DanceSafe is a 501(c)(3) public health organization promoting health and safety within the nightlife and electronic music community. Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 by Emanuel Sferios, DanceSafe quickly grew into a national organization with chapters in cities across North America.
DanceSafe has two fundamental operating principles: harm reduction and peer-based, popular education. Combining these two principles has enabled us to create successful, peer-based educational programs to reduce drug misuse and empower young people to make healthy, informed lifestyle choices. We are known for bringing adulterant screening (a.k.a., “pill testing,” “drug checking”) to the rave and nightlife community in the U.S., and for distributing unbiased educational literature describing the effects and risks associated with the use of various drugs. We also started the only publicly accessible laboratory analysis program for ecstasy in North America, currently hosted and managed by Erowid at EcstasyData.org. We neither condone nor condemn drug use. Rather, we provide a non-judgmental perspective to help support people who use drugs in making informed decisions about their health and safety.
Our Initiatives and Services
- Provide safe spaces to engage in conversations about health, drug use, and personal safety;
- Provide free water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration and heatstroke;
- Provide free safe sex tools to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STIs;
- Provide free ear plugs to prevent hearing loss;
- Provide honest, fact-based, unbiased information on drug effects and potential harms to empower users to make informed decisions;
- Offer a nonjudgmental first-point of contact to risky or challenging situations;
- Offer drug checking services to prevent overdose and death; and
- Work with promoters and local stakeholders to advocate for safety first approaches.
Note: Our information and services are directed primarily towards non-addicted, recreational drug users. Non-addicted drug users are an under-served population within the harm reduction movement, despite the fact that they comprise the vast majority of drug users in our society. While many organizations exist that provide services to drug-dependent individuals, few groups address the needs of the majority of non-addicted, recreational users. We hope to fill this gap. When needed, we will always refer people to appropriate treatment programs.
We currently have local chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. Our local chapters consist of young people from within the dance culture who have a sincere interest in ensuring the health and safety of their communities and educating themselves and their peers. We train our volunteers to be health educators and drug abuse prevention counselors within their own communities, utilizing the principles and methods of harm reduction and popular education.
Staff and Board of Directors
Mitchell Gomez – Executive Director
Mitchell Gomez is a graduate of New College of Florida (whose Alumni included the founders of Erowid, MAPS and the Zendo Project), and has his Masters from CU Denver. Although his research interests are extremely diverse, he is particularly interested in program evaluation and policy analysis as it pertains to the non-profit sector. Mitchell has been a part of the electronic music community since the late 90’s, when he first started attending underground breaks shows while still in high-school. In 1999 while living in Israel, he became one of the earliest full time professional fire spinners, eventually performing at some of the biggest electronic music events on four continents. Mitchell joined Dancesafe as their National Outreach Director in 2014 and was responsible for all volunteer coordination, the development, implementation, and evaluation of new training curriculum and outreach initiatives, and administrative tasks. He has volunteered with the Burning Man organization, SSDP and other small harm reduction projects for many years, and is a passionate advocate for reality-based drug policy and harm reduction. In addition to his work with DanceSafe, Mitchell also sits on the Advisory Council of Psymposia, a media and events group that shares stories and fresh perspectives about the emerging science and social issues of psychedelics, psychoactive drugs, policy reform, and harm reduction. In March of 2017 he was promoted to Executive Director of DanceSafe, and continues to remain active in outreach activities.
