want to dance ... but not with him?

Ibiza, the Mediterranean party island, may have lost its sparkle, but there are alternatives - at home and abroad. Decca Aitkenhead follows the Balearic beat

avin' it large in Ibiza! Chillin' on the beach, natural like. Summer of Love every summer out there. Balearic vibe and all that, innit? Well, er, no. Thousands of clubbers may have booked their package clubathon in the sun; every half-decent club in the country may have decamped to the island for the summer; compilation albums with "Ibiza" in the title may be selling splendidly; but the sorry truth can no longer be ignored: Ibiza is crap.

The small Spanish island of the late Eighties and early Nineties was a magical spot - a sun-kissed home of artless sophistication, and a music known as Balearic beat.

By 1994, the Balearic vibe was legendary. But now, sadly, it has become mythical. You find only overpriced clubs promoted by the very names in charge back home, with the same old DJs banging out tacky tunes to a mindless swarm of Costa del Top Shop boys and girls. Ibiza offers as much chance of an authentic Balearic experience as Blackpool does a rustic Ye Olde England getaway. As one promoter admits: "It's a skanky dive, a right mess. Lads on the pull, slaggy girls - you might as well go to Benidorm."

So where else to go? Clubbers with a bit more cash may fancy themselves pretty cool for heading off to Goa. They are deluding themselves. Soap- dodgers on trust funds dancing with hallucinogen-addled relics make a singularly sad spectacle, and should, under no circumstances, be recommended. Instead, Real Life offers some alternative destinations for the discerning clubber this summer.

MARDI GRAS, MANCHESTER: A gay carnival weekend in August worth staying in Britain for. Thousands of carnival queens will be descending on the city for three days of partying, parading and camping it up, climaxing in a 12-hour Freedom Gala.

The city centre grinds to a halt for a float parade on the Saturday, while on Sunday the 25,000 strong gala hosts a Rio-style carnival of circus and trapeze artists, bars, restaurants, a funfair, swimming pool, flamenco dancers, go-go boys and girls, and as many dance floors as you could conceivably wish for. DJs are flying in from America to join the major names from UK gay clubs Trade and Paradise Factory, plus live performances from M People and others.

Getting there will be a far cry from charter flight hell, with a specially chartered Discoloco train, complete with nightclub carriage, DJs, a drag hostess and bar, running from London, and luxury coaches arriving from every large town in the country.

8 Village Charity Mardi Gras, Manchester, August 24-26. For Freedom Gala details, call 0336 404959.

THE AQUARIUM, LONDON: Those looking for that elusive Ibizan vibe should head for east London, and the Aquarium club on Old Street. Opened last Christmas, the beautifully designed club has its own swimming pool and jacuzzi, and a rare and heady atmosphere of sunshine hedonism about it. Clubbers are found stripping down to their underwear and diving into an oasis of cool, watery calm, with the kind of unself-conscious delight you always think you'll find on holiday, but very rarely do. The music manages to be cheerful rather than cheesy, and a ferocious door policy ensures a clientele with considerably more style than you will find in all the strappy-dress-and-sex-kitten-sandals clubs of Ibiza.

8 The Aquarium, 256-260 Old St, London EC1. 0171 251 6136

PORTUGAL: The trouble with bona fide Euro club chic is its habit of emerging in the least holiday-friendly locations; Berlin, Amsterdam, Bologna and the like do little for your tan. Somehow, though, Portugal has managed the impossible, and developed a stylish seaside scene now attracting the kind of clubbing cognoscenti found in Ibiza nearly a decade ago. Balearic parties are taking off everywhere - in the country's many medieval monuments, and castles and the installations set up for Expo '98. Heritage authorities regard the scene with remarkable good humour, and the stunning settings and easy atmosphere conjure the classic Balearic feel found so lacking in Ibiza's over-commercialised clubs.

In the capital, the Kremlin club merits a visit, being huge, surprisingly inexpensive, and patronised by pleasingly few British tourists but several premier league American DJs. At dawn, everyone transfers across the town to Alcantara Mar, a Gothic venue playing deep house until noon to a crowd as welcoming of jeans and t-shirts as of fully feathered drag.

FLORIDA: Not a name normally associated with the American dance scene, dominated as it is by Chicago, New York and Detroit, but if you're looking for something of a summer holiday as well as a fortnight of consecutive Saturday nights, Florida is a surprisingly good choice. This is assuming you can stomach the Americans - but as nothing could be worse than the Brits in Ibiza, that shouldn't pose a problem.

In the clubs of Miami's art deco South Beach, you'll find deep house; elsewhere in the state, British DJs Sasha and John Digweed are worshipped like Gods, so expect their style of hard trance, plus a curious hybrid of hip hop and electro known as Miami Bass. The club scene stretches right across the state, from the Firestone in Orlando to Venus in Jacksonville, and Masquerade in Tampa; Swerve magazine carries details of all the best bars, clubs and parties.

MAJORCA: The post-modern option for the ironic clubber who really wants to get ahead of the game. If Ibiza is fast turning into Majorca, then Majorca, in a bizarre inversion, is trying to turn itself into what Ibiza is becoming.

All the grizzly tack of a Brits Abroad binge is already installed. All Majorca needs now is to import a few DJs and start calling its discotheques dance clubs. The process is well under way - the elite DJs are all playing at BCM in Magaluf this summer, and other clubs are catching on.

"I didn't think it was possible to get sub-Ibiza," marvelled a recently returned clubber. "And then I went to BCM."

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