Four times a year, hundreds of women* flood to Club EXIL in Zurich, Switzerland for Tanzleila, a party series that’s been lighting up Zurich nightlife since 1987. Tanzleila is committed to highlighting women* DJs and creating an environment that’s welcoming and built by and for non-cis men. A portion of their profits is donated to local and international women and queer causes in order to further give back to our communities. Today, Tanzleila continues as the longest running party series in Zurich — 34 years is something that should be inspiring for feminists everywhere.

Zurich is known for being a progressive and queer friendly city. From Corine Mauch, their lesbian Mayor who has served since 2009, to the “Pink Apple Film Festival” which showcases gay and lesbian films from across the globe, I had assumed that the city would be open-minded. That was confirmed from the second I stepped off the train and saw bike rack after bike rack and a Pride flag hanging above the nearest business. Yet, even in this setting, a party as big and long standing as Tanzleila stands out. 

I decided to reach out to the Tanzleila organizers to get a more in depth understanding of their work. I emailed with a couple of their current core organizers in order to get a better idea of how their events are organized, the history of the party, and how their work looks today. 

GO Magazine: Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves? 

Tanzleila: Our team is composed entirely of women* who all have a background in organizing bars and parties. None of the original organizers are still involved. There are four of us on the team, we are a closed group and everyone is paid. We meet regularly to coordinate event advertising and DJs. Club Exil, the club where the event is held, organizes the bar, entrance, cloakroom, and security.

GO: Can you clarify some of this history and what these spaces you used were? 

Tanzleila: In 1987, the party took place every first Sunday of the month on the women’s floor of the alternative cultural centre Kanzlei in Zurich. In 1990, the centre was closed, and the party Kanzleila continued in different locations throughout Zurich. After the reopening of the centre, Kanzleila continued its party series there under the new name Tanzleila, eventually moving to the Zurich Club Exil in 2012. Since then, Tanzleila is only been held four times a year.

GO: Can you share a little more of the party’s origin story? 

Tanzleila: Zurich is a strong financial centre, shaped by capitalist and patriarchal structures including banks and the arms industries, as a result it also was fertile ground for broad feminist movement and a counter-cultural vision.

The ’80s are marked by a push for freedom and commitment to imagining other ways of life and expressing those through the arts, culture, clubs, and parties. Tanzleila was developed out of this mindset in the ’80s. Its success is attributed to it being organized in spaces with autonomous structures and through avoiding public funds — decisions that allowed it to evade commercial and political interference. That work has left a lasting impression on Zurich today.

GO: What’s the general vibe of the space like? Who comes to the parties? 

Tanzleila: Tanzleila was founded more than 30 years ago by strong feminists, homosexuals, and heterosexuals. The primarily important desire was to create a space outside of capitalist and patriarchal structures. Today, we still celebrate this unique basic idea, focusing on the complexity and diversity of “being a woman,” with these parties by women* for women*. 

Today we expect 300 to 400 women* at each Tanzleila. There is an enormous age mix among our guests. Often, the youngest women are around 18 years old and the oldest are over 60 years old. Most of our guests are from Zurich and the surrounding area. 

GO: Do you like Corine Mauch? Does she play any role in your work? 

Tanzleila: Corine Mauch, mayor of Zurich, is public and vocal about her homosexuality and always takes a clear feminist position. Before being elected, she played music in a band and hung out in our spaces. She and her wife, a musician, join some of the parties at Tanzleila. 

GO: How has the club changed over the years as conversations surrounding gender and sexuality continue to change?

Tanzleila: In recent years, the definition of “woman” has been discussed again and again. Tanzleila has always been a free space for glittering parties among women, lesbians, inter-gender, non-binary, and trans people. In the past, it was enough to define Tanzleila as a women’s party. Maybe for today, this term is not enough. Maybe it needs reformulating. Boundaries are fluid and we hope to continue to engage those conversations. 

GO: In club scenes today there’s a lot of conversation surrounding “safer spaces” and the need to better support folks and address violence or conflict that occurs in these spaces. How you navigate conflict and interpersonal violence?

Tanzleila: It has always been a great concern to provide a safe “home/place” for all visitors. We are always on-site and can be contacted at any time. It is important, however, that incidents that endanger the Tanzleila as a “safe space” are communicated immediately, either directly to us or to the club team who is familiar with these sorts of briefings and comfortable addressing conflicts. 

GO: What in relation to this work are you all proudest of? 

Tanzleila: We are proud that we have been able to provide this important space for women* for so many years, and that the demand for this very venue is still there!

Note: both the Tanzleila organizers and I use women* with the asterisk to include: women, non-binary folks, intersex folks, and trans folks. 

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