Madalyn McElwain – Deputy Director
Madalyn McElwain has her bachelor’s in public relations from Colorado State University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Madalyn’s interest in public health and harm reduction started during her undergraduate years as an intern for a melanoma awareness and prevention nonprofit. In 2012, she became Director of her law school’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, where she hosted free educational events with organizations like the Harm Reduction Action Center, Colorado’s clean needle exchange program. Madalyn hopes to help bridge the gap in knowledge that exists around drug use by sparking honest dialogue about how to mitigate harm when people choose to use drugs. She believes that drug policy should be rooted in science, compassion, and public health, and is dedicated to helping dismantle the War on Drugs. Madalyn is licensed to practice law in the state of Colorado and has extensive knowledge in the aspects of both nonprofit operations and drug policy. For six years, she served on the Board of Directors for CHOICE Education Foundation, a nonprofit that provides full ride scholarships to low-income Colorado high school seniors. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Madalyn has been an active participant in the EDM and nightlife communities since 2006. In her free time, Madalyn loves to teach yoga and enjoys spending time in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Kristin Karas – Director of Operations
Kristin Karas completed her bachelor’s in public health with a concentration in community health at East Carolina University. Her involvement in DanceSafe started in 2014 as a member of the original DanceSafe Visionaries cohort. Since joining the team, Kristin has held the titles of Visionary, Volunteer, Intern, Visionaries Program Coordinator, Manager of Health Communications and Programs, and now acts as the Director of Operations. In the last two years alone, Kristin has spearheaded a number of projects including managing a grant which funded a public health campaign to increase awareness regarding the RAVE Act, organizing the first DanceSafe auction, revamping the DanceSafe Visionaries Program, piloting and launching the DanceSafe Training Program (a free online volunteer training program) among other high-level initiatives. On the ground, Kristin has provided health services at several national events such as TomorrowWorld, Lightning in a Bottle, Imagine Music Festival, EDC Las Vegas, and the Global Eclipse Gathering. In addition to her involvement with DanceSafe, Kristin also founded the Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter on East Carolina’s campus and has worked with a number of drug policy and harm reduction organizations in her local communities. These experiences coupled with her unbridled passion for ending the War on Drugs make her a valuable asset to both DanceSafe’s team and the community at-large.
Chelsea Rose, Customer Service and Product Manager
Chelsea Rose graduated from UCLA Honors College with a BA in Psychology in 2007 and from there, proceeded to get her Masters degree in Integral Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2012. She has found a passion for Harm Reduction as a therapeutic and practical approach to drug use and abuse prevention. She is a coordinator for the Zendo Project, which attends large events to provide a safe space for people going through difficult experiences, both substance related and otherwise. She is also an intern at her local high school and community college, where she provides crisis counseling to teenagers and young adults. Her management skills and enthusiasm for helping people in the festival community and beyond, through informed therapeutic means, makes her an asset to the Harm Reduction movement. She lives in the Sierra Foothills of California with her husband, Alex, who is also involved in Harm Reduction, their three children and a Lazer Beam, their bearded dragon lizard.
Board of Directors
Dina Perrone, PhD – President
Dr. Dina Perrone is an assistant professor in the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, Emergency Management at California State University, Long Beach. She earned two BAs from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and both her MA and PhD in Criminal Justice from the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark. She was a NIDA-funded Behavioral Sciences Training Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. Her research focuses on drug using patterns and harms with the goal of informing drug policy. Her book, The High Life: Club Kids, Harm and Drug Policy, describes drug use in NYC nightlife, and her other work investigates the use of novel psychoactive substances including salvia divinorum and synthetic cannabis.
Bryan Oley – CFO/CTO
Bryan Oley was a founder of the Sacramento California Dancesafe chapter which started in 1999. At the request of the founder, he then created and staffed the Dancesafe Online Information Booth (an extremely popular series of forums providing a space to discuss Harm Reduction and safety) which ran from 2001 – 2010 and had just over 20,000 active users participating in online harm reduction discussions and spreading education to those in need. He also held the role of Board President from 2001 – 2010. Named Board President in 2001 when the founder (Emanuel Sferios) stepped down, he presides over the organization and has served multiple roles including Executive Director, CFO and CIO. He continues to act as the Board President of the organization while also working with a variety of operations roles to ensure the ongoing stability of the organization itself.
Chalaina Connors, MA, LPC
Chalaina Connors runs the Portland DanceSafe chapter, and has been active with DanceSafe since 1999. She has been a member of the electronic dance community since the same time frame and feels very connected to this community and is passionate about helping people feel safe and have healthy relationships throughout their lives. In her professional life, she is a mental health therapist and she primarily works with teenagers and young adults in a wide range of issues; such as substance use, sexuality, and issues surrounding trauma, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy relationships.
The DanceSafe Advisory Council is made up of experts from the drug policy, psychoactive substance, and musical industries who have generously agreed to lend their time and energy to supporting our mission. Our current advisory council, listed in alphabetical order, can be found below:
Betty Aldworth became Executive Director of SSDP in February 2014 and has since led the organization through its most substantial growth: the member base and campuses on which SSDP is present have doubled; staff and offices supporting those members have tripled; global presence has quadrupled; and as a result the policy change and education efforts members are leading have grown immeasurably.
Since 2009, Betty has specialized in community outreach, public relations, advocacy, and policy reform as a consultant to or staffer for cannabis-related businesses and nonprofit organizations. She served as spokesperson and advocacy director for Colorado’s successful 2012 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the collaborative committee responsible for legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for adults in Colorado, and was the Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association in 2013, the organization’s fastest year of growth. Prior to her work in marijuana policy and medical cannabis, she was a volunteer leadership professional with some of Denver’s most well-respected nonprofit organizations, ultimately leading a team of 4,000 volunteers who contributed over 40,000 hours of service annually.
Wendy is a New Zealand based harm reduction advocate who has been involved with harm reduction and drug policy reform since 2008. She has a history of event organisation and risk management, and has a multifaceted understanding of the issues associated with drug related harm reduction at events.
Over the last three years she has been instrumental in introducing substance checking at festivals and events in New Zealand, training a small team to use reagents and infrared spectroscopy, and sharing information with participants on drug related matters. She has also developed relationships with representatives from the NZ Drug Foundation, Ministry of Health, and the Drug Intelligence Bureau. This has allowed her to present data from testing to agencies, demonstrating its efficacy as a harm reduction measure. This work has raised awareness of substance checking and it is now gaining traction in the media, among the festival community, and with members of Parliament.
Her academic background is in Social Policy and Criminology, with a focus on drug policy and the impact of changes to the legislation surrounding psychoactive substances on the drug using community.
Jag has 15 years of professional experience working to establish drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. As director of communications strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), where he has worked since 2009, Jag oversees the organization’s messaging, publications, and strategic communications. He is regularly quoted in a wide range of media outlets and his writings have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN.com, and dozens of regional and online outlets. Prior to DPA, Jag served as policy researcher for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Drug Law Reform Project (now known as the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project) and as director of communications for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He currently lives in New York City.
Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana, and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences. He also conducted a thirty-four year follow-up study to Timothy Leary’s Concord Prison Experiment. Rick studied with Dr. Stanislav Grof and was among the first to be certified as a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner. His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and one of three children (two in college).
Sara is the Director of Harm Reduction for the Zendo Project, a department of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). She received her Master’s degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University and began working with MAPS in 2012, coordinating psychedelic peer support services worldwide. Sara was Investigator for the MAPS Phase 2 clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in Boulder, CO. She maintains a private psychotherapy practice. Sara believes that drug harm reduction is essential for the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
Richard Gottlieb (Wolverine)
Richard Gottlieb, R.N., Founder of RGX Medical, has been a leader in providing compassionate medical and mental health services to the festival community for eight years. Richard has served as medical supervisor for the Burning Man Emergency Services Department since 2010 and is the Medical Lead for over 30 events a year including Lightning in a Bottle, Symbiosis Gathering, Envision Festival Costa Rica, Desert Hearts, and many more transformational events. His medical model is based on the principles of harm reduction with a focus on reducing unnecessary arrests and hospitalizations as well as closely collaborating with other harm reduction agencies such as The Zendo Project, DanceSafe, and The Drug Policy Alliance.
Carl Hart is the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. He is also the Dirk Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. Professor Hart has published numerous scientific and popular articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology and is co-author of the textbook Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (with Charles Ksir). His most recent book, “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society,” was the 2014 winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. Professor Hart has appeared on multiple podcasts, radio, and television shows including Real Time with Bill Maher and The O’Reilly Factor. He has also appeared in several documentary films including the award-winning “The House I Live In.” His essays have been published in several popular publications including The New York Times, Scientific American, The Nation, Ebony, The Root, and O Globo (Brazil’s leading newspaper).
Allen Hopper was a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drug Law Reform Project. He represented Professor Lyle Craker in his appeal of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s denial of his application to grow research-grade marijuana for use in studies that aim to develop it into a legal, prescription medicine.
