NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The bass is thumping, and it’s 7 a.m. I’m at a pre-workday party inside Gilded Lily, a hip nightclub in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Around me, young professionals in media, finance, and fashion are applying body glitter, and one guy streaks eye black across his cheeks like a linebacker. It’s a little less metro-boulot-dodo, a little more oontz-oontz-oontz.
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Alcohol-free morning dance parties like this one from Daybreaker, or a similar company called Morning Gloryville, have grown in popularity across the nation and world. The Daybreaker rave I attended featured a dance fest from 7 to 9 for $25 (an hour of yoga starting at 6 came at a $15 premium). Some 25,000 dancers have gathered at 52 events across the country and world since Daybreaker launched in December 2013. But do these smoothie-fueled shin-digs really pump workers up for the day? Or are they an evanescent fad that leaves workers sluggish?
“The average person, you wake up you’re kind of trudging to work, right?” said Radha Agrawal, Daybreaker co-founder. “We said, ‘What if as a social experiment, we started this really fun early morning dance party that starts your day off unlike anything else and that sort of brings a little mischief to your life during the week?'”
“It’s about empowerment, it’s about waking people up, it’s about instilling positive feelings…to choose a life that they want to live,” said Matt Brimer, Daybreaker’s other co-founder.
That’s the philosophy behind the social engineering—that the EDM dj beats, emcee, Mardi Gras-style brass band, Burning Man-esque glowing jelly fish puppets and surprise slam poetry will send you to the office feeling turnt up.
As a point of confession, I’m generally a timid dancer. I seldom experience the oblivion many summon with their dance-like-no-one-is-watching gyrations. Also, I’ve always been a morning person. To me, the advantage of morning hinges on the quiet – no one is emailing, making demands whether professional or social. It’s peaceful. To boot, I’m not generally one to play into collective mirth. I loathe nothing more than parades. And yet this movement seemed so genuine, so well-intentioned. But the question remained: would I drink the Kool-Aid, or the açai juice, as it were?
Wading into the Fray
At Gilded Lily, first-time Daybreaker attendee Matt Scheetz, a 23-year-old in corporate marketing at Time Inc., started to feel the vibe as the music started.
“I’m hoping to get to work and feel like I’ve already started my day and already had a sick time before work even started,” he said, adjusting his style-accent wool beanie.
Tina Israni, a 30-year-old entrepreneur who founded ecommerce fashion subscription site Zoraad, had arrived via Uber from Astoria and was set to dance after finishing shavasana.
“I have a client meeting at 9 – I’m gonna be so like ‘Yeah!’” she said. “I feel like I hit the refresh button on myself today.”
Daniel Arce, 30-year-old Merrill Lynch employee, said he had to be in the office by 9 a.m.
“I was just trying to have fun in the morning before I go to work…and get released,” he said before demonstrating his signature move: a hedge-hog type of squatted-twist.
The cultural movement is in some ways logical.
“What we’re seeing is these ‘get hyped’ or ‘dance party style’ early morning events can be a good boost for morale, fun and energy for the people participating,” said Jason Dorsey, Millennials researcher and Chief Strategy Officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics. “I mean what 26-year-old living with three roommates doesn’t want to go to work and start off their day dancing?”
But it’s a divergence from the norm of when such revelry occurs; that's actually an advantage, given that these events appeal to some as an alternative to nightlife altogether.
“I don’t like going to clubs any more, because of that whole drunk vibe,” said Yulia Barannikova, 20, a Berkeley College student and intern at the New York Stock Exchange.
A beneficial externality to that positive dance experience in the morning may be in curbing stress.
“These parties are a good thing if they help people manage their stress levels and don’t interfere with their work,” said Lindsey Pollak, Millennial workplace expert, author of Becoming the Boss. (HarperBusiness, 2014). “Relieving stress is an important topic for young workers. Behavioral health issues, such as depression, are among the top reasons why people in the 20s file a disability claim.”
At Gilded Lily the floor pulsates. “And you’re gonna take this with you everywhere you go,” the emcee screams. At one point, everyone is saying "Yes. Yes. Yes." on repeat and pointing up to ceiling. It's a cult-like general acceptance of God-only-knows-what.