At the ACLU, Mr. Hopper focuses on marijuana policy-related litigation. He wrote a legal analysis of the continued validity of state medical marijuana laws in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gonzales v. Raich and has been quoted extensively in the national news media on the topic. Mr. Hopper wrote letters to the attorneys general and head officials in four states demanding that they reinstate medical marijuana laws that were improperly suspended after the Raich decision in June 2005. All states complied. In addition to litigating cases, Mr. Hopper works with ACLU staff to conceptualize public education campaigns that aim to shift our nation’s punitive drug policies away from over-incarceration and towards a public health approach.
Mr. Hopper earned his J.D. from the University of California, Davis, School of Law in 1992. While in law school, he worked with a Washington D.C. public interest law firm engaged in litigation seeking to expose the relationship between the war on drugs and American foreign policy in Central and South America. Mr. Hopper worked in the Immigration Law Clinic at the U.C. Davis School of Law and did anti-apartheid impact litigation with the Legal Resources Centre in Durban, South Africa. After graduating from law school and before joining CAP, he worked in private practice focusing on criminal defense, prisoners’ rights and police misconduct litigation.
Lyons, Colorado born independent artist Android Jones began studying art at age 8. He attended the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota FL, where he trained in traditional academic drawing/painting and animation. Jones interned at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic and later founded Massive Black, an art development company based in LA. Android began his career as an independent artist in 2005. He now lives in his home town of Lyons, maintaining a large art studio in a repurposed barn.
Best described as a “digital painter,” Jones has created an immense body of work. He has become well known for his many layered, psychedelic works and live performances using a custom built digital setup. He participated in the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Tour and his work has been projected on the Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building. A long time member of the Burning Man community, Android has traveled the world exhibiting his work and has contributed to events on 6 continents.
At the center of Jones’ work is spirituality and altered states of consciousness. Describing his work as Electro-Mineralism, Jones attributes his ability to create to the wonders of technology, crediting the planet’s resources for advancements in art production. Manipulating light and energy, Android Jones captures complex concepts while utilizing his formal background in the arts. Described as a digital alchemist, he is determined to alter the viewer’s perception, pushing the boundaries of the imagination through the use of innovative media forms.
Stefanie is director of audience development at the Drug Policy Alliance, based in New York. In this role she oversees communication and outreach to specific communities on drug use and drug policy topics, including on novel psychoactive substances (NPS) and DPA’s youth drug education work. She personally runs the Music Fan program, which introduces harm reduction principles and drug policy alternatives to partygoers, public health officials and city nightlife regulators across the U.S. In her prior role within the organization as event manager she produced four progressively larger editions of the biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference, as well as numerous local policy conferences, fundraisers and coalition-building meetings.
A leading executive in the cannabis industry, Kayvan Khalatbari co-founded Denver Relief, which was the longest-operating cannabis business in Colorado prior to its sale to Willie Nelson in 2016. He is also co-founder for Denver Relief Consulting, which has assisted clients in a dozen states, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and Canada with winning licenses in merit-based application processes and improving existing cannabis operations. Kayvan is also a founding partner in Cresco Labs, the largest medical cannabis cultivator in Illinois, and Silver Sage Wellness in Las Vegas, NV. Kayvan also has a financial interest in several ancillary cannabis businesses, including High Times, MassRoots, Dymapak, VaporSlide, Manna Molecular Science, US Coffee and BrewBudz, and is a primary investor and Co-Executive Producer for Super Troopers 2. Kayvan has been active in cannabis advocacy and government relations for over a decade and currently sits on the board of directors for the NCIA, Resource Innovation Institute, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Harm Reduction Action Center, and co-chairs a Committee within the Denver Department of Environmental Health to promote environmental stewardship in the cannabis industry.
Kayvan also owns three pizzerias in Denver (Sexy Pizza), a comedy production company with operations in half a dozen states (Sexpot Comedy), an arts magazine (Birdy) and is a proud mentor for three children through the Denver Kids program, which he has participated in for almost a decade. He is the founder of art&, a progressive creative collective, and the lead proponent for Denver’s 2016 Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, which made Denver the first city in the world to regulate the social use of cannabis. Kayvan ran for Denver City Council At-Large in 2015, is a candidate for Mayor of Denver in 2019, and is a tireless advocate in Denver on the topics of harm reduction, food security, homelessness, access to the arts and children’s services, with additional board seats on the Art District on Santa Fe and Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Described by Rolling Stone as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts and “the real drug czar,” Ethan Nadelmann is widely regarded as the outstanding proponent of drug policy reform both in the United States and abroad. He founded and directed (from 2000 to 2017) the Drug Policy Alliance.
Ethan was born in New York City and received his BA, JD, and PhD from Harvard, and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics. He then taught politics and public affairs at Princeton University from 1987 to 1994, where his speaking and writings on drug policy attracted international attention.
He has authored two books on the internationalization of criminal law enforcement – Cops Across Borders and (with Peter Andreas) Policing The Globe – and his writings have appeared in most major media outlets in the U.S. as well as top academic journals (e.g., Science, International Organization), policy journals (Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Washington Quarterly, Public Interest), and political publications from the right (National Review) to the left (The Nation). He is interviewed frequently by media, including The Colbert Report, The O’Reilly Factor, Real Time with Bill Maher, and news programs on all the major U.S. networks as well as dozens of networks elsewhere. His TED Talk, delivered at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro in October 2014, has more than 1.5 million views, with translations into 28 languages.
In 1994, Ethan founded the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy institute created with the philanthropic support of George Soros. A year later, he co-founded the Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development (IHRD) program. In 2000, the growing Center merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to form the Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan currently serves on the advisory board of the Open Society Foundation’s Global Drug Policy Project (GDPP) and as an advisor to the Global Commission on Drug Policy. He has played a key role as drug policy advisor to George Soros and other prominent philanthropists as well as elected officials ranging from mayors, governors, and state and federal legislators in the U.S. to presidents and cabinet ministers outside the U.S.
David Nichols is an American pharmacologist and medicinal chemist. Previously the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University, Nichols has worked in the field of psychoactive drugs since 1969. While still a graduate student, he patented the method that is used to make the optical isomers of hallucinogenic amphetamines. His contributions include the synthesis and reporting of escaline, LSZ, 6-APB, 2C-I-NBOMe and other NBOMe variants, and several others, as well as the coining of the term “entactogen”. He is the founding president of the Heffter Research Institute, named after German chemist and pharmacologist Arthur Heffter, who first discovered that mescaline was the active component in the peyote cactus. In 2004 he was named the Irwin H. Page Lecturer by the International Serotonin Club, and delivered an address in Portugal titled, “35 years studying psychedelics: what a long strange trip it’s been.” Among pharmacologists, he is considered to be one of the world’s top experts on psychedelics.
The Teafaerie writes stories, poems, movies, plays, and essays, makes videos, organizes flash mobs, and is one of the founders of Prometheatrics, a big, beautiful Esplanade camp at Burning Man. At various times she has been a writer, nanny, actress, flow arts teacher, childbirth doula, homeless person, aid worker, live-action storyteller, toy inventor, app designer, street performer, and party promoter. Her column “Teatime, Psychedelic Musings From the Center of the Universe” comes out regularly on the psychedelic information site Erowid.org.
Brian Vicente, Esq., is a partner and founding member of Vicente Sederberg LLC. He served as the co-director of the Amendment 64 campaign and was one of the primary authors of this historic measure, which resulted in Colorado becoming the first state in the nation – and the first geographic area in the world – to make the possession, use, and regulated distribution of marijuana legal for adults. Vicente also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado, the state’s leading non-profit working for medical marijuana patients and providers. He was given the Gideon award for his free speech advocacy during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In 2010, Vicente was elected the first-ever chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the only trade association in the U.S. that works to advance the interests of marijuana-related businesses on the national level. Brian was the chair of the Committee for Responsible Regulation, which coordinated the successful 2013 campaign to implement statewide excise and sales taxes on the sale of adult-use marijuana in Colorado and was awarded the Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law that same year. Brian has conducted over 1000 interviews in local, state, and national press regarding marijuana policy, and in 2014 The Guardian (UK) dubbed him “the industry’s de facto spokesman.” Vicente’s expertise in marijuana policy is highly sought after, and has led to him serving as a formal advisor to local, state, and federal governments—most recently he assisted with Uruguay becoming the first country in the world to fully regulate the adult marijuana market. Brian serves on the board of directors for a number of state and national non-profit organizations including the SAFER Voter Education Fund and the Harm Reduction Action Center. Vicente graduated from the University of Denver Law School on a full merit scholarship where he clerked for outspoken social critic, Senior Federal Judge John L. Kane.
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