All that energy from the morning dance party movement can be especially beneficial if co-workers are participating together.
“Authenticity and fun will make you more engaged and happy in whatever you do,” said China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work, a New York-based business development service. “There is a huge benefit in allowing people, at work or outside of it, to be themselves. Part of building a great workplace is fostering a sense of camaraderie among employees, and in order to do that, it’s important to send a clear message to everyone that they can be themselves at work.”
Letting loose and experiencing a good time can increase job satisfaction and productivity. On Great Place to Work’s Trust Index survey, Gorman said, one of the most highly correlated statements to the overall perception of a workplace is the following: “this is a fun place to work.” Building fun into the workday, can build trust and loyalty from an employee to a workplace.
Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Millennial Branding and founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, is skeptical of the efficacy of this energy if the party is not targeted by a single company to promote its brand to its employees.
“Companies are using dance parties and themed events in order to energize their workplace and define their culture, [but] they only work at companies that connect to their employer brand value proposition and culture,” he said.
Though he thinks such socializing can be an effective way to build internal networks and enable collaboration across a company, he doesn’t think the brand excitement and company loyalty grows if at a general event.
Still, the morning rave movement is gaining momentum. Since the first Daybreaker, where Agrawal and Brimer invited 300 of their friends to morning dance party in the basement of Coffee Shop in Union Square, the novelty event has grown into an expansive force.
Daybreaker events happen across the country – from New York, to Chicago, to San Francisco and Los Angeles - and internationally. Daybreaker is launching a new city each month with Washington, D.C. and Sydney, Australia on the horizon.
Anoo Lalchandani, a 28-year-old senior sales marketing manager at Yummly, attended a Daybreaker event in San Francisco last July.
“It was strange at first, specially dressing up in the morning to go to a party rather than work,” she said. “Some people go all out, as in American Apparel leotards, but once you're there the energy is amazing. Everyone is happy and dancing, definitely makes your day better and I just kept smiling all day.”
Some are diehards.
Aaron Endré, the 28-year-old owner of a B2B tech communications firm in San Francisco, says fitting morning raves into an already busy morning prove to be an effort, but a worthwhile one to network with peers in the technology industry in a unique way. He’s a regular at both Morning Gloryville and Daybreaker.
“These morning raves absolutely do pump you up for work,” Endré said. “I have always really enjoyed my experience and I always feel better and more motivated afterward. I've also involved friends and colleagues, which makes it even more enjoyable.”
In my own experience at Daybreaker, I ultimately worked up the gumption to wade into the center of the dance circle after a professional-seeming pop-locker finished up and a hipster did a pretty mean Carlton. I eschewed my usual Crip Walk in favor of a more freestyle technique; I basically bopped around a bit and challenged this guy dressed in silver to a dance off. I certainly felt I had sloughed off in shame and danced a bit with abandon. It was something of a rush, I suppose.
At South by Southwest this month in Austin, Daybreaker will launch an experience at a two-story space with a pool. The event will feature yoga sponsored by Lululemon and a dance party with bands and djs.
There are also plans to expand the brand offerings. Agrawal and Brimer want to launch a dinner series experience called Dusk with experimental theater, food and dance -- all under the Daybreaker ethos. They also intend to launch six all-day events on weekends during the summer from sunrise to sunset.
The success that started on a whim seems almost unthinkable.
“I remember when we first sort of had the idea of talking to a few people, like, ‘You know, so we’re going to throw a sober, early morning dance party before work, between 6 to 9,’ people would say, ‘that sounds like a terrible idea,’” Brimer said.
But morning time is a commodity – an untapped natural resource.
“This is sort of a totally space – I mean, mornings...are typically boring, very routine,” said Brimer. “So it’s like, as just a domain, there’s a lot of opportunity to do some really creative and avant-garde stuff in terms of what’s possible, how to bring people together, the experiences we can create.”
Of course, by 3 p.m. I was ready to crawl under my desk for a nap.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet